Friday, 22 December 2017

Taranaki Trip (Part 3)

Last month, we had a holiday in Taranaki, from 12 to 19 November. We spent three days in New Plymouth where we did quite a lot of biking, and three days in Eltham, where we did bike a little but did mostly other activities. This is the third instalment about this trip. Part 1 and 2 can be found here and here

Day 5 – The Forgotten World

We had a very early start, as I had booked us on a “Forgotten World Adventure” which departed from Douglas (18 km east of Stratford) at 8:30 am. It was a very smooth one-hour drive, and we got there by 7:45.

Forgotten World Adventures is a tourist enterprise that makes use of the decommissioned 142 km railway line between Stratford and Okahukura. Self-drive, converted golf carts run on the rails and travel though amazing countryside. The company has a large selection of tours – half-day, one-day and two-day adventures.

It was something I had been wanting to do for some time, as it looked interesting and fun. They also offer the option of railbikes, which are propelled by one’s own pedal power, but we decided on the “easy” option. Because it is reasonably pricey, we opted for a half-day tour, and since our holiday was in Taranaki, we wanted to leave from the southern end, which was Douglas. We did the Douglas to Te Wera tour – 36 km in four hours. 

The day we had booked for was a Thursday, and when we arrived at the Douglas start, we found we were the only people taking the tour that day. A little disappointing, in a way, but it did mean we had the guide, Dave Digby, all to ourselves.

Douglas Station – restored from a state of serious disrepair (photo by John)

Dave showed us the railcart we were to ride in ­– a four-person one. It had a simple diesel engine and just one foot control – on or off – and you don't need to steer, since it runs on a track. It did have a steering wheel however, as guiding it helped to counteract the wobbling and rattling. John drove – of course. Dave rode in a separate cart ahead of us, and stopped every so often to tell us about the history of the places.

Our carriage (i.e. railcart) awaits … (photo by John)

A convoy of just two – with guide Dave Digby all to ourselves (photo by John)

The information on the website warned participants to bring/wear “warm thermal/merino clothing, including hat, scarf and gloves, and a warm windproof jacket with hood, even in fine weather”. On the day, it was not fine. In fact it was cold, overcast and there were a few spits of rain occasionally. I wore extra layers and my biking jacket, which is pretty windproof, and I was so glad I had packed my beanie. It was definitely necessary. Geez, it was cold!

We were supposed to leave at 8:30, but I think we actually left a bit before that, since we were the only ones. We rumbled away at a slightly faster speed than walking pace. The landscape changes dramatically along the way – from flats to steep hills, from paddocks to chopped-up flood-ravaged swathes, from forest plantations to patches of native bush.

Off we go!

First stop: Te Huiroa Station – or what's left of it

Dave told us that much of this plain was flooded a few years ago. Only the railway track
stood above the water (photo by John)

There was once a siding here to allow livestock to be loaded onto train wagons (photo by John)

Bleak, but beautiful (photo by John)

In places, the track all but disappears under the weeds

This is the first of the 24 tunnels between Stratford and Taumarunui

Into a pine plantation

We crossed Douglas road several times. The track felt very shuddery when crossing the road

After nearly an hour and a half, we arrived near Te Wera, where there is a crossing loop. We were to go to the left, to the “station”, so Dave had to change the points.

Dave changes the points before Te Wera (photo by John)

A spot of oil to keep them working smoothly

Double tracks to the Te Wera “station”

Te Wera was as far as this trip was going to go, and we were stopping at the “station” for some morning tea, which consisted of tea (Dave had forgotten to bring the coffee), crackers, cheese and tomatoes. Dave was very chatty and informative, and seemed to be a very versatile character having had a huge number of different kinds of jobs.

The railway station was replaced with a shelter where we had morning tea

After about 20 minutes of crackers and chat, Dave turned our railcarts around for the return trip. He rolled the cart onto an neat contraption – a kind of turn-table – which he was then able to turn around with a big pole. Very clever.

John’s cart is manoeuvred onto the turn-table …

… and swiveled around

After morning tea we resumed the journey. But first we backed up a short distance to look at a house with a couple of enormous rhododendrons which are so old and large that they are now protected as “significant” trees. Unfortunately they had already finished flowering.

These two enormous rhododendrons were planted in 1935 (photo by John)

Now we were at the front, with Dave following us, so we were able to go at our own pace, and stop where we wanted to.

One of the 91 bridges on the Stratford to Okahukura Line

A lovely curve

A wonderful hillside of tree ferns
The area was not completely deserted, as shown by this well-maintained woolshed (photo by John)

This young escapee was a bit panicked about our cart rattling by

And soon we were back at Douglas. We watched as Dave turned our cart around again, ready for the next group to take the tour, on Saturday.

Dave turns the cart around, ready for the next trip (photo by John)

Then he told us a bit about the history of Douglas, and pointed at the brickworks, across the road.

There wasn’t much left of Douglas, which was once a thriving community with a school (closed in 2000), a store (closed in 1972), a dairy factory (closed in 1958), a butcher, stables, bakery, boarding house, billiard rooms, transport firm, brickworks, church and manse, saddler, railway goods shed, stockyards and aerial topdressing strip. The old brickworks kiln and boarding house have Historic Places Trust Heritage NZ ratings. The kiln used to have a tall chimney, but when it became unstable and unsafe, it was taken down. Nowadays, the village apparently still has a hall, tennis courts, a sports domain and an automatic telephone exchange, though we couldn’t see much evidence of these.

The grand metropolis of Douglas – the historic boarding house is the grey building on the left,
behind the other building (photo by John)

We went to have a look at the historic brickworks kiln, sitting within an low enclosure, in a farm paddock. We drove down the farm track, and when we stopped by a shed, we were immediately besieged by a flock of chickens, obviously hoping for some tidbits.

John and the chooks

The historic brickworks kiln

Inside the kiln (photo by John)

After this we drove to Whangamomona, the small settlement about midway on the Forgotten Highway, or SH43. It is quite a winding road, but the country is beautiful. We stopped at the Strathmore Saddle to look at the view.

We stopped at the Strathmore Saddle ...

... to admire the view (photo by John)

Whangamomona is famous as a quirky place, which its residents declared to be “The Republic of Whangamomona” in 1989. Initially it was a protest against a change in regional council boundaries, but the annual Republic Day is celebrated with events such as competitions in whip cracking, eel catching, or possum skinning, and attracts visitors from far and wide. 

We had lunch at the Wangamomona Hotel, then had a little wander around the main street. It was cold in the hotel – all the windows were open, as if it was a warm sunny day! And it started to rain a bit, so we didn’t hang around for too long.

The Whangamomona Hotel (photo by John)

The main street (photo by John)

The lichen on the gate attests to the near-permanent dampness of the area

The railcarts cross this railway bridge on the way to Taumarunui

By mid afternoon we were on our way to Eltham, south of Stratford, where we had booked a cottage for the next few nights. We arrived in the pouring rain, and having never warmed up properly all day, I was not too happy to find that there was no firewood for the woodburner in the cottage, and the electric heater didn’t work!

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