Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights

By: James Heremaia


Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights
Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights Colin with his large working model railway. Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights
Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights
Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights
Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights Road trip to the Wairarapa: 4 highlights

A red kiwi, a red poppy, a red beer label and a restored red railcar have James Heremaia seeing red in the Wairarapa. These were some of the highlights of his road trip on SH2.

Ardour, commitment, craving, desire, drive, enthusiasm, love, obsession, thirst, zeal: these are just some of the words to describe passion.

On a recent road trip on SH2 I toured four visitor attractions that were so different individually, but tied together as a whole by passion. Environmental, nostalgic restoration, product manufacture and a hobby that continues to grow, are unlikely bedfellows. Yet when experienced together you become more aware of the passion that drives the owners and caretakers who continue to live their dream – in some cases for decades.

The Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre

The Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre is all that is left of an ancient treasured forest that reached all the way from the Wairarapa to the Hawke's Bay. A theatre with a large screen documents what happened to this forest and its inhabitants in three sequences; the original forest alive with birds including moa and other extinct birdlife, then the sound of human voices and axes followed by a huge fire and finally the same landscape reinvented as a grassy farm with fencing and a house. Unlike the first sequence overlaid with a sound track of the dawn chorus this landscape was silent.

Supporting the video large information boards list all the birds lost to extinction and those today that totter on the edge. It was a sad and emotional few minutes but as I left the theatre the words on one board caught my attention. "We are the cause but also the solution." New Zealand will never again be that untouched island paradise it once was but in some small measure the efforts of Pukaha Mount Bruce and others in resurrecting that ancient dawn chorus is to be celebrated thanks to the ongoing passion of its rangers, caretakers and conservationists.

From the theatre, footpaths meander through the bush with several aviaries containing rare native birds including a very tame and cheeky kokako. A little further on there is a stream with some very large and healthy looking eels in it. It was feeding time and to the screams of delight from a group of school pupils on the viewing platform above the stream two women in plastic leggings stood in the middle of a seething mass of eels, hand feeding them from large metal spoons. There was even a dead mouse involved, a highlight for the boys, if not so much for the girls. I'm with the girls on this occasion!

Eels aside, the major drawcard at Pukaha Mount Bruce lives in the kiwi house: an adorable and personable white kiwi called Manukura. Despite a down light turning her red in the enclosure, she stole my heart as she scuttled about probing the ground with her long beak. How privileged I felt that I could stand here and look at a real live version of our national emblem that could have been lost were it not for wildlife centres like Pukaha Mount Bruce.

Just down the road from Pukaha Mount Bruce there is an unusual ANZAC memorial in the form of a white arched concrete bridge. On the bridge floor there was evidence of this year's dawn parade. Red poppies were still visible attached to basket weave squares of green flax.

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Cwmglyn Farm

From the bridge I took a left hand turn off SH3 then another to reach the car park of the Cwmglyn Farm, home of the Middleton Model Railway, a visitor attraction that rings all my bells. At the end of a tree-lined driveway I was met by Elizabeth Fraser-Davies and shortly after by her husband Colin. They ushered me into a very large purpose-built shed that contained a working model railway (we don't call them train sets anymore) so big you couldn't take it all in at once.

Colin and Elizabeth are a delightful couple whose passion for what they do is clearly evident. The statistics for the model railway are impressive; 300 metres of track, 227 points, 10 stations, a marshalling yard, a harbour complex, a mine and a quarry. Built in 00 scale the supporting infrastructure such as buildings, cars and rolling stock can be changed to reflect any decade from the 1950s to the 1990s. It took 30 years to build, 20 years of operation and 10 years open to the public. Colin constantly works on it making it even bigger and better than before.

As well as modelling the pretty bits such as flower gardens, hedges and parks Elizabeth hand makes gourmet cheese exclusively harvested from each of her four Jersey cows, Holly, Dizzy, Isobel and Patsy. I tried a piece courtesy of a very pregnant Patsy that was certainly a step up from the commercial processed variety I'm used to.

In addition to the main layout there is a well-stocked shop full of modelling goodies to make every little boy (and big ones) drool. I couldn't help myself when I came across a modern Kiwirail diesel locomotive, I had to buy it; and yes I did. I think there is a bookshelf diorama about to be built at my place.

Pahiatua railway

Another passionate railway builder is Bernard Watson, vice president of the Pahiatua Railcar Society but unlike Colin, he has spent 30 years working full scale, resurrecting the old red railcars from the 50s, 60s and 70s. I caught up with him at the Pahiatua railway station where he was working on RM31 Tokomaru, a fully restored and operational NZR Standard railcar.

The adjacent restoration complex is one of the few railway museums to have use of an open station and mainline access. In the yard there are several examples of restored vintage wagons plus the shells of two NZR Fiat railcars awaiting the complex process of full restoration.

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The standard railcar Tokomaru is the flagship for the society and is often used on excursions originating out of Pahiatua. Stepping onboard, I was instantly transported back to my teens, those textured red vinyl seats, the fish net overhead luggage racks, the gritty buff linoleum and that distinctive railway smell. Even the seat number label inserts above the windows were original.

The passion that has gone into bringing back these railway icons is clearly evident right down to replicating the round leadlight windows exactly as they appeared when these railcars were built.

The Tui brewery in Mangatainoka

There are only two television advertisements I never tire of seeing: the Toyota Scotty ads and those of my final destination on this trip, the Tui brewery in Mangatainoka.

Unfortunately I arrived too late for the brewery tour, but I did get a private tour of the grounds by one of the onsite Tui girls that turned out to be just as informative. There are several stories and details for you to discover for yourself. The loud black and red Tui brand is everywhere as well as examples of their advertisements. "I only came on tour to see how the beer is made, yeah right" was by far my favourite.

The most recognisable feature of the brewery is the brick tower with another story for you to discover. A humorous touch is the Tui girls peering out from behind the windows.

The heart of the brewery is Tui HQ incorporating Tui's history, a bar and a café and an outside beer garden, a hot spot on a sunny day. Inside there is a well-stocked souvenir shop where yet again I gave in to temptation and bought a t-shirt. I can wear it while building my Kiwirail diorama!

All of these visitor experiences are a must to see first-hand; these are the fruits of labour resulting from years of hard work and passion by those both out front and working quietly behind the scenes. Our past doesn't have to be our past. It can be kept alive and thriving for future generations to experience and appreciate.

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