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Steaming further south

Evelyn and Patrick Watson took a break from their Waimata Valley farm in April to go on the inaugural Great Southern Steam Train Tour. Evelyn continues their story. They are in Christchurch now . . .

The torrential downpour of the night before had thankfully cleared as many of us boarded the buses that took us to Latimer Square early on Anzac Day to attend the Dawn service in Christchurch. It was a moving service as always, with a big impressive parade and many beautiful musical items, attended by a huge crowd of people.

After returning to the hotel and having breakfast we walked into the centre of Christchurch, seeing for the first time some of the abandoned and derelict buildings still waiting to be demolished after the terrible earthquake, ten years ago now, in 2011.

We boarded historic trams, where we had a lively and informative commentary by our young tram driver, as we weaved our way around the inner city. It was so sad to see the old Cathedral awaiting restoration, and view the empty lots, but great to see the many new buildings and the wonderful repairs to the old Arts Centre and other old buildings. The beautiful parks and gardens, in their autumn glory, were as lovely as ever.

Later the coaches took us out to “French” Akaroa, with a stop at Little River on the way, where we enjoyed ice creams and were intrigued by the unusual “Silo Stay” motel . . . a unique and eye-catching idea!

A huge and noisy motorbike rally paraded past, raising funds for charity, with every kind of two- and three-wheeler, some quite outrageous and looking more like cars than bikes!

At Akaroa we explored the township and had a leisurely lunch before our return to Christchurch.

Next morning we rejoined the train at Rolleston and headed south over the fertile Canterbury plains and the wide braided rivers of the region. The paddocks had massive irrigators and extensive areas of baled winter feed and fodder crops ready for the coming winter.

We stopped for lunch at Timaru before heading on to Oamaru with its beautiful and impressive old Victorian buildings, where we spent the night and enjoyed several excursions.

A southerly change was advancing so we all wore layers of our warmest clothes as we set out for the Little Blue Penguin Colony, just out of town.

Two covered grandstands face the fenced- off area which the little penguins traverse to their burrows/nesting boxes. They are the smallest breed of penguin, only about 33cm high, and are monogamous, returning year after year to their burrows.

Several seals were lounging around the fenced-off area — they do not harm the penguins but the penguins are nevertheless very wary of them.

The southerly hit with rain and wind as we huddled together listening to a very interesting talk about the colony, and the little penguins, waiting for them to return home from their day at sea.

As twilight fell we could see the first group — called a “raft” — swimming together for safety towards the steep but not too high cliff to our left. The area was lit so we could see them, but the penguins could not see the lights.

Soon afterwards the little birds appeared over the edge and after a little hesitation scuttled quickly to their burrows beyond the fence which kept out the seals. As requested, we kept quiet and took no photos, just watched, fascinated, as wave after wave of little penguins waddled up. There are over 200 nesting pairs, which is a great achievement as numbers had dwindled. We could hear the little birds calling to each other as they “ unwound” and ‘’cooled down” after their big swim in, when their body temperature is hot.

After every little penguin was safe home we returned to town and had a very welcome delicious hot buffet meal at the old restored historic Loan and Mercantile grain store.

The following morning some of the group toured the Whitestone Cheese factory while the rest of us went to the extraordinary and bizarre Steam Punk Museum and HQ nearby, in another of the grand old Oamaru buildings. It houses an amazing display of weird and wonderful “animals” and futuristic machines made from every kind of old vehicle part, tool and “junk” you could imagine. Weird but very ingenious and very well done.

Our next stop was at the fascinating Moeraki Boulders on Kohe Kohe beach on the Otago coast. The unique round boulders are concretions that have been exposed through shoreline erosion from coastal cliffs. The most remarkable one is a perfectly round huge boulder which was still emerging from the cliff face like a giant egg being laid.

After a delicious fish and chip lunch by the sea we set off by coach for the train station and headed south for a night in Dunedin.

Most people enjoyed a visit to Larnach Castle the next morning with castle and garden tours and morning tea, but having been before we decided to have a quiet morning and walk down to the nearby magnificent old railway station where we rejoined the group and collected our lunch.

Then it was “all aboard” for the final leg of our journey to Invercargill where we were quite sad to say goodbye to our dear old train carriages. Waiting for us at the station with a big welcome and smile was the mayor, Tim Shadbolt.

About 40 of the group headed home from here while the rest of us continued on the next day, around the south coast and up to the West Coast in three busloads.

To be concluded...

WHITE STONE: Oamaru is full of grand old Victorian buildings made from the famous Oamaru limestone. The city’s opera house is a fine example. All pictures by Evelyn and Patrick Watson
CITY VIEW: Trams took the tour party on a circuit of the inner city in Christchurch.
INTRIGUING: A tiny railway station on a siding in Oamaru.
AMAZING: Futuristic machines on show at Oamaru’s Steampunk HQ.
CURIOUS: The distinctive and unique Moeraki boulders.
REMARKABLE: A Moeraki boulder emerging from the cliff face like a giant egg being laid.