All Aboard!!

 

When I was growing up, we’d look out our dining room window and see the smoke from the steam engine on the railway line out to the Oamaru stone quarry at Weston. Once, earlier, this line ran all the way out to the coal mine at Ngapara. Sadly most of New Zealand secondary railway network is long defunct with the rails ripped up and recycles for their steel. Some of the routes are still accessible as cycle-ways – which is cool – but few of the actual lines still exist.

One exception to the rip it up model is the line that runs from Taumarunui on the Central Plateau to Stratford on the Taranaki Plain. Withdrawn from railway service in the late 90s due to the high number of derailments, it somehow escaped being stripped for its steel. Now, once again, you can ride those rails…

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Based in Taumarunui (opposite the New World), Forgotten World Adventures has taken a  30 year lease on the line, and runs daily trips between Okahukura and Stratford and points in between…

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The journey starts with a short (10 minute) bus ride from the Forgotten World base to the rail head at Okahukura. It would be nice to be able to start the ride from Taumarunui itself – the rail yard is only a few hundred metres from the office – but in addition to obvious issues sharing the main trunk line with the ‘big kids’ the railway bridge that connected the side line to the main trunk was removed a couple of year ago to make more room for over-height loads on State Highway 4.

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Every rail journey starts with tickets…these ones are big and flash and great souvenirs…we only did the first leg to Matiere but the full day “21 tunnel” runs through to (the former Republic of) Whangamomona…and with the ticket cones the safety brief…

The carts operate under the normal Land Transport rules…imagine them as little cars…so…

No alcohol.

Seat belts are mandatory as are car seats for small children.

Don’t dismount the cart unless your guide has OK’d it: there’s not much clearance off the side of the track in many places and there are loads of bridges, drains and trenches alongside the tracks.

Maintain a 3-4 cart space between carts – while steering is not negotiable, you do control the speed and the brakes and it’s uncool to rear-end the cart in front.

Attach bags and cameras and the like to you or the cart: if it goes over the side it’s most likely not going to be recoverable.

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The day wasn’t that tidy but this is a great activity for those less than stellar days…the valleys are narrow enough that even quite low cloud doesn’t really obstruct the views. The carts are open but even on a quite wet day like this, we didn’t need to drop down the plastic sides. Each cart has blankets but again, even on this damp day we’d weren’t tempted…the speed of the cart isn’t enough to generate a cold draft…

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There are five tunnels on this leg: most short like this one but the longest is a mile-long S under a hill: very dark inside!!! And a testament to the land navigation skills of the builders who had no GPS, lasers or even decent maps _just an excellent sense of where they were and where they were going…

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90 minutes brought us to Matiere and lunch…

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…in the community hall…

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…with strong links to its past…

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Couldn’t fault lunch at all!! Hot soup, fresh bread buns, home-baked fruit slice and caramel crunch and juicy fresh mandarins with tea and coffee for those who wish….

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Meantime, the the ground crew is busy outside: very ingenious and so well-balanced that one person can turn the carts…

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And then we were homeward bound…funny, after lunch we didn’t seem to be going as fast…dscf0572

…tunnels…dscf0578

…bridges…dscf0627

…the occasional curiosity…dscf0621

…sometimes almost like trundling through someone’s garden…dscf0632

Carts range from two seats to six but next time we’ll be in for a pedal:

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Much appreciated to the team at Forgotten World Adventures for hosting us and providing a great day of travel, entertainment and fine food…

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Tunnels, tunnels, tunnels….

I’be been sitting one this one for over a month, just waiting for a spare moment in which to get it written up in my next installment of Around and About…other things have gotten on top of me and it is only this week that I find myself with a little time on my hands and able to draw it together…

The old saying is ‘Don’t Leave Town Til You’ve Seen the Country’ and I have found myself sadly lacking in my knowledge of the area in which I have lived for the last decade. When an opportunity arose for me to drove over the New Plymouth for a business trip, I opted for the more adventurous route through Taumarunui and over State Highway 43, the Forgotten Highway over the longer but faster routes north or south along SH4 and SH3 (they are kinda like a loop road).

