The North Pole Express

What better time to break the blog hiatus than the lead-up to Christmas? Last weekend we traveled on the North Pole Express, a steam train ride from Paraparaumu to the North Pole (Otaki standing in) and back. We were joined by Kelly, Drew and Clara and all met up at the Paraparaumu train station. We had been advised to arrive 30 minutes before departure time of 7pm and got to out muster point for the Elf carriage at about 6:35pm to find we were the last people to turn up, obviously we weren’t as organised as everyone else. Still, we were early enough.

As indicated by the carriage name we stood with an Elf holding a big green flag and we got our tickets from a cheerful Christmas chef. Our Elf was constantly moving and we were soon on the move to the station platform to await the arrive of the titular Polar Express. Soon enough we could see a puff of smoke in the distance and then the train was pulling in to the platform, a wonderfully restored steam engine pulling equally grand restored carriages and all decorated for the Christmas theme.

Here comes the Polar Express

Here comes the Polar Express

Our carriage chef

Our carriage chef

Decorations

Decorations

Off we go

Off we go

We found our allocated seats and settled in for the journey. There was appropriately themed music for the whole trip and our Elf, Chef and a cast of other characters kept us entertained as we steamed north. There were people watching from their houses or pulled over beside the road to watch the train go past, obviously we were quite the sight! As we got closer to the North Pole our Elf was getting very excited and as we pulled into the station we saw Santa and his assistants waiting on the platform and welcoming us with a wave (Santa) and acrobatics (the assistants).

The conductor pays a visit

The conductor pays a visit

Our elf gets excited

Our elf gets excited

Disembarking we arrived into a winter wonderland with stalls dispensing iced chocolate (it’s been a warm summer so far) and cookies and there was a foam machine pumping out a fare substitute for real snow. Alayna was certainly impressed and this is was the closest she’s ever been to real snow.

Alayna in the snow

Alayna in the snow

The snowing platform

The snowing platform

We had plenty of time to wander about, watch people getting photos with Santa and the other dressed up characters from the other carriages, and then see the steam engine move to the other end for the return journey (returning backwards as there was apparently no turntable available). Then we were called back to our seats and headed back to Paraparaumu. During the return Santa visited everyone at their seats and gifted bells to all. There was more singing, more dancing and general good cheer and even a nice sunset to watch.

Receiving a bell from Santa

Receiving a bell from Santa

Peek-a-boo

Peek-a-boo

Singing and dancing

Singing and dancing

We disembarked, had a chance for one final chat with Santa and then were walking back to the cars. It had been a fun trip and was now quite late which meant Alayna fell asleep on the way home, all excited out.

The train empties at dusk

The train empties at dusk

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year!

Te Araroa: Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki

The new Paekakariki Escarpment track, a recent addition to the Te Araroa NZ trail, has been open for a few weeks now and we’d been thinking about giving it a go. The fabulous weather continues and we decided that Saturday morning would be our time. The only concern was my football in the afternoon so we had to leave early, as it turned out earlier than we normally leave for work. We decided to walk north and this found us driving and parking up at Paekakariki Station to then catch a train back to Pukerua Bay to start walking. It also helped get Alayna excited, she likes public transport a lot.

Travel by train

Travel by train

Train station playing

Train station playing

Here is my ticket

Here is my ticket

Everything went to plan and we started our trek at the right time of 8:30am. The walk is meant to take 3-4 hours and we thought we’d probably be a little slow but would get back to Paekakariki around lunchtime. From Pukerua Station the path took us through some streets and then a small park before joining the new trail at the now closed Muri station. We had a couple of trains pass by as we walked along beside the train tracks and Alayna got a few waves and a small toot from train drivers, they must be a friendly bunch.

Escarpment Track

Escarpment Track

Lets begin

Lets begin

We were soon rising up the hillside and getting grand views both of the Tasman Sea to the west and the farmland and coastal scrub to the east. The stands of trees all bore evidence of the often harsh climate with windblown branches leaning away. It was a calm day with only a slight southerly and out to sea there were a number of kayakers out fishing. The South Island was hidden behind a bank of cloud but Kapiti Island was a strong, familiar presence. Every kilometre of the track was marked with an iron signpost, we seemingly quickly covered the first 2 kilometres but then the steps started.

Landscape

Landscape

2 kms done

2kms done

Looking down to the shore

Looking down to the shore

Views north

Views north

When we didn’t have steep stairs to walk up the trail was often quite narrow, winding around the hillside. I’m normally not too bad on this kind of track but with Alayna in the backpack on my back I was very concious of the drop to our left and I concentrated on just one foot in front of the other at times rather than looking out at the view. It was also good that we didn’t meet many other people for most of the first half as the steps and track didn’t have a lot of rooms for passing. There were a few small bridges but the highlights were two swing bridges that spanned valleys that rose steeply above the train tracks below. It was disconcerting approaching the first swing bridge with a dark tunnel entrance seemingly filling the view ahead just above the stairs.

