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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Main Trunk Line

12 April 2014

We’re going for a ride on a puffer train!

Actually it’s a bit more modern than that.

Since we last travelled on the, what was then, the Overlander, they’ve upgraded the carriages and reduced the service. Now we have flash new carriages with large windows, glass viewing “ports” above the glass luggage racks, more roomy seating arrangements, TV screens (in the aisles) to let you see where you are (I think. We haven’t moved yet and all we’ve seen have been maps of the North Island), and headphones to plug into convenient jacks so you can listen to the commentary in the language of your choice, so long as it’s English or Mandarin.

It was a long trip

I think we’ll choose English.

Anyway, back to last night. It was a long one. We were in room 409, which is on the fourth floor of the Mecure Hotel on the corner of Customs and Queen Streets. Four floors up, in the CBD, of Auckland, on a Friday night… I’d turned the air conditioner off as its continuous buzz threatened to keep me awake. After a couple of hours of not sleeping, and being warm, but not too warm to sleep, I turned it on again to mask the shouts, and horns, and sirens, and engines, and the noises blaring out of the cars of those who think that their “music” is preferable to what the nightclubs and restaurants offer.

It worked, but I still couldn’t sleep. So, after almost a week of early nights and long (if interrupted – “I’m awake”) sleeps, I’ve (we’ve) lost all the good in one night.

Still it did mean that we were up early enough to get washed and dressed in plenty of time and down to pay the bill. We went to MacDonalds to check our non-existent emails and have something to fill a hole until we get our breakfast on the train.

We’re off!

That’s interesting. They ask that if you have to press the emergency button at the end of the carriages that you do not do so within tunnels. Must store that bit of information away for future use in a story… And I think I may know which one.

The commentary sounds like it’s going to be excellent. We hear a chime whenever it’s going to play and that’s the time to put the headphones on to listen to a clear, thorough, relevant description of the area around us.

The sun’s very bright and low. We could barely see Rangitoto as we trundled past because the sun was in our eyes. Fortunately I had my sunglasses in my bag. What I have a sneaking suspicion that I wish I had in my bag was a charger for FAB2, my tablet PC. There are power points available. But this has an excellent battery life and I’ve turned the screen brightness right down, so hopefully I’ll have enough power to last the full 11 hours.

Time to put it into sleep mode.

9:19 – back again

We’re just crossing the Whangamarino wetlands. What I’ve probably been told before, but didn’t remember is that the railway is basically laid on rafts of vegetation, especially Manuka, which doesn’t rot in water. This is the reason why the rail lines through here haven’t been “duplicated” and it’s only a single line.

Something else I forgot. As we were very early for the train, for a while there we were the only ones in our carriage, we had time to get ourselves sorted. It was at this point that I realised that I didn’t have my bottle of water that I’d bought yesterday. I had no recollection of taking it out of the hotel room, let alone having it at McDonalds, so I took off back to the hotel (with a quick glance through the door at McD’s to reassure myself) to see if I could get back into the room to collect it. The man on the desk was very obliging and coded an access key for me.

It’s clever, this system, for those of you who don’t know it. The keys are magnetised strip cards like credit cards, and they can change the coding on the magnetised strip when need be. To access the accommodation floors in the lift, or enter your room, you have to put the card into the card reader and withdraw it. Then, when the light flashes green, you can press your floor number or turn the handle and enter your room. Once you remember all this it’s easy to use.

Anyway, he gave me my key and I took the lift upstairs… Remember these lifts? I think I’ve told you about them in earlier blogs. They take off with the speed of Thunderbird One launching and stop with the ferocity of Pod Four being dropped into the water to discharge Thunderbird Four. I shared my lift up with one of the cleaning ladies, who got out on the conference centre floor and then I continued on alone for the fourth floor, ejecting myself out of it at a speed approximating Thunderbird Two lifting off the runway of Tracy Island…

I think I’d better get back to my story writing.

But not until I’ve finished boring you with the great water bottle rescue.

I dashed down the hallway and let myself inside and there, standing proud on the bedroom cabinet, was the water bottle. Perhaps if it had only been the water bottle I would have taken it with me, but it was in a plastic bag and didn’t look like something that we’d have a need to take with us. I grabbed it, and headed outside. I pushed the button for the lift to go back down and waited for the doors to open.

When they did the lift was clearly going up (it doesn’t actually settle until well after the doors open, which happens when you’ve got a step of about 15 cm. The wise move is to wait until the lift stops moving and there’s no step at all.) I checked with the two people on board which way they were going, and they confirmed that they were ascending.

As I didn’t have any lifts waiting for me I took off back to the room and let myself in to use the facilities. I figured I may as well make use of them while I could!

Then it was back down to the foyer to return the card to reception, with thanks.

