The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 7 (November 1, 1927)
The Rotorua Excursion
The enterprise of the New Zealand Government Railways in providing for the comfort and convenience of the travelling public of the Dominion is recognised as the basic factor in the success of its ever-increasing tourist traffic. No more outstanding example of its initiative has been shown than in the trip to Rotorua provided last month.
To bring the most wonderful thermal region of the world within week-end reach of the population of Wellington, 428 miles away, at a cost of some three farthings a mile, was surely unique in railway enterprise. For it must be remembered that the scenic attractions of the North Island mean grades that make the operating cost of the trip greater than would be the case in almost any other country. Besides the 2,600 ft. of elevation reached on the Raurimu spiral and the 1,900 ft. climbed on the Frankton-Rotorua branch, there were many trifling eminences-such as the Paekakariki hill and the Johnsonville gradient-which helped to add to the cost of train operating. But the aim of the Department seems to be to make excursions by rail as popular in the north as they have proved on the Arthur's Pass trips in the south. This has made the fares look, by comparison, ridiculously cheap for the distance.
The train resembled the “Limited,” in its make up and schedule, and was drawn by an Ab type of engine.
About 200 persons made the trip, of whom one third were first and two thirds second class passengers—150 travelling from Wellington.
Leaving Wellington at 4.30 p.m. on Friday, the train arrived at Rotorua at 8.30 a.m. on Saturday, and leaving Rotorua at 5.50 p.m. on Sunday evening reached Wellington at 8.55 a.m. on Monday,—sufficiently early for some of the passengers to dive into their offices in time for the commencement of the week's work.
The arrangements for the comfort of passengers were as complete as it was possible to make them and there were no complaints. A feature of the well planned trip was the forethought exercised in the matter of accommodation at Rotorua. It was possible to secure this through the Central Booking Office, where particulars regarding all the standard trips in the Rotorua wonderland were also available. The result was that upon arrival at their destination passengers moved off as though at home, and in three minutes the station platform was deserted. Luggage arrangements were also perfect, and in the case of the return trip this was noticeable in the short time passengers allowed themselves to get to the station from their hotels, yet not a parcel went astray.
The train fares for the full return distance were £3 5s. 8d. 1st class and £2 4s 9d 2nd class. This did not include accommodation or any trips or expenses incurred at Rotorua, but the fares charged were such that the statement that most places of interest could be seen for a total of £5 was fully justified.
The merry crowd that assembled at Thorndon station was by no means comprised of New Zealanders alone, as Australian visitors, including five ladies, took advantage of the uniquely rapid run to Rotorua which gave them the opportunity of catching the Australian boat the day they arrived back in the city.
Well supplied with descriptive literature and Rotorua itineraries, full of joyous anticipations of the delights to come, the passengers, fortified by pillows purchasable on the platform, and cartons of provisions, gave themselves up to the fascinating occupation of getting to know each other and discussing the possibilities of the trips they had planned. Long before dusk had shrouded the misted outlines of Kapiti, the raindrops on the windows were forgotten in newfound friendships, and pleasant anticipations. Palmerston North and tea afforded a welcome diversion, necessarily brief. By eleven o'clock everyone was well settled down, and though a few enthusiasts kept awake in the hope that the moon would emerge to show Ngaruahoe in its crystal snow-capped brilliance, or divulge the tortuous mysteries of the Raurimu spiral (both page 43 of which were possible on the return journey, when the night was clear), the majority were pounding their pillows with more or less success. There is an art in sleeping on the Main Trunk that cannot be mastered in a day, but everyone secured a portion of sleep, punctuated by cups of tea at Ohakune, Taumarunui or Frankton, until daylight dawned on the last stage of the journey to Rotorua. This portion was all new to the majority of the passengers, and the park-like knolls and herds of the famous dairying districts from Morrinsville onwards, and the climb up the bank from Putaruru to Arahiwi (where the pilot engine was discarded) were accorded keen interest.
There is something almost adventurous to the ordinary citizen in travelling all night in order to go sightseeing all the next day, but whatever the memories of the night, they were effectively dispelled by the splendid panorama of Lake Rotorua opened up when the train began the descent of the last hill. Quite a preponderance of the passengers were ladies, so that it was only natural that the tidying up process was rather more noticeable than usual, but hurried toilets and scurried titivations were barely complete when the arrival at the pretty Rotorua railway station announced that the tourists had come into their kingdom.
