Farm Holiday

New Zealand farm stay in Mahia

I haven’t been on a farm holiday since I was a kid and Kathleen and I walked a long way across the hills and the farmer’s son gave us a lift home in the helicopter. These things stay with you.

So last week instead of our pre-Christmas family long weekend blobbed by a lake, this year I thought we’d go for some kiwi action and booked three days on a farm in Mahia and it was everything a farm holiday should be.

There was a good looking and friendly young farmer in stubbies and a rugby shirt – a bit of confusion when my son said he was saving to go the world cup next year – World cup’s not next year? Oh, soccer? The football/rugby divide. It’s real.

His most hospitable wife wandered past, with baby farmers in tow (the blondie dressed like her dad and keeping those dogs in line) to check we had everything we needed in the glampy shearers’ quarters which were spanking clean, very basic, and just perfect for a family of 6 unloading a stack of books, a football, a few board games and a well stocked chilli bin.

We “helped” sort and drench the lambs,  watched sheep shearing and the rounding up of the cows. There were smart dogs doing their thing at the shrill whistle of the shepherd and pet pigs, a pony. We rode trail bikes up hill tracks for breathtaking views.

The same things I did on a farm holiday as a kid and I thought nothing had changed, until our 2017 farmer explained the native bush replanting in the gullys, the erosion protection, the focus on environmental care.  I think slash and burn was still in fashion when I was young.

We had Uncle Ted along from Canada for a bit of a kiwi experience, so on the rainy day while the grass got drunk we walked the Nikau rainforest and soaked in Morere Hot Springs and the following day, with all the leaves sparkling, we walked the circuit at Kinikini, in lush native bush.

I reckon a farm holiday should be on every family’s list.  I’m a Wellington city girl and have spent limited time on farms – childhood visits, a few friends on farms growing up, an occasional horse trek, thistle pulling jobs  – but there have always been hills with dots in the background calling me closer. It comes with being a New Zealander.

Standing in the sheep sheds with the dogs and the farmers felt like finding my roots.

 

Sheep shearing New Zealand.jpg
Fast, expert sheep shearing on Mahia farm

https://www.bookabach.co.nz/28964

Native Bush.jpg
Kinikini loop track, Mahia Peninsula scenic reserve

http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/east-coast/places/mahia-peninsula-scenic-reserve/things-to-do/mahia-peninsula-scenic-reserve-track/

 

 

Biking the Rimutaka Rail Trail

Where historical research takes you

We put our trail bikes on the 11.01 from Featherston. It’s an old fashioned station, where they hand write the tickets and the guard helps lifts the bikes aboard (and he’s as cheerful as they come).  We get off through the tunnel at Maymorn Station and are back 5 hours later after a glorious day cycling the historic Rimutaka Rail Trail. This is the track the railway took before they cut the tunnel through the hill in 1955. It’s a fairly easy ride with lots of stops, packed with bush and mountain scenery and haunted with history.

There was once a steam railway here, linking the Wairarapa and Wellington.

Completed in 1878, the Rimutaka Incline on the Wairarapa side is famous for the Fell Engines that chugged up the hill for 55 years, negotiating the steep 1:15 gradient, clenched to a third, middle rail. The line was built and maintained by a remarkable group of engineers, navvies and gangers.  It’s the ghosts of the gangers I’ve come to find.

I’m writing a novel set in 1878 and one of my characters, Lars, works on the Incline.  He walks in from Kaitoke one day with a companion and doesn’t come back. It is blowing a gale on the tops and the mud slides down over the track, leaving ugly scars of exposed greywacke on the unstable slopes.

I rode alongside Lars’s ghost up through the lush Pakaratahi Valley over his 1870s bridges and culverts to the Summit, where we stopped, as he did, for water and a sandwich. When Lars sheltered from my imaginary wild storm of ’78 there was the beginnings of a settlement bursting with pioneering potential. Not for us – we walked among the rusty remains of long abandoned steam engines, discarded over the years and left to decompose in splendid ruin on the peaceful plateau.

In the icy Summit tunnel the third rail begins and the track descends steeply towards Cross Creek. Here I checked the logistics of my story, imagining the danger of exposure on the stretch they call Siberia where the winds (later, in 1880) were so strong they blew a passenger carriage and goods vans off the rails and down into the valley below.

For us on our bikes, it was an unusually still day. Half of my head was tripping along the raised rail with the gangers battling an historic gale, the other half enjoying a calm bike ride, almost 140 years later, stopping in the sunshine to read the old stories on the plaques posted along the route.

Ladle Bend creek bridge
Ladle Bend creek bridge on the Rimutaka Trail, c1891

“My father occasionally took my sister and me for a ride on a three-wheel railway jigger. As we all sat on one side of the jigger, it had a tendancy to upturn when passing around the many curves … I was always frightened going over Ladle Bend Creek Bridge as it was rather high and had no sides.” Ron Mitchell, child at Summit 1933-40