Saturday, October 23, 2010

Travelling Mooloo Style

The train at National Park.

Te Kuiti Station was once a bustling hub of activity. There were sidings where a shunting engine shuffled freight wagons with much banging and clattering. There were wooden buildings, and a long platform where a guard with a whistle, and a porter with a trolley would regulate trains, passengers, and parcels with the intensity and enthusiasm of a boy playing trains on his bedroom floor!

Spotted somewhere on the journey... a nicely looked after former signal box.

At that time much attention and pride was lavished upon the upkeep and day to day running of stations, and they, like the local church, the Post Office, and the school, were places where communities were drawn together, and sometimes breathed the intoxicating aromas of a bigger and mysterious world!

The Station is still there, but it is a silent and sad sort of a place. Visiting it is like seeing an aging relative who is confined to a hospital bed. Doors are shut, windows closed, and the weather boarded buildings sag a little under shabby paint. Part of the building has an office with a sign that says something about Maori Treaty Claims, but no one is around. Laura's parents join me on the platform, and I appreciate the moral support. Waiting for a train feels like an act of faith, and, as the rain starts to fall, I am beginning to doubt! I had booked my ticket by computer on line. I hoped that the transaction had gone through, and that, if the train appeared at all, it would stop to pick me up.

The yellow-white glare of a train front light focuses and grows. It is an electric engine pulling a freight car and 3 passenger coaches. With an accompanying hiss of air, clanks, and groaning of metal under strain, the train slows and stops. The freight car door slides open, and a uniformed woman tells me to throw my cases up. She seems in a hurry. I say that I booked by Internet, she consults a hand written list of passenger names, asks mine. Finds it, and ticks it off. She passes me a ticket, and waves me to car number 2. I say a hasty "good bye" to Laura's parents, and depart to car two at the double... I am holding proceedings up. There are crashings of train doors, and the train starts to move away just after I climb aboard.

There is something odd going on, I can feel it as soon as I enter the carriage. For a start, there is a collective feeling in this compartment. The people seem to be sharing an experience or a joke.... They seem animated and amused. There is eye contact and appraisal. None of it threatening. Just unusual, not what I would expect on a train. Trains are where strangers tend to adopt the "I don't see you, so you don't see me" huddle. I start to notice other details. The funny hats. The red, yellow, and black scarves. A large toy bird on a seat. I find my place and sit down, and try to catch a glimpse of Laura's parents through the window as we glide out of the station.

Mooloo, that is the answer! On this train are more than 70 people who are on their way to a rugby match in Palmerston North. The Waikato rugby team, known affectionately as "The Mooloos" (the Waikato is Dairy country), are traveling in the front carriage, and supporters are in carriages two and three.

To be honest, sport is not my thing. I was never much good at it. In team sports I was amongst the last to be picked. Team captains had the unenviable choice between me, or a boy that had a balloon-like shape and asthma, or another that was blind in one eye and limped. I am a sport atheist... It's an embarrassing admission really as rugby is New Zealand's national religion. On this train, I had another handicap..., I was from Otago and these supporters were from Waikato. From a sporting point of view we were probably natural enemies. I hope that my team had not won any games against Waikato lately!

Some farmland south of Te Kuiti. The group of trees are Kaihikatea trees.

I take photos of farmland. There are rounded green lumps of hills and dark smears and blobs of bush. I want Laura to see these, for it is a part of the country that she grew up in. Where her father farmed when she was little.

A woman in the seat in front of me, turns and introduces herself. She is called Mitch, and her partner is called Frank. She is friendly, and quickly makes me feel welcome on the train and at ease. I start to enter into the fun and buy myself a bottle of beer from the bar that is at the end of the carriage.

probably last traveled that part of the railway more than 25 years ago. In those days it was possible to get a "sleeper" from Wellington, and ride through the night. Now, the train has been tailored to making it a great trip for tourists as well as for people just wanting to get from point A to point B. There are very comfortable seats, big windows, and a train "manager" rather than a guard. The manager gives a commentary when there are interesting places or views, and health and safety warnings and advice every time the train seems likely to stop at a station. So different from 25 years back!

This is a fantastic journey, and a great way to see New Zealand. The train runs through rugged and spectacular scenery.

National Park.

It passes through National Park, which is a wild plateau that is dominated by volcanoes, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe.

Mt Ruapehu, an active volcano.

Forest with many trees hundreds of years old.

There are stands of ancient forest,

River a long way below.

wild rivers which the railway has spanned with impressive viaducts.

One of the impressive railway viaducts that we have just passed over... Yes the track does go in circles here!

And there is the engineering marvel, the Raurimu Spiral where the track ascends 433 feet (132 meters) as if around the coils of a vast metal spring.

