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Touring New Zealand 2015 - part 3

The last part left us on our way South from Wanganui to Wellington and booked in at Himotangi Beach for the evening. We had got there quite early so we had time to go via Foxton on our way to see our friends Esma and Colin at the Tokomaru Steam Museum. We had been through Foxton many times but until a couple of years ago had not diverted into the town centre and then it was almost by accident as we saw an interesting bookshop and went into the centre while we were waiting for it to open.

Foxton: The centre of Foxton is well off to the side of the main road so one normally bypasses it but it is well worth the diversion. They have restoring the area down towards the river where there used to be a major port complex with many wharfs according to all the information boards. The town have also started getting Murals on the walls in the style of Katikati which make an interesting walk. The highlight however is the wind mill which was only built a few years ago using knowledge help and some materials from Holland. It is run whenever the flour stocks are low and the wind is the right strength. We bought a big bag of the stone ground flour. Unfortunately the bookshop we enthused over last visit was closed and looked as if it was in the process of closing. There was however a Dutch market next door - we resisted the Dutch cheese as we actually prefer some of the NZ copies being made by Dutch Cheese makers but did by a Stollen, heavily reduced now Christmas was far behind us. By then it was getting urgent to head to Tokomaru.

We spent an afternoon at Tokomaru. The museum is currently only open on demand as Colin has suffered a slight medical condition. It was not noticeable to us and he was forever rushing in and out to give instructions to contractors who were putting in new gates etc and he has recently finished restoring and old grader although he said he had difficulty driving it accurately as he is now too short! They have just celebrated their 60 Wedding Anniversary and we have some of the press cuttings which they gave us.

The Museum is written up at The Tokomaru Steam Museum but it seems time to put a short excerpt back into our travelogue as we have not done so for a number of years. This has also forced me to update the Tokomaru page to the latest HTML5 and lightbox overlay style pictures.

The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum is a must to visit if you have the least interest in Steam or our industrial heritage. We have visited it three times so far and will go back again. They have an impressive collection of engines with over 50 on display. They are mostly from last century with an emphasis on farming, ice making plants, gas plants, generators and ship engines although there are many others on display or in storage. Many originated in the UK or built under UK licenses although the centrepiece of the collection is a huge refrigeration plant built in Milwaukee. It used to produce 180 tons of ice a day for the meat trade. Most of the engines were rescued from being scrapped and were in full time use until they came to the museum. The collection was first opened to the public in 1970 with a grand opening by the Prime Minister in 1973 since which it has gained many extra exhibits. It must be the biggest and most comprehensive collection of working steam engines in New Zealand and quite possibly of the Southern Hemisphere.

The most exceptional aspect is that it is almost entirely the work of one man, Colin Stevenson. It is owned and run entirely by Colin and Esma Stevenson and, unlike almost all such enterprises in Europe, there is no large band of volunteers supporting them. On Steaming days they have a few paid helpers for safety considerations otherwise it is all their own work. The first times we visited it was not in steam and gave the ideal opportunity for a quiet look round - we were the only people present for much of the time but even so the Stevenson's found time to come over for half an hour both times to talk and show us the highlights. We found it fascinating and spent several hours each time but even then we felt we had only scratched the surface - there are still many more old pictures and information boards we had not studied in depth.

On the last steaming Sunday we visited, Colin had 8 static engines running inside, not all simultaneously as the boiler will not support them all,as well as two road engines outside and the train was in continuous use on a loop track running through the old Tokomaru station. It is a tremendous achievement for Colin, almost single-handed, to keep so many of they in a such good condition and running when the large ones would have had large teams to run them during their working days.

The Steam Museum is at Tokomaru on the highway 57, an alternative parallel road between Palmerston North and Levin, initially follow signs for Massey not Levin leaving Palmerston North or branch off at Shannon going North. It is marked on our AA map and is well signed. Any information office should be able to tell you the days they are in steam and it still makes a fascinating visit even when they are static. They unfortunately have no information sheets, just simple adverts, and no web site at that time - it had taken all their efforts to build up and run the huge collection. It is a tremendous resource but one which I fear many are not aware of.

We then returned to Himatangi Beach for the night and made our way to Wellington. Our original intention had been to stay in the Wellington club which Pauline has reciprocal membership of from the Oxford and Cambridge University Club - it is very good and central with secure parking. However Grant had looked out a high top version of the van which was great but was a few centimetres too high to get into the underground carpark. It was also the 7s weekend so the club and almost all accommodation in Wellington was full or very expensive.

