Posts Tagged ‘National Park’

Auckland to Wellington: a long day out

April 16, 2011

I am falling further and further behind with this blog, so I will omit the fun of our Saturday in Auckland – the boogie boards at Muriwai, the family socialising, the Visitor Centre.  It was great.  This journey took place on the 20th February, and initially I was going to talk us through all the way to Nelson – but I seem to have run away with details and distractions. 

A hot night with little sleep, and the alarm set for 5.30am.  Colin – slightly alarmingly – is up and dressed for running at six, and he drives us to the station en route to his run at Massey.  Britomart again.  It’s in a beautiful old building – one of those dignified pale grey Victorian structures – modernised with automatic doors and escalators down to the tracks. 

The Overlander: a unique journey.  That’s what the railway brochure says.  Also:  ‘a journey to remember’ – and they were right in many ways,  some of them unintended.  It looks like a wonderful way to travel from Auckland to Wellington – a long day through spectacular scenery on a wonderful train.

 Our train looks thrilling: a serious big beast of an old-fashioned huge diesel loco in grubby shades of ochre and tan.  The carriages are pale blue and there’s actually a baggage waggon.  We are really lucky as our seats turn out to be in the rear carriage: the one with the observation area.  A woman and three small children have established themselves back there on the banquettes – there is a strong smell of takeaway, which feels a little odd so early in the morning.  We trundle out through the light-industrial suburbs of south Auckland – static on an early Sunday morning.   It will get better.  Then the smallest children are bedded down for sleep.  It would be churlish to want to sit there.  The kiosk is selling excellent coffees and massive sandwiches – a lovely late second breakfast.  Soon there comes an announcement: the kiosk will be closing in half an hour as there is a malfunction in the electrical system.  Fine – it won’t last long, and anyway we have our coffees already.  Next we hear that the kiosk lady – an efficient-sounding woman – is working on restoring power to the kiosk. It turns out that no electrics in the kiosk means that there is no refrigeration, and thus no possibility of selling us food.  It doesn’t seem so serious.  By the time we reach Hamilton, the cheerful, if slightly hassled, train crew struggle to get power back.  After a bit they tell us that we have to change to a coach to take us onwards.  A new train will come up to meet us later, and we will go on in style.  This is disappointing , but we are all stoical and understanding, adopting the New Zealand mode of coping.    

This whole section may just work better as a kind of photo-journal.

phoning for the coaches at Hamilton

   Our luggage is off-loaded while we wait for the coaches.

waiting by the train at Hamilton - thats the baggage car, I think

 We change to a ‘coach’ that has seen better days.

the coach at last

But the driver is cheerful as she clashes and jerks through the clapped-out synchromesh, and grinds round sharp corners on the (no doubt) scenic road to National Park.  It’s a raw kind of ride – a bit primitive and close to the road, as busses tend to be, and it takes quite a while.  Distances are not short in New Zealand, though it looks small on the map.  The sun glares in, and we are all quietly glad to reach the destination and get back to the replacement train.

the second National park in the world - no wonder they called the town by the same name

Apparently the first National Park was the Yellowstone, in the US.  It was quite a powerful movement – part of that new-found sense of egalitarianism that swept through the world in the late ninetennth century.  We had already seen an early National Park up on Mt Tamborine, at Witches’ Falls, (see )  and I am reminded of Pearson Park in Hull.  This last one isn’t a National Park, but a recreational space donated to the ordinary people of Hull, so that the dwellers in tenements and tiny urban cottages could have access to fresh air and to nature. (see )

At National Park we de-coach and find our new train.  We leap on board while those of a nervous disposition anxiously monitor their luggage.  Because it has come from the other direction, the carriages are in reverse sequence.  Thus, the observation car is at the front, and looks directly at the rear of the loco, while the open deck area will be pulled facing forwards, rather than back.   Now the loco is diesel-electric, but it too has problems.  We are not encouraged when we overhear our efficient staff member say on the phone ‘Well, ask him what he did last time it did this.’  Luckily, there is a charming coffee shop at National Park, not to mention some great views.

fabulous Mt Ruapehu in the distance

 Ruapehu – massive and authoritative – is immediately familiar from the primary school textbooks we used in Australia all those years ago. 

Mt Tongariro

  Tongariro’s perfect shape is like a child’s drawing of a volcano.  There are a lot of actors in New Zealand, and, blow me down,Tongariro is one of them.  It played the role of Mt Fuji in the film The Last Samurai.  So if , like me, you thought that movie looked a little unreal, it was.  And it wasn’t the fault of the CGI – or not entirely. 
We stand around on the platform until the cafe starts to close, and hear some interesting political details about  the funding of the rail network, and the ways in which privatisation has led to asset stripping and a lack of maintenance.  Interestingly, the Overlander website now tells us that this much-needed maintenance is being undertaken this year.  We are called to get on and it seems like a departure, but the electrics fail again.  “Our loco is packing a sad,” we are told.  A what?  “Packing a sad,” she repeats – must be a New Zealand expression.  I still look baffled, so she explains: ” a sad – a hissy fit”.  Ah.  Now I get it.

packing a sad

   By now, the whole thing is starting to feel very long-drawn out, stressful and surreal. And we’re still a long way from Wellington.

a unique journey on the Overlander

   Crumpled travellers resort to cigarettes as the day advances.  At one level, it seems almost reasonable: travel shouldn’t be easy or uneventful.  At another level, we’ve paid quite a lot of money for a particular experience which doesn’t seem to be happening.  There is talk of bringing up coaches again – they will take two hours to get to us.  Just as I am buying another coffee, the cry goes up: “We’ve got electricity, quick quick, everybody on board.”  And off we zip, blasting away through countryside, lickety-split, as the driver tries to make up time.  We are over three hours behind schedule.

view from the outdoor observation deck

There’s a very brisk wind, and crowds of people well over the advertised limit of six at a time, especially when the viaducts are coming up.

