Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Paekakariki and Historic Trams


On Saturday 7 January we were debating about where we could go for a bike ride – Te Ara Tawa? Hutt River Trail? No, at the last minute, when we were about to go towards the Hutt, John changed his mind and said “Paekakariki”. Quick change of plan. Yep, OK.

We had a lovely day. We parked on the angle parks in Wellington Road in Paekakariki, and headed first of all to The Perching Parrot for coffee and scones. It was quite busy, and they warned us there would be a bit of a wait for our coffees. That was OK, we weren’t in a hurry.

We admired the large pohutukawa on the corner near where we parked. These magnificent trees, which usually flower around Christmas, have been quite late flowering because of the very changeable weather we have been having this “summer”. In fact, as I am writing this – on 24 January – it seems that summer is passing us by, with far more wet and very windy days than sunny and balmy ones. But we make the most of the few fine days we get by trying to fit in a bike ride.

The pohutukawa on the corner of Beach and Wellington Roads (photo by John)

Instead of biking down Tilley Road to the start of Te Ara o Whareroa, we carried on along Wellington Road and ended up at the Queen Elizabeth Park, across the stream from the camping ground. A bit beyond that we joined the main track.

Access to Te Ara o Whareroa from the entrance to Queen Elizabeth Park (photo by John)

John suggested we go and check out the historic trams at the Wellington Tram Museum and see if perchance our friend Robert was on tram driving duty. We followed the tram line and stopped briefly to take a photo of the US Marine Corps Memorial. This is where, between 1942 and 1944, nearly 5,000 American troops were stationed at what was then called Camp Russell.

Part of the US Marine Corps Memorial (photo by John)

When we got to the Tram Museum, the currently running tram was on its journey, so in the meantime we had a look around the Museum’s large barn. Among the trams we found an early Wellington Cable Car and its trailer. I well remember travelling on a cable car just like this, when I was a student at Victoria University in the 1960s. The best seats were the outside ones, along the side. I don’t suppose that sort of seating would be allowed these days, with the “Nanny State’s” need to protect people from their own stupidity. Actually, I don’t remember anyone ever coming to grief from these seats.

An early Wellington Cable Car, showing the outside seats on the side (photo by John)

When the tram returned from its run, we found that we were in luck – Robert was on driving duty. I think he was as pleased to see us as we were to see him. He was keen for us to come along on the next ride. Two trams were taking turns to run every half hour all day – going from the Tram Museum to Whareroa Beach and back.

Robert and Désirée before the departure of Tram No. 239 (photo by John)

As a Tram Museum volunteer Robert has to combine the tasks of “motorman” – i.e. driving the tram, and “conductor” – i.e. clipping the tickets. I don’t know what he got more of a buzz from – driving or interacting with the passengers – he did both equally well.

Robert has to be both “motorman” … (photo by John)

… and conductor (photo by John)

As he was driving he explained about what he was doing. The very loud “Psshhhh” sound we could hear as we were about to take off, was the compressor which governed the brakes. And the children on board got very excited about the “Ting ting!” every time he pressed the foot-operated bell. When we stopped at the end of the line, they asked to be allowed to ring the bell too, which Robert readily agreed to.

How a tram works (click to enlarge). Diagram taken from the Wellington Tram Museum website

The motorman’s controls

At the Whareroa Beach terminus, the trolley pole that links to the overhead wire which provides power to the tram had to be changed to the opposite end of the tram, so it could go in the other direction. This tram had a pole for each end, with the one at the rear doing the job, while the one at the front was tucked under a hook on the roof of the tram, until it was time to swap them about again.

Robert changes the pole for the return journey (photo by John)

The first tram we rode in was a Single Saloon “Fiducia”, built in 1939. It had a single long compartment with upholstered seats. Our tickets allowed us to ride the trams as many times as we wanted all day, so we also took a ride on the older tram – the no. 151, a Double Saloon tram, built in 1923. This tram had an enclosed compartment, “for the ladies”, and an open section – presumably for the men, smokers and rabble. The seating was all wooden – beautifully restored.

The enclosed compartment … (photo by John)

… and the open section. The backs of the seats can be switched over
 to face in the direction of travel (photo by John)

This tram had a front window that could slide across to open it (photo by John)

This older tram had just a single trolley pole which had to be walked from one end to the other for the return trip. When we alighted, I was surprised at how high the steps were. I wonder how the ladies of the time would have managed in their long skirts, or in the tighter mid-calf skirts of the 1930s.

The trolley pole had to be walked from one end to the other before the return trip (photo by John)

Back at the depot, a pause for a few more photos, before we resumed our bike ride.


Driver and passenger

Two happy passengers (photo by Robert Vale)

We had a very enjoyable visit to these wonderful historic vehicles, thanks to Robert’s attentions. He told us that to become a volunteer tram driver he had to attend a course to learn all the ins and outs, and had to sit an exam before he could be let loose on the general public. Good to know that we passengers are in safe hands!

Wellington’s trams operated from 1904 to 1964. I just missed seeing them, as my family and I arrived in New Zealand at the end of 1964. John, on the other hand, has memories of the trams – some dating back to when he was very young: he remembers riding his tricycle with the front wheel running in the tram track on Darlington Road in Miramar. There can’t have been a lot of other traffic!

Time to get back on the bikes. We biked to the Whareroa terminus, waving at Robert as he drove past.

We waved at Robert from the road, as he drove past (photo by John)

From the Whareroa Beach end, we spotted a narrow track that went across a small stream and up the hill – the coastal track. It got very steep at one stage – with steps to negotiate. I was glad of the “walking assist” of my e-bike. The track down the other side of the hill was a bit scary in places – narrow, gravelly and steep – but it ended up back on Te Ara o Whareroa, where we turned left towards Raumati.

View from the bridge across a small stream (photo by John)

The track became very steep! (photo by John)

Towards the end of Te Ara o Whareroa John spied a sign saying “to Rainbow Court”, which we thought would be a motel or a café, but it turned out to be the name of a street. Eventually, after meandering around the streets, we ended up on Poplar Road, and found the Raumati Social Club Café. It was very busy and noisy inside, but we sat outside (though it had clouded over and become a little cooler) and had iced coffees.

A much more civilised track – Te Ara o Whareroa (photo by John)

Iced coffees at the Raumati Social Club Café (photo by John)

We rode the usual way back to Paekakariki on Te Ara o Whareroa. Along the way, John stopped to take a picture of a “deconstructed” bicycle. Was it meant to be an art statement, or a climbing jungle gym for the kids, or even a wind chime or musical instrument? It looked like fun, anyway!

A "deconstructed" bicycle (photo by John)

By the time we got back to the car, we had done 22 km, not a huge distance, but it was quite varied, and it was so nice to have done something a little different. And mostly in sunshine too!

John and Robert on Tram No. 239


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