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International Railroad Discussion > A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1 - A laundry soap geyser


Date: 04/01/17 07:56
A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1 - A laundry soap geyser
Author: hogheaded

Last march my wife and I flew down to New Zealand from my Hawaii home to see the sights, meet the people and, of course, do a little railfanning. In terms of the latter, it was a casual affair - for the first time in my life, a large assortment of camera equipment did not accompany me. I shot everything with an iPhone, which was good enough, given that my radical railfan days are far behind me. Hence, "A Casual US Railfan…"

What follows here and in posts during the coming days is a largely chronological photo narrative of my rail encounters in that wonderful country. An odd shot of a non-rail attraction may appear from time-to-time also, under the somewhat dangerous presumption that the reader is not totally fixated on trains.

For the U.S. railfan, New Zealand is a nice fit.

The countryside on both North and South Islands in many places reminds me of our own Pacific Northwest (Willamette Valley; CA north coast, for instance) and Intermountain West (Grand Tetons; Montana around Yellowstone Park). Walk into a bar and ask somebody to explain rugby (the national obsession) or cricket to you, and you'll likely make a friend for life. I've never felt so "comfortable" outside of the US. The Kiwis are unassuming, warm and friendly and actually LIKE Americans, a rapidly diminishing international phenomenon.

NZ standard gauge is 3'6'', so, like the country itself, it is sort of a compact version of what we experience here in the U.S. A short month was hardly enough time to achieve a comprehensive view of the country and its railroads, but we made a fair start. So much still to see… we'll be back when our bank account recovers!
- Ed Gibson

1) We flew into Auckland, which has fairly extensive commuter rail service, none of which we rode. It is also the northern terminal of the North Island's sole remaining intercity train, the Northern Explorer, although we did not climb aboard that train there, either. Later.

The building in the window is Auckland's ferry building, which is still nearly surrounded by tracks… that haven't seen a train in two or three decades. The Mexican restaurant, apparently was once "served" by the tracks. We took our first meal in NZ here, in large part due to the enticement of NZ $5 (US $3.50) margaritas, which we judged would help ease us into the peculiarities of a foreign country. In truth, no meaningful adjustment was required, but we believed in erring on the safe side, meaning multiple margaritas. Mexicali Fresh is a chain operation (sadly,we encountered them only on the North Island) that puts Taco Bell to shame.

2) Our second destination was the Rotorua area, southeast of Auckland. We traveled there by bus, because the last passenger train to the town ran about 15 years ago. NZ's bus system is absolutely first rate (although its schedule adherence reflects the Kiwi's somewhat relaxed regard towards everything non rugby).

My personal objective there was the nearby "Railcruising self-drive rail cars" (aka rail carts; US: speeders), which is a 1.5 hour, 19 km (incl. return) u-drive operation on an abandoned NZ rail branchline. Thirty-odd years ago, I rode a noisy, somewhat un-muffled speeder a couple of times during my short tenure in Southern Pacific's Track Department, but Railcruising's were hardly noisy. In fact, the only sound that we heard was the sound of the wheels crossing rail joints, because these carts were hi-tech hybrids.

After some rudimentary instructions, basically all that the driver then does is release a lever and go. Global positioning and a rudimentary form of positive train control guide you down the tracks, slowing or stopping you as need be. Should something unexpected happen, you still have the ability to stop the cart and radio the dispatcher. Otherwise, it's a hands off experience, which allows you to hand out of the cart for photos of tree ferns (see inset), and of course, sheep.*
* properly pronounced "shape", as near as I can tell

Being a seven-years retired locomotive engineer, this was the first time that I touched a "throttle" (such as it was) for seven years, so when we came to the far end of the line for the turnaround, I was ready to impress the waiting attendant with my precise stopping point abilities. I missed.

Railcruising's owner hopes to extend his operation all the way to Rotorua one day, but there's the matter of 8,000 missing ties that somebody pinched after the line was rail-banked.