And thus in the end we really do have the exciting train ride.

another viaduct

I no longer know where we were when they decided to change locos.  Somewhere along the track, anyway. It was a fascinating manoeuvre – so careful and skilled.  I have every respect for the personnel of this railway – perhaps rather less for their grasping managers.

our loco

Bringing up the second loco.

The drivers confer.  The old loco will go forward and away, then the new one will go forward and reverse in.

here comes our new loco

this guy is crucial to the process

He is in touch with the driver via the walkie talkie you can see in his hand.  That triangular piece on the ground will be used to make the coupling.

thats the observation car window

He’s talking teh driver into position.

closing up

This person got in the way a bit.  Behind her is the rear of the loco, moving gradually backwards.

the finishing touches

From this point the train went like the wind into Wellington, trying to make up for lost time.  We arrived around ten thirty, only three hours late.  It had been something of a bonding experience – but even so we were relieved to find that the ‘Downtown Backpackers’ is just across the road from the station.  Although it looks like a dosshouse on the outside, it is actually efficient and clean.  We were so glad to discover the dark, studenty bar and then our comfortable bed.

Travellers’ Tales – beasts of the forest

March 2, 2011

Mount Tamborine – 7th February

We borrowed one of Ross’s cars and drove up to Mt Tamborine, turning off the highway where you start to see the suburb of Pacific Pines sprawling over the hills.  There are no longer any pine trees, and I doubt if there was ever a view of the Pacific.  There was a better road to take, an earlier turnoff that we missed, so we took the familiar exit near Helensvale.  The road potters past streams, fields and horses, then climbs winding through the high stands of eucalyptus and on into the rain forest.  For a long time I have imagined that I would like to live up on Mt Tamborine, where the beautiful rain forest is cool and dark and the community is open to creativity.  Perhaps I am over-influenced by reading Peter Carey – Bliss is very persuasive, set in the rainforest.  Anyway, all the world has now come to Tambo, and tourists by the busload sustain the craft shops and cafés of Gallery Walk. 

Witches’ Falls Park – Australia’s first National Park – starts at the top of the mountain in bushland, promising to let us descend into rainforest. 

Through the bush the farmland to the west of the mountain glowed calmly in the afternoon sunshine.


looking westwards


 Scrub turkeys were ubiquitous.


exit turkey, stage right


I like the way that my camera only caught the departing rear of this one, as it flounced away like an outraged dowager.

 The paths through the park tumble down the mountainside to the west, weaving past strangler vines and giant fig trees with their grotesque ribbed roots, as if the witches’ hair flowed through eternity, not petrified but turned to wood. 

There is a familiar look about these root structures – something almost alive, or even almost dead, like the bony hide of an animal that has died of thirst in the desert.  Later I saw the same shapes from the train in New Zealand, where the long mountain slopes divide and descend in folds to the plain.


Scambled boulders, carelessly flung down the hill somehow display an ancient memory of the power that shot them there.  It is as if they are still dynamic and capable of rolling at any moment.  But they are rooted firm: mossy and embedded in undergrowth.


Little lizards sit very still, camouflaged grey against the grey-brown mulch of the forest floor. There’s a ginger-brown flick from their underside as they slip away.


(This could be another of my trick pictures: can you find two lizards?)

At Witches’ Falls itself we are still only about halfway down the mountain.  It’s been a wet season (of course) and the little creek is running fast, pelting downhill over shiny-brown stones in the sunlight.  The lookout is closed for renovations, and indeed two men are working on it with shovels and a digger.  Turning back southwards from the falls the path moves levelly along the side of the mountain, and the atmosphere changes.  It is dark under the tall trees and the ground is deep-littered in brown palm branches and dead grasses – the remnants of earlier flooding.


In the gloom of the deep forest two ducks float incongruously on a stagnant marsh, and the trees rise, unearthly, above them. 


As we start the climb back, there is a rustling in the low bushes.  Suddenly I remember that snakes exist, and begin to walk more carefully, glad of my strong trainers and hearty socks.  My companion is only wearing sandals, but I am more concerned about this than he is.  And then, just a few paces further on, there appears a most wonderful beast of the mountain: a big goanna is sitting very still on a rock.  I see him so suddenly that I am surprised into a shriek.  He (why are they always ‘he’?) is clearly waiting for us to go away, and hoping that we don’t really notice him, just like the little brown lizards earlier.  This most beautiful creature has the longest tail – much more than his body length, tapering back over the rock.

goanna staying very still

 We move into a kind of very slow dance, in which we gently try to get closer and take good photos without scaring him into moving (while I am feeling irrationally very scared of him – but he can’t harm us).  And it works.  We are closer and closer.  He seems to be feeling more tense: I guess we are not doing what he hopes.  He starts to flick his tongue in and out – a long, pink tongue.  They can smell with their tongues, so perhaps he is smelling us, to work out what we are. 

flickering a pink tongue in and out

 Eventually we edge past him,  and he moves – at first slowly, then a quick slither and he is away, off into the bush.

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