Monday, 5 May 2014

Tauranga: the Bay of Plenty

Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, was as far north as I ventured on our recent family holiday to New Zealand. With Mount Maunganui being the focus of our day trip to explore New Zealand's Bay Of Plenty region, I had already highlighted the East Coast Main Trunk Railway on our visitors map in the hope of seeing some trains.

Leaving our holiday accommodation in Rotorua, we followed highway 33 until the railway line swung into view around Paengaroa. Shortly after, the road merged with State Highway 2 and we arrived at the Big Kiwi Fruit, or Kiwi 360 as they call it. Now a Kiwi Fruit, for the uninitiated, is also known as a Chinese Gooseberry. However, us Down Under folk on both sides of the Tasman Sea simply refer to the brown furry skinned egg-sized morsels of green delicious flesh as Kiwi Fruit. Because in New Zealand they grow them by the boatload. I was hoping to see them being loaded by the train load. With the East Coast Main Trunk line passing right by the giant slice of Kiwi Fruit, I climbed the stairs to the top, thinking I was going to snap a pic of a train as it passed by. On a lazy Sunday morning however, there wasn't a single train to be seen. So after wandering through the gift shop and buying the usual stuff that tourists do, we piled back into the car and followed the highway towards Mount Maunganui.

Te Puke Railway Station, December 2013. The platform remains to the left, but the former station building that faces Jellicoe Street is unrecognisable. It is now a strip of shops.

A short while later, we arrived at a town called Te Puke. Now Te Puke is considered the Kiwi Fruit capital of the world, and as such I thought it may prove to be a vibrant rail head for fruit growers whose farms had lined the highway for the past 20 kilometers. That didn't prove to be the case at all. All I found at Te Puke was a passing siding where the old railway yard had once existed. It lies squashed between a row of bucolic industrial sheds on one side, and the almost unrecognisable remains of the former railway station that has since been converted to a strip of shops facing Jellicoe Street. Leaving Te Puke, the highway follows the railway north past the former site of the Papamoa Railway Station. I wasn't sure if anything remained to be seen; I blinked and must have missed it.

I gave up watching the slumbering railway line pass by and turned off the highway to Papamoa Beach. We spent the next hour following the beach north and stopping at every point of interest until we reached Mount Maunganui. The extinct volcano towers above the mouth of Tauranga Harbour, and on a dreary and overcast day, The Mount at one point disappeared from view into the low lying clouds. As well as being New Zealand's busiest shipping port, it is now also a port of call for cruise ships, and a cruise ship was already berthed in the harbour when we arrived. After spending almost two hours enjoying lunch by the sea, we climbed back into the car and wound our way through the industrial backroads of the Port of Tauranga in search of some trains. There had to be some trains somewhere! I made the usual wrong turns into closed off entrances to the shipping terminal, did the customary u-turn and then bingo! I pulled our little rental car up beside a chain link fence to photograph two KiwiRail DL class locomotives stationed in the Mount Maunganui yard. It was the first sign of a train I had seen all day, so I popped the hatch of the corolla, stood in the tiny boot space to get the camera angle above the height of the chain link fence and snapped away until my heart was content.

Port of Tauranga Harbour as seen from the boot of our small Toyota Corolla rental car parked alongside a chain link fence in Totara Street. I wonder what the security guard in the gatehouse thought?

With the afternoon slipping by, we headed across the Tauranga Harbour Bridge, and through town to the former site of the Tauranga Railway Station. Passenger trains between Tauranga and Auckland ceased in 2001 when the Kaimai Express was withdrawn from service, but today Herries Park along The Strand still makes an ideal place for watching trains running along the edge of the water. A single track of railway line runs through the centre of the park and connects Tauranga with the port on the Mount Maunganui side of the harbour via it's own dedicated railway bridge that was opened in 1924. However, despite Tauranga being New Zealand's busiest port, and fifth largest city, I totally lucked out when it came to seeing a single train roll by on my drive through New Zealand's Bay of Plenty. Maybe it was a Sunday drive destined for failure when it came to seeing trains, but perfect for sampling something else. My wife had already marked our next point of interest on the map to bring our day to a close; the nearby Mills Reef Winery. And my punishment for taking photos of trains? I'm the designated driver. Man, of all the luck!

See also; Kawerau: New Zealand's logging trains

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