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Touring New Zealand 2005 - Part 5

We stayed in Wellington with our friends John, Blyth and Isaac for three days. Wellington is a delightful city - the most pleasant capital we know. It has a small central area and round it many of the houses almost hang on the hillsides with decks and even carports cantilevered alarmingly from the steep slopes. It is a clean tidy city and not overwhelmed with tourists - most people seem to have a purpose and it is one of the few places in New Zealand where one would only feel slightly out of place in a suit and tie. John and Blyth's house is perched on a hillside overlooking the town with unbelievable views. Their parking space is up an impossible looking slope with part of the drive cantilevered out on a wooden structure. We just make it up in the vans, we have tried reversing up in the past but the wheels just spin - Blyth said it is quite difficult when it gets icy!

Went out round the Miramar Peninsular to the west of the entry to Wellington Harbour - this is part of a Heritage Trail called the Te Ara o nga Tupona (The path of our ancestors) where we had intended to do a couple of short walks. We found the site where Kupe had landed with the first canoe from the Polynesian Islands in about 1300 and walked up to where a Pa was set up and looked down on the area where he left some of his crew to set up gardens with the plants they had brought with them. We also stopped in the car park with the memorial to the Wahine - a ferry which went onto the rocks with considerable loss of life in one of the ferocious storms which the Straits are known for - there is a exhibit in the Wellington Museum of the sea and we have recently bought a book - "The Wahine Disaster" by Max Lambert and Jim Hartley (c) 1969 republished by Fontana 1974 ($4 ex libris Horowhenua).

We never found the longer walk we were looking for but even so it was a very enjoyable drive and on the way back we used our spare time to look round the house where Katherine Mansfield was born in Tinakori Road. The house has been meticulously restored and furnished with antique furniture and replicas of the original wallpapers to give an authentic atmosphere in keeping with the social status and era which influenced Katherine's youth.

Katherine Mansfield was arguably New Zealand's best known writer, particularly well known for her short stories. We have a book containing most of her short works and the visit to the house helped to put everything into context. We found the video on her much more interesting than we had expected - we had certainly not realised how she had become part of the Bloomsbury set and her and her partner's close relationship with D H Lawrence and his wife as well as Virginia Woolf and TS Eliot. In fact very little of her actual writing was done in New Zealand, which she left at the age of 19, although much of it was inspired by her early life in New Zealand.

We spent some time the next morning looking at Blyth's first exhibition of photographs at the Naxos gallery in Wellington. It was coming to the end of the two weeks and several had sold, which must have pleased Blyth for a first exhibition. We spent a long time talking to the owner Don Lillis. One of Blyth's highlights and favourites was taken while we were on a walk last year in the Rimutaka Forest Park at Catchpool valley. The Rimutaka Ranges are the most recently most southerly mountains in the ranges forming a spine down North Island. That walk was a pleasant two-hour walk out on the Orogorongo Track returning on the Five Mile Loop through some beautiful bush. This year we joined them in a walk on the Northern Walkway which was a little more challenging taking us on a loop up to the skyline with some superb panoramic views over Wellington and the day was clear enough for us to across the Cook Strait to the mountains in South Island.

The weather forecast was not looking good for our plans to head to Wairarapa camping so we made a quick decision to retrace our tracks to Wanganui and take the Valentine's day dinner cruise on the Steam paddlewheeler, the Waimarie, with hindsight an excellent decision. On the way back to Wanganui we stopped at Tokomaru at the steam museum where we were greeted like old friends by Esma and Colin and invited in to share a piece of their 50th wedding anniversary cake. Conversation turned to various restoration projects and it turned out they had been looking at an article in the 'Old Glory' magazine about a narrowboat tug on the English canals which is owned by John Pattle who we know well and maintains our engine. It also turned out that Colin had a series of extracts from various books on steam engines used at the Waihi Martha Mine we had visited and we left him with our spare copy of the history of the Martha Mine by J McAra, the source of many of his pictures. We only looked round the new section on power generation which Colin has recently completed as we have seen most of it several times under steam as well as static during the weeks.

The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum is a must to visit if you have the least interest in Steam or our industrial heritage. We have visited it three times so far and will go back again. They have an impressive collection of engines with over 50 on display. They are mostly from last century with an emphasis on farming, ice making plants, gas plants, generators and ship engines although there are many others on display or in storage. Many originated in the UK or built under UK licenses although the centrepiece of the collection is a huge refrigeration plant built in Milwaukee. It used to produce 180 tons of ice a day for the meat trade. Most of the engines were rescued from being scrapped and were in full time use until they came to the museum. The collection was first opened to the public in 1970 with a grand opening by the Prime Minister in 1973 since which it has gained many extra exhibits. It must be the biggest and most comprehensive collection of working steam engines in New Zealand and quite possibly of the Southern Hemisphere.

The most exceptional aspect is that it is almost entirely the work of one man, Colin Stevenson. It is owned and run entirely by Colin and Esma Stevenson and, unlike almost all such enterprises in Europe, there is no large band of volunteers supporting them. On Steaming days they have a few paid helpers for safety considerations otherwise it is all their own work. The first times we visited it was not in steam and gave the ideal opportunity for a quiet look round - we were the only people present for much of the time but even so the Stevensons found time to come over for half an hour both times to talk and show us the highlights. We found it fascinating and spent several hours each time but even then we felt we had only scratched the surface - there are still many more old pictures and information boards we had not studied in depth.

On the last steaming Sunday we visited, Colin had 8 static engines running inside, not all simultaneously as the boiler will not support them all,as well as two road engines outside and the train was in continuous use on a loop track running through the old Tokomaru station. It is a tremendous achievement for Colin, almost single-handed, to keep so many of they in a such good condition and running when the large ones would have had large teams to run them during their working days.

The Steam Museum is at Tokomaru on the highway 57, an alternative parallel road between Palmerston North and Levin, initially follow signs for Massey not Levin leaving Palmerston North or branch off at Shannon going North. It is marked on our AA map and is well signed. Any information office should be able to tell you the days they are in steam and it still makes a fascinating visit even when they are static. They unfortunately have no information sheets, just simple adverts, and no web site at that time - it had taken all their efforts to build up and run the huge collection. It is a tremendous resource but one which I fear many are not aware of. During our last visit we spent some time talking to Esma and I told her I would like to extend the information I had on the web from previous visits and she promised to send me further details.

Esma subsequently sent us a xerox of a very comprehensive book they published in the early days, which has unfortunately been out of print for a long time. She has told me to feel free to use the material, for which they have the copyright, and marked up a few changes. I am delighted to do so and hope very much these pages will be found by people searching for information and thus assist them - it is a small contribution to help such a magnificent collection survive and be appreciated by more people. The original text was written and edited for them by Neil Rennie and the photographs in the original book were by Graham Radcliffe. I have so far scanned the lists of exhibits, the list of engines in store and a couple of chapters which I think give the flavour of the museum and the tremendous enthusiasm and dedication of Colin and Esma Stevenson.

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