You movie buffs may find the log structure in the foreground to be somewhat familiar, what with so many recent flicks being filmed here in Middle Earth. That's right, this was the Jellystone Park ranger station in the movie Yogi Bear!

3) Rotorua is a big tourist spot, as the surrounding area is NZ's version of Yellowstone Park's volcanic bubbling attractions.  A most notable natural feature is a geyser that erupts daily at about 10:15 am. I'm not a geologist, but having personally witnessed the irregularity of Old Faithful, I found such precise regularity to be near-miraculous. Turns out, a park ranger achieves this by pouring a bag of (non-phosphate) laundry soap down its snout, as seen here.

The place I'm probably glad that I missed: the Prawn Park. (note: this photo purloined from the park's website) I gather that the main activities in this "world famous" enterprise are 1) for children: petting prawns and 2) for adults: eating prawns. Thus I envision that the deal is that everyone sits family-style around a large tureen of prawns for a good pet, then the prawns are hauled off for a quick boil for lunch. Native Kiwis, please advise.


 



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/02/17 10:47 by hogheaded.








Date: 04/01/17 16:49
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1
Author: BoilingMan

Dude!  That's one happy (and clueless, considering what's going on right under his, um, nose?) prawn!   I like the "Neuvo' Zealand placename- very authentic-ish.
Do carry on...
SR



Date: 04/02/17 07:26
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1
Author: hogheaded

I promise that the balance of the series will be prawn-less. If there was a point to these first photos, it was to highlight a small part of the Kiwi's march to a different drummer. Fundamentally, they seem to be happy, warm and unassuming people who take great pleasure in simple things, particularly the outdoors.

They also are a pragmatic bunch, which is evident in the case of the laundry soap geyser. There is historical precedence for this. A century ago when the geyser did not have its pyramid, a group of loggers were in the surrounding pool  washing their clothes, and the soap they were using broke the surface tension of the water, soon causing an eruption that sent the blokes screaming naked into the bush. It's well worth viewing the geyser - which really isn't much - just to hear the story. The park people evidently long ago figured likewise, and given that sans soap the geyser is widely irregular, they chose to recreate that historical event to expose a maximum number of visitors to a geyser, and a good yarn. Environmentalists here in the states would scream, I'm sure.But after viewing the rest of the country, it is easy to say that NZ does an excellent job as stewards of the environment. I'm surprised that the Kiwis don't advertise the thing as "the world's cleanest geyser" in the vein of the Prawn Park's proclamation as the "world's largest". Enough about prawns.

EO



Date: 04/04/17 10:49
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1
Author: BoilingMan

So they actually re-enact the running of the terrified naked loggers into the forest?!
Hmmmm...
They might be on to something- kind of like the running of the bulls, only not so photogenic...
SR



Date: 04/04/17 15:26
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1
Author: hogheaded

BoilingMan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> So they actually re-enact the running of the
> terrified naked loggers into the forest?!
> Hmmmm...
> They might be on to something- kind of like the
> running of the bulls, only not so photogenic...
> SR

Forest? A forest is properly called "bush" in New Zealand. I would have thought that you, of all people, would have picked up on this, Mr. Bush. My only comment re naked loggers is that the Laundry Soap Geyser is much too clean of a show to display public nudity.

EO

 



Date: 04/04/17 16:19
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1
Author: BoilingMan

Oh, and that makes me a "bush" expert?!  Nice try Pal- but I'm not taking that bait!  You can get your ownself kicked off TO!
SR



Date: 04/05/17 06:46
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1
Author: leonz

The national Park service still uses powdered soap for old faithfull from what
I remember of it as the rangers were seen using boxes of Tide soap powder
to poke it along or at least they did many years ago.



Date: 04/05/17 17:35
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 1
Author: hogheaded

leonz Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The national Park service still uses powdered soap
> for old faithfull from what
> I remember of it as the rangers were seen using
> boxes of Tide soap powder
> to poke it along or at least they did many years
> ago.

Well I'll be darned. Old Faithfull must be getting too old to perform. I guess that we are as practical about hooking tourists as the Kiwis.

EO



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