Bill Milnes Explores Wellington

Question – Why go to Wellington for a Tattoo?

Answer – As George Mallory said about Mt Everest, “Because it’s there”.

But I’m referring to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo which was in Wellington for 4 days in February – but more of that later.

We decided to travel to Wellington by train, something I’d not done and had on my bucket list – reinforced by the great Kiwi Rail TV ads.

We’d intended doing the ‘Auckland Transport’ thing and travelling by rail from home to catch the Northerner, but apparently, at very short notice, Auckland Transport (AT) kicked Kiwi Rail out of Britomart. Now one of NZ’s tourist must-do’s is now operating from a converted container on a platform, hidden in a back street off the Strand in Parnell.

With no (AT controlled) public transport available it meant a taxi for us, and I guess, many other travellers. AT is not the most popular bureaucracy in Auckland and their refusal to provide transport to Kiwi Rail is not a good way to encourage tourists to experience this icon of New Zealand. Perhaps it is just more political gamesmanship between Wellington and Auckland that we see in so many aspects of living in Auckland.

However, the Kiwi Rail staff were great – helpful, friendly and relaxed and we headed out of the ‘station’ on time at 7.50 am. And, surprisingly, after my past experiences of NZ Rail, the train was really quiet and smooth. Easy to talk and no jangling back and forward as the carriages bump against each other.  Overseas travellers may expect such a ride, but it was a very pleasant surprise to me.

The weather was perfect, the harbour as beautiful as ever as we settled down to bacon and egg wraps and coffee for breakfast. The café service was good and the menu was adequate, but not in my opinion as good as the food we would have been served on an Air NZ if we had flown down.   A major benefit of rail travel is seeing a different NZ from what we see by road.  It was a fantastic trip with an interesting [even for this old-timer] and unobtrusive commentary available through headphones.

NZ is a beautiful country and this was particularly obvious from the open observation car. In the first few hours we experienced city scenes, the Waikato River, lush Waikato farmlands, hills, the amazing Raurimu Spiral (and) the King Country, and the high plain and volcanoes around National Park.  Then descending through river valleys to the plains of the southern North Island.

Rivers and roads, swamps and plains, mountains and dramatic viaducts over chasmic [a new word] gorges. Cattle, sheep, pigs, alpacas, back yards of houses and back streets of towns. But isn’t it strange, that so often when one takes a photo, a tree or bank glides into the photo and the scene is lost!

The train made 8-10 stops for passengers to join or leave and because of the hot summer, there were places where it had to slow because of track expansion, so we arrived an hour late, but we were on holiday and the trip was exceptional.

Part two of this post coming soon.

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