Hutt Park Top Ten : We therefore ended up staying out of town at the Hutt Park Top Ten which is along the coast and just past Petone. It is a large site but we could only get a very basic cabin as almost everything had been booked for the 7s - we had not been aware they were on or the interesting times they lead to in Wellington. It is on a bus route and we took a bus in the first afternoon and were lucky both ways as they do not run frequently in the evenings and the direct one does not run evenings or weekends so we saw more of the area than we needed even if it did avoid parking problems in Wellington. The bus did get us into town before the law library shut up so Pauline was able to collect her pass and get her database access set up and we had a good walk round.

Pete spent quite a lot of time in the National Museum Te Papa which translates as Our Place whilst Pauline was in the Library. We have been several times before but the exhibits keep changing and there are usually some short term exhibitions, this year it was "75 years of Air New Zealand".

Te Papa (Our Place): Te Papa is in general much more dynamic and interactive than most museums - it certainly lives up to the promise of "fascinating exhibitions, interactive displays and high tech fun". Te Papa is certainly not the conventional collection of dry artifacts and stuffed animals - it is about, once more quoting "a celebration of our people, our land and rich stories of our nation". We always spend quite a bit of time in the section covering Maori Culture and Heritage.

The Maori sections have been steadily improving with a real Wharenui (meeting house) originating from 1842 and sited for a period in the parliament grounds. There is now much more explanation of the Marae, the Wharenui at the heart of it, the significance of the Marae in Maori life and what is expected of visitors to a real Marae, of which there are thousands in New Zealand. In Te Papa they lead you into the Maori section through a route representing a visit to a Marae with plenty of explanatory material available if you want to find more about the significance. We also spoke to some of the staff in their background and research areas where we were given access to more original material, parts of which we copied, which give some fascinating insights into how the background of their own highly carved Whare (Meeting House) and how it had been obtained in 1862. It was the masterpiece of one of the finest Maori carvers and the first one carved using steel tools rather than the Greenstone tools in use pre Pakeha. We have bought a copy of one of the books which was in the Research Section we used called "Te Marae, A Guide to Customs & Protocols by Hiwi and Pat Tauroa and published by Reed ISBN 0-7900-0055-5" which gives an even more comprehensive coverage of the Marae and understanding of traditional and contemporary Maori life.

Almost everything in the Mana Whenua section is genuine and there were some illuminating displays and videos on Maori culture, history, spiritual roots and folklore. It is worthwhile for even short term visitors to gain some understanding of the Maori culture and the different interpretation that throws on many aspects of life. There is also a good section on the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document, which brings out the analogy to the Magna Carta yet shows the tensions and grievances that still resulted. They now have side by side the original English, the original Maori and a recent translation of the Maori back into English which is most illuminating. The Maori text is considerably shorter as it seems to have lost some of the flowery and legalistic wording but there are also some more important differences relating to fundamental concepts such as Sovereignty for which there was no Maori equivalent in their culture. You should also visit the main museum in Auckland and the Treaty House at Waitangi to obtain a rounded picture of the Maori culture and the background and implications of the treaty.

There are many interesting corners to explore and I have just picked a couple to cover this time:

The Colossal Squid is an interesting if no longer new specimen. It weighs 495kgs and is 4.2 metres long. It is preserved in a shallow bath and was originally caught in 2007 in the Antarctic, frozen on board the ship, and then brought to experts for careful thawing and preservation. It is clear from the suture marks that the squid was very fragile after thawing, and there were bubbles in the preserving fluid. It is an important specimen, as Te Papa states only two of nine adult specimens reported have been complete. It is begriming to look a little the worst for wear (2015) and I am not sure how much longer it will be on display.

Outside Areas: Valiant efforts were made with an outside area representing a bush walk, which would have had far more impact if we had not been on dozens of real walks many with almost as much "interpretation" as the simulation. Many of the rock faces representing volcanic activity such as the "Wacky Wall" were not real and although realistic copies I felt were misleading when under close scrutiny - they lacked the impact of the real thing and the contrast was accentuated by the genuine rocks put alongside.