Rotorua lay open to the visitors who received concessions on nearly all charges, and-as though this were not enough-a reception committee arranged by the Town Clerk waited on the platform to give advice and assistance.
One might spend a month in Rotorua and not see it all; indeed if a month's stay were permissible less would probably be seen than in a few days, because the delights of rambling lazily amongst its inconceivably varied charms and appreciating the many scattered infernos in miniature set in the most incongruously beautiful surroundings might grow to the exclusion of the energy necessary to become a true sightseer. So much of the wonderful thermal activity of the district is to be seen almost within the limits of the pretty little town, with its interesting lake foreshore, that frequent visitors, who have of course seen all the big trips, set the fashion of ignoring them. That is all very well for these blasè persons, but it did not suit the excursionists, who were all agog to cram their two days with experiences they might never have the opportunity to repeat.
Fleets of heavy five-seater motors, spotless and comfortably upholstered, as unlike commercial transport vehicles as is possible to imagine, sedately and noiselessly rolled up to the various rendezvous, and engulfed those vigorous ones who had to make an early start for the Government “Round Trip,” or the equally strenuous trip to Wairakei.
The day was not very promising, and quite a number who had, perhaps, wisely decided to see one thing thoroughly, even if it were only the native village at Ohinemutu, stayed behind, but more than half the visitors were carried off into the tumultuously torn and shrivelled districts of the great eruption, where the weather, on the whole, treated them kindly.
Silent motors bound for Waimangu, slid past the fussy little village of Whakarewarewa with a “you will do to fill in half an hour this evening” look, while others on the same road turned off round Rainbow mountain (which looks like a gaudy terra cotta ornament that has run in the firing) on the way to Wairakei. Others went in the opposite direction to Wairoa, where the buried village still shows the awful fate of the inhabitants, passing the famous Green and Blue Lakes on their way to cross the Waimangu party on Lake Rotomahana. All the trips in the vicinity were covered by one or other parties from Wellington. Fairy Springs, with its pellucid pool tenanted by thousands of trout, which come up from the lake to revel in the purity of the water much as the city man seeks the hill top for a little fresh air, is a delightful spot, and those who chose Whakarewarewa with its Maoris had the advantage of seeing every form of thermal activity in compact compass, while the Government Gardens, with its tiny perpetual geyser working overtime, more trout, and the famous baths, fed chiefly from a deep boiling pool in the middle of beautiful plots and lawns, was visited by all.
Those who drove comfortably away through the rounded hills, capped with tiny white cabins where lonely forest look-outs watch for fires in page 44 the dry season, saw thousands of acres planted with pines and gums in many shades of green and russet by long-forgotten good-conduct prisoners (perhaps some of them made the trip) and found, when the larch and Corsican pine had given place to manuka scrub that the drivers had a fund of chatty humour and information as to the dates and circumstances of upheavals of the past still observable, though covered by the speedy native growth. From the eruption-blasted accommodation house at Waimangu onwards interest gave place to awe, and the tragedies of Frying Pan Flat, read about by everyone, assumed for the first time their true significance in the presence of the forces which had caused them, and in full view of the mangled and ash-capped country the tremendous upheaval of boiling mud had devastated. Eighty tourists had passed over the flat only a short while before it blew out and became acres of boiling water. This evil looking, pale blue sheet of steaming, whorled water had a fascination only equalled by the marvels of the valley between it and Lake Rotomahana. Nobody was happy until hands had been dabbled in the steaming creek which flows partly from the now quiescent Waimangu geyser and partly from the big, ever moving pool immediately below it. Passing a bank covered in ferns and young ti-tree, a fat, important hiss like that of a puff adder about to strike drew attention to a sibilant, acrid little hole in the moss, from which sulphur fumes eternally jetted. Soon the sight of these became common, while spirals of steam and fumes wreathed out everywhere. In one spot in a cold stream there shot up boiling jets, bubbling boiling pools lay beside the path, and if one stopped long to look, the soles of the feet told that the eye was not being deceived. All over the hillsides were fumeroles and jets of sulphur, and every gully was a crazy tangle of sharp pinnacles and rifts in the soft pumice crust worn by the rains of years. As the creek widened out the infernal activity did not decrease. A tiny terrace in course of formation below a spasmodic geyser of tiny size showed how the famous Pink Terraces were made. Now and again there were tiny caves, the floor strewn with match ends. Adding to the pile there was a loud pop, as the fumes exploded. Everywhere there was hissing and popping, and clouds of steam. Most of the hot springs and jetting geyserlets bordered the path, which ended on Lake Rotomahana, with the site of the Pink Terraces, now buried in the lake beneath a scalded scar on the hillside, through whose mounds flowed copious clouds of steam. Boarding the launch a landing was made at the foot of Mt. Tarawera and then Lake Tarawera was crossed in a speedy launch.
