The Steam Dreams Rail Co is running a 3 week tour of New Zealand in Autumn 2021. See http://www.steamdreams.co.uk for more info.
This blog reveals how the research trip scoping out the tour panned out.
Day 3 – We set off from Palmerston North with some excitement – the day promised to be a potential milestone in the planning for the Kiwi Explorer as we were meeting the team at Steam Incorporated and later visiting Mainline Steam (these two organisations are the only steam train operators in New Zealand).
We’d been liaising with John Bovis from Steam Inc for many months prior to this visit (Marcus and Marianne had met him on a previous trip), but I’d never met him and hadn’t seen the carriages in the flesh either (and I couldn’t wait)!
Not only did we meet John (Steam Inc’s original Business Manager, soon to retire), but both the Chairman and the Treasurer of Steam Incorporated, plus Grant Craig (President of FRONZ – the Federation of Rail Organizations of New Zealand) and a planner from Kiwi Rail, who must know the NZ rail network better than nearly everyone else on the planet. This was all at Paekokariki (say that with a mouthful of the delicious, enormous cheese scones we were treated to!) home to Steam Inc’s depot and head office.
We spent the next 5 hours or so, discussing timings and routes (the relative merits of stopping at Palmerston North were debated at length!) and seeing all the different types of rolling stock in various stages of refurbishment.
After more delicious home-baked treats (egg pie and shortbread), we made our way just 15 minutes down the road to Mainline Steam’s depot at Plimmerton. We were shown around the numerous sheds and coaches they have. There was almost too much to take in.
Not surprisingly, the NZ rolling stock has a more “Kiwi” feel to it than the ones we have in the UK for our steam charters – even though some of them are old British Rail coaches! Whilst they don’t use the “fruit bowl” style moquette fabric and dark wood (like we have in the “Pullman Style” carriages we’re lucky enough to hire from West Coast Railways), they do have a range of wood-lined, red vinyl bench-seating (with a clever “up and over” mechanism, meaning each seat can face in either direction at the whim of the passengers) or more modern style air-conditioned carriages, with moquette-covered seating – comfortable but without the “vintage” feel.
The huge advantage Kiwi operators have though is the chance to have open-sided viewing platforms or even viewing cars. Taking in the fresh air as well as the amazing scenery as we meander through the New Zealand countryside is going to be fantastic!
Left exhausted but elated by all the discussions and viewings of carriages, we went on our way, late afternoon and headed for Wellington. Sadly we didn’t have time to visit the Paekakariki Station Museum; the road was waiting.
Back in the car, we chatted non-stop about the various characters we’d met – who, without exception, were friendly, helpful and importantly, keen to make our 3 week trip of a lifetime happen!
Our next stop, Wellington, is the capital of New Zealand, and sits near the North Island’s southernmost point on the Cook Strait. A compact city, it encompasses a waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, a working harbour and colourful timber houses on surrounding hills. If I was going to live in a city in New Zealand, this would be it.
Find out why, next time.