The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 8 (January 15, 1927)
Through Central Otago with No. 333
Mr. A. H. Messenger, in his capacity as Acting Government Publicity Officer, had occasion to make one of the Railway Department's special “round trips” of the Southern Lakes. He was greatly taken with the tour and, as a result, has kindly contributed the following graphic description of the rail journey through the historic Otago Central District.
My start for the tour of Central Otago by the first of the special summer expresses to leave Dunedin did not appear to be too auspicious. The morning broke grey and dismal with a fine rain falling, but I always have a feeling that somewhere just around the corner the sun will be shining, and once more I was not to be disappointed.
Engine No. 333, spick and span and gleaming with moisture as she slides down to the waiting line of carriages, awakes at once that feeling of keen interest which is a legacy of everyone's boy hood days. Just watch at any station and notice how even the most staid and prosaic of individuals will display awakened interest when the great mass of steel which is to convey them in safety through rugged and difficult country, comes gliding in under the master touch of the driver. Hurried farewells are spoken on the platform, the guard's whistle shrills, and in a few moments, with a long quiet heave, the express starts on her journey. A parting glance at the green hills and red roofs of Otago's capital and then we plunge into the long tunnel leading to the wide valley which, in turn, gives way to the beautiful Taieri plains.
Here the air is filled with the sweet scent of hawthorn as the train sweeps down the grade to the plain level, and, leaning back in comfort in the high-backed seats, one may gaze out over the wide level expanse of verdant plain-lands, intersected at intervals with lines of stately poplars and feathery blue-gums. Across the plains looms Saddle Hill, a landmark for many miles around, with the line to Invercargill, far away to the south, passing at its feet.
Leaving the level stretch of the Taieri, No. 333. finds heavy work awaiting her, and soon the measured song of her exhaust awakes the echoes as she swings her line of carriages up into the hills. In a trice the country changes completely, manuka bushes dot the steep slopes and flax lines the flanks of the narrow gullies. Sheep are grazing everywhere, and harrier hawks hang poised on wide pinions above the ridges. It is a replica of the country about Henderson on the North Auckland line, and it is this everchanging landscape which is such a pleasant feature of travel in this favoured Dominion.
Salisbury station, our first stopping place in the hills, is a tiny settlement of red-roofed houses framed in stately poplars, with patches of golden gorse providing a brilliant touch of colour. Leaving this sheltered nook our train swings on into yet another change of scenery, a grimmer country of rock and tussock which has a counterpart in the high slopes of Terawhiti. In the Gorge below the line the tawny waters of the Taieri river swirl and foam as they make their way down to the plains. From now on the country assumes a bolder and more romantic character until, at Parera station, the train passes under a towering rock face which looms darkly overhead. High above, the great brown slopes are studded with outcrops of grey rock which in places resemble the ruins of medieval castles.
At Hindon the river valley opens out, with wide shingle beds, and immediately below the station two hares lope about apparently quite oblivious to the fact that a train-load of people are watching their antics. Swinging round a curve higher up the gorge we come suddenly into view of a fine plantation of larch trees the bright green foliage being in strong contrast to the weathered slopes about us. These slopes, however, take on an added beauty under the tawny mantle of tussock which soon becomes all pervading.
At the Pukerangi station the line emerges on to what might be described as a plateau dotted every here and there with snug homesteads and plantations, while, when Middlemarch is reached, the country changes again to rich farming land with stately ranks of poplars through which may be glimpsed the rich blues and purples of distant ranges. It is a landscape of singular beauty and charm, enhanced by drifting cloud shadows and the glimpse of far off snow peaks. Later on in the day, at Ida Valley, we run into tussock country again, and nearing Lauder station, as the train curves down towards Manuherikia river, passengers are interested to see flocks of wild pigeons flying from beneath the bridges.
At Alexandra we run into the orchard country, with its glory of blossoming trees and belts of tall poplars, and these features persist as the page 7 train climbs upwards, skirting the rock walls where the turbulent river foams and tosses among its mining debris. So at last No. 333 draws her line of cars into Cromwell station, and passengers disembark to take service motors for the majestic lakes district now close ahead.
One at least of that train's company lingered for a parting glance at the steaming giant and paid a silent tribute to the men who rank “safety first” as the prime rule of the steel road.
The following are some opinions of the Railway Department's Southern Lakes round trips, sent by appreciative travellers to the Business Agent (Mr. A. McNeil) who booked them:—
“We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our time, especially in the Southern Lakes District.”—E. Lucy Wyatt, Okiokinga.
“We enjoyed the little tour immensely. It was all interesting, and some of it extremely beautiful and impressive…… We shall not fail to make known our delightful impressions of the South.”—F. L. Joyce Grew, Auckland.
“The scenery is good on any part of the journey, but when you get to Queenstown the scenery is so grand that I cannot fully describe it.”—S. B. Gibb, New Brighton.
“My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the South Island, and particularly the trip to Wanaka and Wakatipu.”—Ernest Aldridge, Devonport.
“I feel I should like to let you know how very much we enjoyed the little tour you mapped out for us. We met with nothing but courtesy and helpfulness from every railway official we met—on trains, lake steamers and buses.”—H. C. D. Somerset, Oxford, Canterbury.
“We must say it was a most enjoyable trip. We travelled last Saturday by the morning train from Cromwell to Dunedin, and the journey was made exceptionally interesting by the guard explaining and pointing out all the different places of interest on the route.”—E. Wright, Wellington.