Those who imagine that all is blasted and burnt in the regions of eruption are much mistaken, for Nature in this warm atmosphere soon heals her wounds, and the most beautiful and delicate native growths are already covering the bare places.
The completeness of the great eruption has buried its victims deep. It is easier to realise the event from the rusted remains of the buggy at Wairoa, beneath which refugees vainly tried to shelter than from the statement of a guide that thirty-nine Maoris and their village lie fathoms deep below the surface in another bay on Lake Tarawera. The upheavals are too big for the mind to grasp.
Placid and beautiful, bordered by magnificent tree ferns and bush, the Green and Blue Lakes offer a lovely contrast on the way back. The view of Rotorua from the top of the hill is most picturesque.
Wairakei, where the geyser plays every eight minutes, has a host of other similar busy little workers, each with its own “turn,” as important and jealous as the variety artists of the stage. The churning water in one geyser gives the impression of a paddle wheel. Another snorts explosively all the time, but never rises more than a foot or two, and at “Hell's Gates” two or three attractions of a beautiful nature are grouped. The Champagne Pool, of vivid blue, which creams and foams, is a lovely but infernal spot. The whole lies in a pretty valley.
On this trip also lie the majestic Aratiatia Rapids, where the whole force of the Waikato River is dammed into a shaggy forest rift, in places not half a chain across, and the tortured waters cream and surge in mad eddies against the jutting crags, tearing past at motor car speed. A day could be spent letting the vision of this magnificent riot of milk white froth and cerulean blue flood seep into the understanding; but beyond there are the Huka Falls, where the river is even narrower, and where the speed of the racing flood is such that it shoots straight out for five or six feet before it has time to fall, and time was going. Further on lies Taupo, like an inland sea, fifty-six miles from the starting point at Rotorua. On this road lies the beautifully wooded Wairakei Hotel. None need starve while sight-seeing at Rotorua, nor need morning or afternoon tea be relinquished. Coming back from Wairakei there is Waiotapu, with the finest terrace formation in the district, sulphur deposits, and thermally wrought chasms, and a geyser which plays when soaped.
Both these trips were done by many of the party, all of whom were as fresh as paint after a night in Rotorua, and some even found time page 45 to visit some of the lesser attractions in the town on their return on Sunday.
With such experiences to treasure for the years ahead nobody worried about the trip back, which was accomplished on time to the minute.
The success of the trip was largely due to Mr. W. A. Marshall, of the Railway Commercial staff, who personally made the trip, and saw to it that everyone received their due on the train in the way of attention and the straightening out of the little troubles that beset the travelling public, besides seeing that scheduled arrangements at Rotorua were adhered to.
An Australian lady who made the trip was delighted. “I come from away in the north of New South Wales,” she said, “and I have to make a trip of 400 miles to get to Sydney. I have spent so many holidays at the Blue Mountains and the Jenolan Caves that I thought I would like a change. This trip has been wonderful. It is a lovely country, and Rotorua is something I would not have missed for anything. I could not have come except for these quick trip arrangements, as my boat sails tomorrow.”
Inquiries as to whether the trip would be repeated were frequent on the return journey, and all those approached stated that they had thoroughly enjoyed the excursion.
Speaking in the House recently on the 1927 Railway Statement, Mr. Allan Bell (Bay of Islands) said:—
“Some criticism has been levelled at the Railway Magazine,” and I think some mention was made recently of the cost of it. I wish to say that I think as far as the Railway Board is concerned that publication is one of the finest things they have done, because it has been the means of creating great interest amongst the staff, and not only among the staff, but amongst people outside. The newspapers all over New Zealand are continually publishing extracts from that excellent journal. I sincerely hope that although it costs a considerable amount of money that the publication will be continued.”
The Men Who Keep the Way.
The excellent custom of the old North Eastern Railway in Britain of holding a competition for a cup or other prize for the best maintained length of track, has been reviewed by the directors of the present Company, the London and North Eastern. For the best inspector's division on the line the directors are awarding a cup and a gold medal; whilst the engineer of the Company is awarding a cup and a gold medal for the best ganger's length. The platelayers of the winning gangs are included in the recognition, each individual platelayer receiving a silver medal.