Sihlouette

Sihlouette

Steps and the first bridge

Steps and the first bridge

Over we go

Over we go

Brendon and Alayna

Brendon and Alayna on the second swing bridge

There were a few steps

There were a few steps

After the second swing bridge there was a series of steps leading up a steep slope. We slowed right down, taking one flight at a time and resting before moving on up. At the top of this section we had a break and talked to some other people coming the other way who let us know that this was only a taster for what was to come. Thankfully the next step climb was a while away and first we got to walk through some nice stands of trees, the forest a quiet and easy stage to recharge and ready ourselves.

Some were very keen

Some were very keen

A gap in the canopy

A gap in the canopy

The longest stretch of stairs is called the stairway to heaven and it was quite tough to ascend. We were passed by a very fit older man who was counting steps as he walked, reaching 200 when he passed me. He got to the top of the steps and then turned around to come back. We kept going.

The stairway to heaven

The stairway to heaven

More steps

More steps

At the top and just past the halfway mark was a lookout with some good seating and a glorious view out to sea. We had some snacks and got Alayna out of the pack to stretch her legs. There were more and more people reaching the top, almost all coming from the north, and there was plenty of friendly banter and laughs at the top. I got a few comments on how keen I was to have carried Alayna all the way so far on my back, further on we would come across a few others also carrying children in similar fashion.

Feet at the top

Feet at the top

The lookout

The lookout

Brendon and Alayna at the top

Brendon and Alayna at the top

Watered, fed and a little rested we got our gear together, helped Alayna into the pack again and walked on. The way down seemed easier, though tougher on the knees. There were plenty more stairs but a lot of the downward path was sloped across switchbacks. Time passed more quickly it seemed and by the time we neared the end of the track we were in good spirits while still ready for a proper meal. Alayna slept for the final 20 minutes or so, waking up as we approached Paekakariki.

Starting to head down

Starting to head down

More downward steps

More downward steps

8kms completed

8kms completed

It took us around 3 1/2 hours in the end which we thought was pretty good considering we had stopped a few times. We had lunch as planned in Paekakariki and didn’t have to hurry which was nice. Then it was back to the car via the train station and Alayna was full of beans, revelling in walking herself. She was exploring, running around, playing with her shadow and the writing on the ground. So all in all we enjoyed ourselves, completed a challenging walk with no issues and in very good time. We’ll have to return once Alayna is a little older and ready for a longer walk under her own steam.

Ready for lunch

Ready for lunch

Happy times

Happy times

There's my shadow

There’s my shadow

A for Alayna

A for Alayna

Crossing the tracks

Crossing the tracks

Boxing Day at Queen Elizabeth Park

The extended Christmas weekend has been a period of stunning weather in Wellington. I’ve been forgetting what wind is like, no doubt I’ll be reminded soon enough. We took advantage on Boxing Day and took a walk up the coast at the Mackays Crossing end of Queen Elizabeth Park, specifically the Wetland Walk and the Bush Loop (not the most imaginative names). I can’t find a decent website link for the walk but you can view a PDF map here.

We parked at the park rangers office and got ourselves ready. I took Alayna to have a look at some horses across the road and we stood and watched as one of the park trams passed by. As we started our walk two horses were led by by their riders and Alayna had a good look without getting too close. Horse inspection complete we were off into the meadows.

Walking the meadow

Walking the meadow

Pukeko signage

Pukeko signage

Blowing dandelions

Blowing dandelions

The track circumnavigated a large paddock populated with cattle and a couple of wetland areas. Being quite dry recently there wasn’t a lot of water to be seen near the southern end of the track but we still saw a few pukeko and a heron. Alayna got to check out various wildflowers and blow dandelions with Keryn and also inspected a couple of rabbit holes. The track interseccted with an equestrian course and there were lots of different jumps dotted around. Outside of the Bush Loop there were a few stands of manuka and young cabbage trees popping out of the grass.

Horse course

Horse course

The lollipop cabbage tree

The lollipop cabbage tree

Vibrant ponds

Vibrant pond

The wetland area at the northern end had a decent sized pond and as we approached we could hear a chorus of frogs which quietened by the time we were at the waters edge. We did see a couple of frogs resting in the water along with the ducks and a couple of dabchick. The walk ended back at the park road and passed by a US Marines Memorial. Information on the history of the US Marine camps on the Kapiti Coast can be found at the Kapiti US Marine Trust website.

US Marines Memorial

US Marines Memorial

Reading the boards at the US Marines Memorial

Reading the boards at the US Marines Memorial

We drove down to the end of the road and had a brief look. There were plenty of people around enjoying the good weather.

Kapiti Island

Kapiti Island