Friday, January 15, 2010

Whanganui River Trip - Heading North 1

Early morning to go and catch the train, all packed up the night before. Erin packed a breakfast of Stephen`s fresh berry muffins, cheese and fruit. Then strong coffee from the train cafe car and we settle back to watch the Canterbury Plain out the window. We are heading north from Christchurch to Wellington on our way to the headwaters of the Whanganui River (Fan-ga-newy) for a five day canoe trip.

There are only three passenger train services left in New Zealand. Each travels only once a day. Our train, in the middle of the summer holidays, is almost completely full. Passenger rail service effectively ended with the “New” Labour government rationalization of the economy in the early 1990s. The national rail service was sold off to a private company which mined it our for cash and then sold back the now eviscerated service to the New Zealand government. And now there are only three passenger rail services left in the country.

The train starts across the Canterbury Plain, open ground with copses of large trees, an almost English country landscape of small farms with the village church spires rising above the trees, horses trotting in pastures stretching away from the railway tracks. It is a far cry from the heavily forested landscape first longingly witnessed by botantist Joseph Banks from the deck of Cap't James Cook's Endeavour some 240 years ago. The New Zealand 50 cent piece commemorates this passage with a view of the Endeavour sailing along the southwest coast of the North Island with Mount Taranaki towering in the background.

In the evening Erin leads us on a walk along the harbour front of Wellington. We pass behind Te Papa “Our Place”, the national museum, and a large propeller from HMNZS Wellington, a Cold War frigate, in a terrific wind. My pant legs crack and snap, it is possible to lean on the wind as it cuts across the harbour, the last time it saw land was in Chile. At the windiest point on the waterfront we sample the Wellington Writers' Walk:
Their heads bent, their legs just touching, they stride like one eager person through the town, down the asphalt zigzag where the fennel grows wild, and on to the esplanade. It is dusky – just getting dusky. The wind is so strong that they have to fight their way through it, rocking like two old drunkards.
- Katherine Mansfield, "The Wind Blows"
For more on the Writers' Walk see Justine Clark, Writing by Types, Artichoke magazine, Australia / April 2003 at: And check out Mansfield at Wikipedia for insights into a colourful member of the neo-pagans. She never did like New Zealand, except as nostalgia.

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