This day is February 21, 2014. We are now in our final week in New Zealand. Our objective today is a train tour into the Taieri Gorge. The tour starts at 2:00 in the afternoon so we had a leisurely morning before catching the bus just a block from our holiday park. The bus driver was quite friendly. We paid our fare, $5.50 NZ for the two of us one way to downtown. The driver took cash and made change. The bus drivers in Dunedin carry large amounts of cash which they use to make change for all the riders as needed. They have a pass system for frequent riders. They just put their pass on top of a magnetic reader and tell the driver where they are getting off. If the pass needs additional money deposited, they can give the driver cash and it will be put onto their pass. There are many passengers on and off the bus during this trip. The bus is obviously an important transportation aid in Dunedin and one that we would highly recommend.
There was one passenger in the front seat of the bus when we boarded. That person got off at the next stop and the driver insisted that we move to the front seats. Then he began a running commentary on the city of Dunedin. Interestingly, Dunedin is ancient Gaelic for Edinburgh, the namesake of the town where we live in south Texas. Yes, the Texans who named our town left off the “h” at the end. Maybe they wanted to avoid confusion. Anyway, the driver quizzed us about our plans and made several suggestions for further activities in the area, things to see and do. It turns out that he is a bus driver for tour busses in his off duty days and he is going to the same destination we have planned for tomorrow. He gives us some route and driving tips which we will use to our advantage.
Not knowing how the busses ran, we left early and packed a lunch. The trip downtown didn’t take long so we had some time to visit shops and stores in the downtown area. There is an octagon, not a town square in Dunedin. In the center of the octagon is a park. Lining the outside of the road making the octagon are shops and restaurants. The restaurants are all set up for outdoor dining and they are having a good day with many people enjoying the pleasant weather. By the time we walk four blocks to the train station the wind has picked up and there is a chill in the air. Our plans to picnic on the lawn at the train station are gone. We go inside and find numerous people sitting on the benches eating their lunch. We join them, breaking out our sandwiches and snacks.
As we finished our lunch, Louise decided to investigate the café just off the lobby of the train station. She wanted to get a cup of coffee. When she returned she said I should join her in the café. There were plush couches and chairs so we moved in. Other than coffee and tea the café sold a few snack items, some bottled drinks, soda and juices and they had an ice cream machine. Put a scoop or two of ice cream into the top of a funnel on the device. Add some fruit and you get fruit ice cream in a cone. The device had a large screw-like device which mixed the ice cream and fruit and then extruded it into the cone held underneath the funnel.
The time for our train trip is approaching and the train isn’t in the station yet so Louise checks with the office. The morning tour was a cruise ship group and they arrived late so the train is behind schedule. Our 2:00 trip is expected to be a 3:00 trip now. We gladly settle back into our plush seats to wait. There is light business in the café and there are always seats available so we relax and wait. About 3:15 the train pulls into the station, passengers disembark and the crew goes to work changing out the trash and bringing on board food for the next trip. By 3:30 we are under way.
The train goes west from Dunedin into the interior. We pass the industrial areas along the tracks in the city. Soon, the hard side of the city gives way to houses. Then we are into a long tunnel. When we emerge we are among scattered groups of homes amid pastures with sheep and horses. We pass a horse track with a small grandstand and then many pastures with purebred horses. Then we go through another tunnel, shorter and curving. The engine is now laboring and we notice that we are slowing. This is a modern diesel train engine, an Asian manufactured body with a John Deer Diesel engine! We can understand bits and pieces of the narration over the clickity-clack of the railroad track.
We are in the rear car so I decide to go out to the platform to take pictures. I’m the first person to do so and take up a prime position at the rear of the platform. As more people come out, I am limited to a smaller and smaller place to photograph from but always able to get on the rail somewhere. We are now into the gorge, passing through tunnels of varying length and over trestles crossing small side streams. I’m getting good pictures of the scenery, the mountains, the river below, and the tracks, small stations and the occasional house. Then we cross a long trestle and are on the opposite side of the gorge. Now I’m on the wrong side of the platform and it is crowded with people so I have to shoot pictures over around and between people as best I can. Those who have cameras with a view screen on the back hold them at arms-length in front of them which makes it almost impossible to find a way around their extended arms and camera.
Coming out of the gorge we are again in pasture land. Sheep and cattle once more and some nice homes. We pull into the station at Pukerangi. At this point the engine changes ends of the train, our car will now be the first car behind the engine. Everyone is given some time to get off the train and walk around. There are stands set up for local people to sell items but none are attended now. Being behind schedule they have closed up for the day and gone home. We take pictures and enjoy stretching.
Back on the train for the return trip, I now return to the platform and continue taking pictures. It is noisy, and when they blow the horn I have to hold my ears. Fortunately, there are few road crossings so that doesn’t happen too often. I get some pictures of the train engineer and fireman and am able to get pictures from the side of the gorge that I couldn’t see and photograph well before. On the return trip I have only a few companions. Leaving the gorge I return inside to join Louise. We arrive back and catch a bus back to the park arriving before dark. It was a great tour.