French theme for Chateau rail ex­cur­sion

The Tribune (NZ) - - NEWS - RICHARD MAYS

Ooh-la-la! It’s Sun­day 7.45am and the Feild­ing rail­way sta­tion plat­form is throng­ing with 300 or so peo­ple wear­ing striped tops; red, white and blue; berets, kepis and stick-on mous­taches. Shades of Phileas Fogg and Passep­a­rtout, there are even os­trich feath­ers. Sacre bleu, what’s go­ing on?

Then a train slides into the sta­tion sport­ing the tri­coleur. Re­splen­dent un­der a black kepi, ‘Loowee’ and other mem­bers of Feild­ing Steam Rail usher aboard some 250 pas­sen­gers for a trip aboard their re­stored 1930s and 40s her­itage car­riages for the first of the year’s rail ex­cur­sions. Desti­na­tion – The Chateau – hence the French theme.

No steam power this time – Steam Rail’s ven­er­a­ble 1927 WAB gets its chance in a cou­ple of weeks pulling an ex­cur­sion to Tai­hape’s Gum­boot Day, and in June to Master­ton for mid-win­ter Christ­mas – this train is pulled by one of Ki­wiRail’s Class 30 EF elec­tric lo­cos.

In­side, the four cars are decked out with tri­coleurs, and suit­ably at­tired car­riage stew­ards ferry tea, coffee, food and wine from the gal­ley kitchen set up in a con­verted guards van.

Three Feild­ing friends Heather MacDon­ald, Lois Cole and Zena McEwen make them­selves com­fort­able for a trip that will take three and a half hours to get to Na­tional Park, cross­ing the spec­tac­u­lar viaducts and of­fer­ing ma­jes­tic views of the Ran­gi­tikei River – views you don’t get when trav­el­ling by car, and all the bet­ter when seen from the open bal­cony of the re­fresh­ment car.

What would Heather nor­mally be do­ing on a Sun­day morn­ing?

‘‘I’d be sit­ting on my bum at home read­ing a book.’’

Heather is still on her der­riere, but is with her friends and en­joy­ing a day out with a dif­fer­ence.

‘‘You can re­ally hi­ber­nate when you get older,’’ she says.

The ex­cur­sion in­cludes a meal at Chateau Ton­gariro. Carl and Ali­son Robin­son of Toko­maru nar­rowly win the prize for best dress-up over Haw­era’s Linda and Gavin Cot­ter. Then it’s ‘‘All aboard mes­dames et messieurs’’ and the train cranks on the down­hill pace through the scenic mag- nif­i­cence to ar­rive back in Feild­ing be­fore 7pm. It’s been a cracker of a day. We’ve all had a ‘rail’ of a time.

– Richard Mays trav­elled as a guest of Feild­ing Steam Rail. More in­for­ma­tion about the rail restora­tion so­ci­ety, can be found at steamm­rail.nz

PHOTO: RICHARD MAYS/FAIRFAX NZ

All dressed up and Chateau au go-go, Carl and Ali­son Robin­son of Toko­maru as gen­darme and can-can girl, won the best dressed prize dur­ing Feild­ing Steam Rail’s Re­turn to the Chateau Ton­gariro ex­cur­sion on Sun­day.

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