I have come to the "Air New Zealand 75 Years" exhibit last despite it initially being reason for our visit this year because it leads on to some interesting background on the first powered flights in the world. Air New Zealand is celebrate the first trans-Tasman flight from Auckland to Sydney on 30th April 1940 with this exhibition - the first flight carried only nine passengers and mail but marked the connection to the rest of the world. In many ways Pete found "Air New Zealand 75 Years" disappointing as it had far more on the evolution of the uniforms than any details on the aircraft although it did give a sensible history and some details about how they are configuring their brand new fleet - there first Boeing Dreamliner entered service in 2014. There was the front section of a 737 out the front which one to get into - they obviously expected long queues as there were sunshades on loan for those waiting! It had only recently come out of service but the cockpit technology looked very dated with hardly a flat panel display in sight but lots of conventional instruments and switches - progress is so fast these days. In side is a replica Solent flying boat cabin and there was a bit of archive film. One surprising highlight was how they had put alongside an exposed 737 engine an exhibit on Richard Pearse with the the motor, drive-shaft and propeller from his original aircraft from 1903 (on loan from MOTAT in Auckland). That encouraged me to look back to what we had seen at MOTAT and the information we had gathered from our book, "The Riddle of Richard Pearse - hundredth anniversary edition" by Gordon Ogilvie (4th edition published Reed, 2003 ISBN 0 7900 0329 5) .

Richard Pearse arguably beat the Wright Brothers in Powered Flight. His is a fascinating story as perplexing and poignant as anything from fiction. Richard Pearse was a self taught backyard mechanic from a remote New Zealand farm with little or no contact with any technology current at the time. Despite that he designed and built a flying machine and lightweight engine and was one of the first to accomplish a powered takeoff. He kept no records but the date was almost certainly the 31st March 1903, many months before the Wright brothers famous flights. He however never claimed to have achieved sustained and controlled powered flight at that time nor did he count the initial Wright Brothers flights 6 months later as satisfying his strict criteria of flight.

Richard Pearse was almost totally isolated from the development of aviation and had no influence over it. With no training and nothing other than a few library books and popular magazines to work from he developed his own lightweight engine with one of the highest power to weight ratios achieved at the time. Everything was made from scrap or commonly available materials and the only input may have been in the design of a spark plug from a mechanic in Timaru - there were no internal combustion engines in his area and much of the design followed steam engine practice. The engine was unique in being double acting with combustion taking place below and above the cylinder. Pearse's specification in his patent application states "The engine has two cylinders which are opposed to each other and I constructed four end pieces in which are fitted the valves and cylinders. The pistons are fitted on each end of a single piston rod, and the piston rod is passed through the two end pieces of the cylinders. The cylinder ends are fitted with stuffing boxes, which prevent any leakage, similar to those of a steam engine. The two cylinders take in and explode mixture at both their ends, and as the cylinders are double acting, there will be two explosions to each revolution, and by this means, idle stokes will be avoided." The cylinders were made from lengths of 10 cm irrigation pipe and the pistons hand lathed.

Despite its unique design and basic construction it achieved a weight to power ratio of only 5 pounds per horsepower compared to 20 pounds per horsepower of most engines of the time and at a conservative estimate provided 15 hp whilst that of the Wright brothers was 12 hp. It seems to have been highly reliable although noisy and resembled a chaff cutter in its note and drove a propeller mounted directly on the crankshaft. The aircraft itself was made of canvas covered bamboo and had a steerable tricycle undercarriage. Control was by an elevator on the back of the wing and by small flaps on the top of the wings more closely resembling ailerons than the wing warping arrangement of the Wright Bros. Overall the arrangement was remarkably similar to that adopted as standard to this day although he was completely isolated from any developments in aviation. This work was never published other than a patent application in 1906 and a few letters to local papers much later. As time went on he became progressively more secretive. There were however a number of witnesses still alive when in the 1970s the value of his work was first recognised and there is no doubt that he made a number of self power takeoffs, most of which left the machine suspended well above the ground in his overgrown hedges. The dates are less certain but all the evidence is that his first and well witnessed flight was the day before April Fools day in 1903. The above has only given an introduction to the enigma of Richard Pearse, he also built his own motor bikes, patented novel bicycles, invented farm machinery and designed and almost completed built a novel folding vertical take-off aircraft for popular use.

Wellington Sculptures: Having spent time in Waiheke going round the Headlands Sculpture Trail and seeing the Retuning Soldiers Sculptures in Rotorua we were interested to look at what was on show in Wellington. Some of the more interesting examples are shown below. Each one has an explanation if you hover over it on a computer or if you open them on a mobile device.