There are few people in this landscape

Passing through a town...... somewhere!

and on the rare occasion that the train passes a village or a town, it becomes a game in our carriage to look for evidence of human life. "Look, there's a dog!" Someone says. "Where are the people?" says someone else.

Another small town.... where are all the people??

A smiling, brown, bald-headed man, enters our carriage from the front carriage where the team are housed. He is sparkling with good humour and energy. He introduces himself, "Hi, I'm Wally the team trainer!" Within minutes he has us doing the Mexican wave. I am impressed with his ability to get along with people. He springs a rugby quiz on us, (Being ignorant of just about anything sports related, I hope he doesn't ask me anything!).

A MooLoo supporter with an impressive knowledge of the game!

A Maori woman, who wears a colourful hat that is decorated with beer cans (Waikato Beer), is amazingly knowledgeable, and is able to pick who will play in the team at the game with astonishing accuracy.

Two men are seated in one of the front seats. Both wear striped woolen hats with artificial dreadlocks hanging from them. One man is nick named "Budgie", and the other is called Paul.


Paul talks to me later. He turns out to be a successful business man who set up his own food business when the farm was not producing enough income on its own. First he made a business out of pop corn, called "Pop n' Good", more recently he developed a new product. Chicken in a can, called "Chop Chop Chicken". I like Paul, and his ability to make opportunities happen.

At intervals tall (huge) "boys" wander through from the first carriage. They are members of the Waikato team en route to the buffet. They bring boxes and trays of food back with them to the other team members. These warriors of the rugby field look shy, well groomed, and quite sweet really.

At Palmerston North most of the passengers depart for the game, and it is oddly quiet for the remainder of our journey. Although I talk to an English woman, who is dressed in practical hiking gear. Tanned and athletic, she has recently competed in the senior Olympics as a swimmer. Probably there are only 6 passengers on the train for this last section, but our train manager still gives us the commentary when we pass places of interest, and also repeats the regular warnings about not opening doors whilst the train is in motion as we slide by stations.

Kapati Island.

he sea is a deep blue, silvered and bronzed by the low evening sun. As we drift the last few miles down the coast to Wellington Kapati Island is in view. Kapati Island is a nature reserve. Huge effort has been put in to trapping predators and making a safe place for native birds to flourish. It is one of New Zealand's "Noah's Arks"!

Sport never was my thing, I was a sport atheist.... but I have enjoyed this trip, I liked the Moo Loos and their supporters.... maybe belief is flooding in.... "I have see the light"!


Tranz Scenic: the official website for New Zealand Train Journeys

Chop Chop Chicken


Linda Starr said...

Oh how lovely the countryside is and traveling by train is one of my favorite things to do, I must look up that tree and see if it is related to a cypress, what a wonderful story you have told as well.

Judy Shreve said...

I love this story-- the way you described the trains of yesterday & today -- and the passengers -- what fun! Some of the early pictures remind me of West Virginia here in the states. The river & the bridge look like the New River gorge in that state. Stunning scenery!
And the Kapati Island is gorgeous.
You might not have taken the journey you expected -- but you certainly had an adventure.

Peter said...

Hi Linda and Judy,
Nice to hear from you both.

Linda, I don't think that the Kahikatea tree will be related to the cypress. (I see I have spelt it kaihikatea in the photo caption, and that both spellings being used commonly... most confusing!). It is member of the family of podocarp trees that have a characteristic seed that sits on a fleshy (edible) cushion or foot (hence the name). The trees in the photo are still fairly young, later in life they can become New Zealand's tallest tree, and have an enormous buttressed trunk that is capped off with a slightly unruly top of branches and foliage. These trees are under threat in most of the country as they grow in wetland areas, most of which have been drained to make way for farming. Few of these lovely trees are regenerating. If you are very lucky, you will sometimes see a Kahikatea tree with a flush of scarlet through it. This is caused by an abundance of fruit, and happens infrequently in its long life.

Judy, One day.... I really must get over to the States and do a rail journey and see West Virginia. (I always think of the John Denver song when the name West Virginia comes up). I'm sorry that the photos I took on the train weren't better quality, but they were through my window. It was only late in the trip that I realised that I could have found an observation platform in the open at the end of one of the carriages (next time!), but it was fun to be inside with the Mooloo crowd anyway!

Peter said...

Here is a really good link to more information about the Kahikatea tree

(the Kahikatea spelling seems to be the right one!)

Pat - Arkansas said...

A delight-full report, Peter. What an adventure! I so very much enjoyed the vicarious train trip; thanks for sharing it with us.

Peter said...

Hi Pat,
Really nice to have you travel along with me!

Angie said...

What a wonderful post ....beautifully written ... and magically punctuated by amazing photos. Thanks for sharing the experiece.

Peter said...

Hi Angie,
Really lovely to hear from you, sorry you haven't heard from me for a while. Glad you enjoyed the post.