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My journey started mid-morning after I put $40 into the mighty Ssangyong to get another 6 cents/litre loaded into my AA Fuelcard (it really does all add up). I crossed the bridge north out of town and took the hard left up past the hospital onto the Forgotten Highway. The first section is just through rolling farm country…DSCF7741

…which slowly gives way to more and more thick native bush…DSCF7743I caught up with this guy and his mate – quite an unusual vehicle to see on a road like this – but I couldn’t wait to get past them both as they were clearly not used to driving a left-hand drive vehicle on such narrow roads and were all over the place. I wanted to get well shot of them before their centreline-hogging habits collected someone coming the other way…DSCF7745…this gives you some idea of the narrowness of the road….DSCF7749…and why staying well left is a really good idea.DSCF7752Navigating one;s one side of the road is also complicated by a reasonably long stretch of unsealed gravel road, where the centreline is not marked at all and where occasional drifts of gravel encourage the inexperienced out over the centreline…DSCF7757I like tunnels…they always seem to be an indication of adventure and times gone by…DSCF7798…and it is just neat bursting out into the sun on the other side.DSCF7765Whangamomona’s main claim to fame is that it used to declare itself a republic for a day as a bit of a tourist gimmick. I’m not sure if it still does that but on this day its claim to fame was clearly hosting…DSCF7769…the annual Americana pageant…Loads of cool heavy metal parked up here and I would have liked to have stopped and had a closer look but I was running a little behind time. I would have to question the wisdom of holding such an activity in a location that can only be accessed via narrow winding country roads – and not a member of the constabulary in sight, of course – when most of the drivers have a real problem staying on their side of the road…DSCF7770Some of the few that were able to stay on their side of the centreline…DSCF7778

A ways on and I’m closing in on Stratford on the Taranaki Plains…that darker patch just to the right of the road in the distance is Mt Taranaki, climbable in summer and ski-able (just) in winter.DSCF7780

My business in New Plymouth done, I headed north on my homeward leg, heading for Ohura and back into Taumarunui from the north…DSCF7789

This part of SH3 is very nice as it winds through another tunnel…DSCF7790

…and bush-covered hills…DSCF7782

…before levelling out again.DSCF7794

This opportunity was just on the turn-off from SH3 onto the Ohura road…I burrowed into the parking meter money and exchanged some coins for two decent sized banks of tangelos…DSCF7795I saw this and figured that I was still sweet for fuel having at least enough for another 200 km in the tank.DSCF7796Yep…another tunnel…DSCF7802

All this winding up and over these roads with some quite long unsealed section ate into my fuel reserves more than I expected…DSCF7803

By the time, I reached this head-hunting bridge at Ohura, I was becoming quite interested in the movement of the little orange needle as the closest fill-up point was Taumarunui. I opted not to carry-on exploring – the are at least three different routes from Ohura to Taumarunui and I took the discretion option and went for what I thought would be the most direct route.DSCF7804This took me back over 40-odd km of the route I had taken in the morning – but repetition beats walking – and after a longish wait at some of the inevitable summer road works, I cruised into the Taumarunui BP with about 50km of fuel left in the tank. That would have just been enough to get me home but would probably have left me with a walk to National park if I had wanted to go any further…Note for next time: toss in another $40 in new Plymouth…

sh43Here’s a map of my journey…south west in the morning to Stratford and north east to Ohura in the afternoon. Ohura is not marked on the map but is where the dark line of my trip cuts the yellow line at the top of the map before I drifted south back onto 43 towards Taumarunui…

If you are on The Central Plateau and looking to head across to Taranaki, and you have the time, take the Forgotten Highway. If you have a good GPS and strong forearms for all the corners, an even better (IMHO) route is the back road through Ohura…go adventuring..!