Staying in Lower Hutt it was logical for us to explore a little more of that side of Wellington - a direction we had scarcely visited in the past. We went out through Seaview and Eastbourne and finally reached the Shipwreck Memorial to the Wahine Disaster at the end of the coastal road. The sinking of the Lyttelton to Wellington ferry Wahine in 1968 was New Zealand's worst modern maritime disaster and 53 people lost their lives out of the 733 on board, most of the bodies were cast up on the shore near the memorial. There is a exhibit in the Wellington Museum of the City and the Sea which used to be a first class maritime museum but it has lost much of its interesting and certainly the controversial displays, including the original one about the loss of the Wahine - they used to have a lot about the reasons behind such incidents, how they should investigated and blame apportioned. It now has lots of sanitised displays and cameos of people on the ferry with a few associated artifacts but little from which one could gain any new insights or more important lessons one could learn from the past. For a while it continued to be a good free entertainment centre but no longer a museum to stimulate the thoughts of young or old, regrettably an increasingly common failing these days - now there are charges and we did not visit this year. We have a book - "The Wahine Disaster" by Max Lambert and Jim Hartley (c) 1969 republished by Fontana 1974 ($4 ex libris Horowhenua) which is provides interesting reading.

On the way back we had a walk round Petone and found it had a much more interesting collection of buildings than we expected. There are plaques and a walking trail covering many of the buildings and we noticed a number of bronze plaques in the pavement down the main street, Jackson Street, creating a "Walk of Champions". There is also a large water feature, Te Puna Wai Ora (Spring of Life) with a number of associated taps which supply Artesian Water from the headwaters of the Hutt River at Taita Gorge. There were a number of locals filling many containers and there are parking places for those availing themselves. The queue was a bit long so we decided to come back later to fill one of our containers.

Pauline spent a lot of her time in the Law Library obtaining background material to complete her dissertation for an LL.M (Master of Laws). We always spend time round the bookshops and Wellington has many second hand bookshops and they even provide a complete list in most Bookshops. The weather was cold and windy and when Pauline was working he spent more time in Te Papa and exploring for extra bookshops and possible places to eat round the Tory Street area which was full with people dressed up ready to support the 7s. We had hoped to eat at the Osteria del Toro (60 Tory Street, Wellington) where we had eaten last year with John and Blythe - the Capretto (for two) which is a Mediterranean delicacy of slow roasted milk fed goat, greek style roast potato, whole garlic & pearl onions had been so good we wanted a repeat but we found that there had been a fire in the slaughter house and Goat was off the menu so eventually we went back to eat.

The morning we left Wellington we stopped in the centre to visit the Reserve Bank Museum which had been recommended. One of the main exhibits is the Moniac, a pioneering econometric computer invented in 1949 by New Zealand-born economist Bill Phillips (1914-1975). It uses water quantities and flows to simulate the flow of money through the economy. It was designed to demonstrate the UK macro economy whilst he was at the London School of Economics. He built the prototype in his landlady’s garage in Croydon for around £400, including parts scavenged from old Lancaster bombers. The acronym MONIAC – 'Monetary National Income Analogue Computer' has echoes of the ENIAC digital computer then being developed in the United States. In contrast to the ENIAC and succeeding Digital computers the MONIAC operated wholly on analogue principles, using water to simulate flows of money. At that time digital computers could not run complex economic simulations and the the few computers in existence were restricted to government and military use. Observing the MONIAC in operation made it much easier for students to understand the interrelated processes of a national economy.

The MONIAC was capable of making complex calculations that could not be performed by any other computer at the time. The linkages were based on Keynesian and classical economic principles, with various tanks representing households, business, government, exporting and importing sectors of the economy. Water pumped around the system could be measured as income, spending and GDP. The system was programmable, and experiments with fiscal policy, monetary policy and exchange rates could be carried out. Around 14 were built and they were used both for teaching and forecasting. Another is on display at the Science Museum in London. There were many other interesting displays coving economics and printing which meant we spent longer than we intended.

The next part continues with Martinborough (Vineyards), the Carnival Park Domain at Pahiatua, Eskdale and Wairoa. Martinborough is one of the smaller wine growing areas with a climate ideally suited to Pinot Noir.

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Content revised: 18th July, 2020