Looking back I see that I haven’t explained about the check in procedure. In previous years you’d drag your suitcase down to the “B2” level, meet the “guard” at a portable lectern check in booth, be assigned your tickets (scrawled on your printed out ticket), the tag was attached to your bags and the stub given to you to keep. Then you found your carriage, struggled down the narrow aisles, and collapsed into your seat.

Today we entered the Britomart complex through the front door. As we dragged our cases through the concourse a gentleman stopped us to ask how far we were travelling. When we said we were going to Wellington he escorted us to the Tranz Scenic booth/room where we were given our proper tickets and the tags were attached to our bags. Then we were directed to the lifts and escalators and told that we could board. As we still had our suitcases we took the lift. While we were waiting I saw an elderly trio drag their cases in. One of the men saw us and came in our direction. I asked him if they were going to Wellington and when he confirmed that they were, directed him to the “nice young man who will help you.”

As I said the train’s carriages are a lot smarter than they used to be. Did I mention that the doors between carriages are glass and automatic?

Interesting snippet: Kauri was used in rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.  

Interesting snippet #2: Pumice is classified as a glass as it has no crystalline structure.

2:00pm and we’re crawling out of Ohakune and we are ten to 15 minutes behind schedule. Prior to reaching here, and after National Park, I went out to the observation car. (note car!! Not just a little platform tacked onto the end of a carriage!) It was wonderfully windy, exciting, and not too cold. I stayed out there for two viaducts, but I’d already decided to stay inside for the Raurimu Spiral. The commentary’s that good, the best NZ Railways/Tranz Scenic have ever had, that I wanted to stay inside and hear about it. I did get some photos through the window, but they won’t be very good. There have been lots of photos that I would have loved to have got, we’re going past some wetlands now (about Main Trunk Line territory), but with the windows’ reflections it’s almost impossible to get decent photos. However I did manage to get the photo of the cairn commemorating the “AST PIKE” as we flew past.
Last Spike

As we were coming into Ohakune I started walking back to my seat (with the intention of having a “pit stop” while the train wasn’t in motion.) It was quite an odd sensation as the train was going at the same speed that I was walking (you always knew I was speedy), but in the opposite direction. This meant that the Ohakune Station was staying in the same place relative to my position. It felt very odd to be walking and see my surroundings standing still.

The mountains of the Central Plateau haven’t cooperated today. We saw the base of Ruapheu and not much more. Still, we got some good views of them when we visited National Park with Pen, so we can’t complain.  

3:45pm. Right, I know I said I wasn’t going outside again and I was going to stay here and enjoy the commentary, especially when it started to rain, but when we got to the five Rangitikei viaducts and I saw a rainbow outside, I had to go out in the hope that we might just have the sun at our backs, shining through the rain at 42 degrees, when we were passing over some of that fantastic scenery.

We didn’t.

But that didn’t stop people from literally gasping in awe as we passed over the South Rangitikei Viaduct, the driver going extra slow so that we had the chance to appreciate it. I heard someone say “I didn’t think it was going to be as wonderful as it is.” It is wonderful and I still got plenty of photographs, even if they were rainbow free.

The increase in air pressure as we went into a tunnel was pretty impressive too.

I eventually took my rather windblown self back to my seat and we sat in the sun as we descended the easier contours to Wellington.

We could always tell when we were in cell phone range as the guys in the seat behind us were always yammering on theirs. To make matters worse they had them loud enough so that we could hear both sides of the conversation. It probably would have been quite interesting if it was in a language we could understand.

Fortunately there is no cell phone coverage on a large part of the network.

We had roast vegetable salad (me) and macaroni cheese (D.C.) for lunch and roast chicken for tea. As we were out of cell phone range the café car attendant hung onto my credit card until about 5.30 when he came to my seat and I paid up.

The train got into Wellington Station in the dark at 6.50pm. Apparently that was late, but as we weren’t going anywhere and no one was meeting us, I didn’t worry about it. We decided that it was easier to get a taxi than to try and find our way in the dark, which resulted in a $14.00 Tiki Tour through Wellington’s one way streets system. Apparently it’s much easier in daylight when you’re walking.

The driver dropped us off at the Travelodge – Plimmers Towers where we’re staying until Friday, We’d been discussing Wellington’s weather (and how it’s always bad when we’re here) and he dropped us off in the traffic drop off point at the hotel, which was great because we were under cover. What wasn’t so good was that we couldn’t work out how to get inside. I left D.C. holding the bags and went scouting, eventually deciding that we had to skirt a corner of the carpark to find a set of door. Once there the lady on reception was very nice and had no problems finding our booking and gave us room 1007.

So far it’s a lot quieter than last night.

But it was a great day.  

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