Monday, 22 January 2018

Wellington Holidays from Hastings: the Journey

I cannot remember going on holiday from Havelock North and think we probably did not go anywhere as we were too small.  Instead our Wellington grandparents would visit us.  When we moved to Hastings we started going to Wellington.  I understand my mother hated the Hawkes Bay heat so much she used to take us down to Wellington for about a month when we were pre-schoolers although once I started school the pattern must have changed.  Sometimes we went by train and on other occasions we went by car.  The journey took the inside of a day and there were certain rituals associated with it.

As my mother did not drive the car journeys must have been with either my maternal grandparents or my father.   Our first stop was in Dannevirke ‘to see a man about a dog’, i.e. for a comfort stop at the loos.  Then we drove through the Manawatu Gorge, a narrow road with the railway running alongside it.

This road has now (2017) had to be closed long-term because of a dreadful ‘slip’ (landslide).  I can remember there were often slips which sometimes closed the railway and the road although I cannot remember the road ever being closed when we wanted to go through it.  Once through the gorge you came to Palmerston North where we stopped for lunch. 

Palmerston North was much smaller than it is now but it was a major town.  It had a central square with gardens and, very important for mothers with small children, the Plunket Rooms.  This was a building in the middle of the gardens with loos and somewhere to change babies.  There was angle parking around the outside of the square.  As there were park benches in the gardens we would sit there to eat our packed lunch.  Packed lunches were the norm and it would never have occurred to anyone to buy food.  I have one outstanding memory of these Palmerston North stops.  It was in January 1952.  My younger sister was born in November 1951 and my mother had great difficulty breast-feeding her.  I think this was partly because of the heat and it probably did not help that I spent a fortnight in hospital in December 1951, being discharged on Christmas Eve so that I could have Christmas at home.  When my sister was six weeks old my parents decided to wean her.  I distinctly remember the whole process because the baby screamed a lot.  She would take a bottle from my father but not my mother and after a couple of weeks of this we went on our annual holiday to Wellington.  The idea was to feed her in the Plunket rooms in Palmerston North.  Men were not allowed in the Plunket rooms so Mum took we three children in there and my father hovered outside.  But it was no use.  The baby had to be fed by him so he had to come in.  I can remember a well-built middle-aged Plunket nurse coming and berating my parents for this.  She was probably appalled at the idea of a father feeding a baby as well as the fact that we were breaking the rules.

After lunch we would continue the journey down through the Manawatu.  There were several large rivers and on the banks of one was a tea-shop which I can remember once visiting.  I can also remember proudly reading out the writing on the road signs the year I learnt to read.  My triumph was apparently to announce that we were on the ‘main rout’ rather than ‘route’ and I was not allowed to forget this for years.  I also remember large sign boards advertising different agricultural tools including one for ‘Gough, Gough and Hamer’ which had a large tractor on it.  I pronounced ‘Hamer’ as ‘hammer’ of course.  There were a lot of market gardens as we got nearer to Wellington and then the road ran alongside the foot of the hills beside the sea before turning inland and approaching Wellington via the Ngauranga Gorge.  Before reaching the gorge, you passed through an area which is now built up but then was known mainly as the site of Porirua Hospital, the lunatic asylum where we knew one of my grandmother’s brothers was a patient.  Near to that was Arohata Borstal, the women’s prison.

The train journey to Wellington was also a major event.  If it was just my mother taking us on holiday, we went by train.  Again it took the inside of a day with, I think, half an hour’s stop at Palmerston North station where we ate our sandwiches for lunch.  We were often given colouring books to keep us occupied. The best thing about the train journey was that at Paekakariki, about thirty miles up the line from Wellington, there was another stop for them to change the engine.  My mother would walk us along the platform to witness this. The line from Wellington to Paekak (as it was always called) had been converted for diesel trains so the steam engine was removed and the diesel attached.  The reverse happened on the journey north.  I can also remember things about the journey back to Hastings, particularly that we used to stand at the carriage window as we approached Hastings and look out at the buildings at the edge of town.  These included the boys’ high school.  I also remember the doplar effect from the noise of the level crossing signals and the distinctive sound of the train’s hooter.  New Zealand had trains that were more like American ones than British so the ‘hooter’ sounded like something from an American movie.  The carriages were not divided into compartments but had seats arranged in pairs down a long aisle.  We always travelled first class and there are incidents from these journeys that I still remember.  On one occasion a man in our carriage taught Margaret how to wink.  When I was a bit older (seven and eight) I made this journey on my own.  My parents would eye up a likely looking mature woman and ask her to keep an eye on me and off I would go to visit my grandparents.  I think I went in 1952 and I certainly went in the May school holidays in 1953 and was staying with them for the Coronation and the conquest of Everest.

The approach to Wellington was down the Ngauranga Gorge.  You came on the harbour quite suddenly and there was Wellington laid out in all its glory.  If you were a small child who had been stuck on a train for some hours, this was quite exciting.  On one occasion my sister, who must have been aged two or three, called to a man in the carriage with us: 'Look man.  Gigi's water!'.  Gigi was what we called our grandmother.  The railway station was quite impressive with a big entrance hall.  Our grandfather would meet us usually having parked the car very nearby.  The platforms were open so it was possible for people meeting passengers to go right up to the relevant carriage.

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