Thursday, October 11, 2018

Stuff Readers Rail Tour, Day 6 - Stone and silver

With thanks to Stuff Readers Rail Tour
It is a bit of a challenge, organising a rail tour in a country that has so few scheduled passenger trains, so today they laid on a special option: a chartered trip in the Silver Fern railcar from Christchurch down to Dunedin. It used to be a regular service, and maybe it will be again some day, but today we had the two carriages all to ourselves, as the train slid out of Addington station and headed south on a dullish, dampish morning.
We trundled further south, holding our breaths as we crossed the long Rakaia River bridge, and being served morning tea from a trolley by cheerful Cathy - "Which way do you prefer your tea stirred?" Honking enthusiastically at the slightest excuse, the driver took us down through farming country, past Timaru-by-the-sea to our first stop in Oamaru. I hadn't been here for ages, and was very taken with its famous local white stone heritage buildings, all very stately and with interesting occupants these days. There are cafés, restaurants, art galleries and craft and junk shops of course, but the star is Steampunk HQ.
The souped-up steam engine outside was a big Instagram focus for the many tourists, but inside it was cold, dark and spotlit, full of weird contraptions heavy on the rusted metal. To be honest, it was a bit strange and creepy, and what I liked best was the mirror room with coloured lights changing to the music. It's an odd idea, but Oamaru does very well out of it, especially at its Steampunk Festival in June when practically everyone dresses up in modified Victoriana.
From here we were taken by coach to Moeraki, to see the famous boulders on the beach. They are pretty amazing, so round, so old (120,000 years!) and so many of them, some still emerging from the cliff to fall onto the beach. Of course they are Instagram gold too, and there was a lot of posing going on. 
Up beside the café there was a remarkably relaxed deer in a paddock, perfectly happy to be stroked - my second cervine encounter of the trip. They took us then by coach to Palmerston to re-board the railcar for a trip along the coast past beaches, horses, cows, sheep, ducks and swans. We cruised around a headland, through four tunnels, past Port Chalmers and finally reached the Dunedin Railway Station.
The coaches took us to our hotel - the Scenic Southern, my second time there this year, yawn - where a piper in full kit was busy welcoming another group, so we eavesdropped on that (can you eavesdrop on bagpipes?) before heading to our rooms to gird our loins for yet another hard-to-resist buffet dinner - which tonight climaxed in blackcurrant cobbler with custard.

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