We were invited to a wedding in the Bay of Islands and rather than take the caravan we decided to do the whole trip in the eV Nissan Leaf, staying with friends/relatives/motels on the way. Our Leaf is one of the earlier models and can do about 175 km without needing recharging, if driven slowly and preferably downhill(!) For normal highway driving it was more like 145km max. For those who don’t know, fast charging an eV leads to an increase in battery temperature and we wanted to avoid that as far as possible, so we planned to make fairly frequent short charging stops (meaning coffee stops for us) rather than trying to eke out maximum distances. At night we slow-charged. Anything more eV-related I will leave to Dave.
We left home in Christchurch at dawn …
… charged up at Amberley and then Cheviot, and continued on the coast road with a short quick recharge at Kaikoura and then a stop at Ohau to see the seals. There is now a good viewing platform and plenty of parking space. Roadworks are still progressing, it has been a massive job and I am full of admiration for the roadworkers who have persisted through all sorts of weather.
Another stop for a brief fast recharge at Ward, then straight on to catch the Picton-Wellington ferry. The ferry fee for the eV is considerably lower than for a caravan and tow vehicle!
We spent the night in a motel at Levin, where we were permitted to slow-recharge overnight.
Continuing north next morning, Mt. Ruapehu soon came into view. We skirted it to finally come to the site of the Tangiwai rail disaster memorial, which I have not seen before. Dave’s Sister and Brother in law were supposed to have been on the ill-fated train but missed it – very fortuitously as it turned out.
At 10.21 p.m. on Christmas Eve 1953 the Wellington–Auckland night express plunged into the flooded Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, 10 km west of Waiōuru in the central North Island. Of the 285 passengers and crew on board, 151 died in New Zealand’s worst railway accident.
It was, at the time, the world’s eighth-deadliest rail disaster and made headlines around the globe. The nation was stunned. With New Zealand’s population just over two million, many people had a direct relationship with someone involved in the tragedy.
The place name Tangiwai means ‘weeping waters’ in Māori. The timing of the accident added to the sense of tragedy. Most of those on the train were heading home for Christmas, armed with presents for friends and family. Those waiting to meet their loved ones at the various stations up the line had no sense of the tragedy unfolding on the Volcanic Plateau. Over the following days, searchers found many battered, mud-soaked presents, toys and teddy bears on the banks of the Whangaehu River.
The weather on Christmas Eve was fine and with little recent rain, no one suspected flooding in the Whangaehu River. When a goods train crossed the bridge around 7 p.m. the river appeared normal. What transformed the situation was the sudden release of approximately 2 million cubic metres of water from the crater lake of nearby Mt Ruapehu. A 6-metre-high wave containing water, ice, mud and rocks surged, tsunami-like, down the Whangaehu River. Sometime between 10.10 and 10.15 p.m. this lahar struck the concrete pylons of the Tangiwai railway bridge.
We continued on to National Park with a stop at the Makatote Viaduct for photos.
There is a fast charger at National Park township and we had a scrumptious lunch at a little cafe nearby. Then on towards Hamilton, taking photos of ridged hillocks and a cloud-monster.
We paid a short visit to the Hamilton Museum, mainly to see the famed waka (canoe) Te Winika, a reproduction of the canoe which was used to transport War Parties on the Waikato River. Beautifully carved and adorned with tui throat feathers.
Dave also discovered a large scale map showing where he once lived in Hamilton …
We paid a visit to Dave’s nephew ‘Budgie’ who showed us around his workplace a large modern factory – everything very clean and tidy and dust-free, as Dave remarked a far cry from the factories of his youth.
Another stop for fast charging and icecreams at Pokeno, where they have some innovative solar-powered rubbish bins which compact up to 600 litres of rubbish.
Our destination for the day was Dave’s Sisters niece’s home at Ramarama south of Auckland where we were to collect his sister Alison. We were invited to stay the night and were able to slow-charge the leaf again overnight. I’d highly recommend “Harakeke Woodturning and Gifts” for mostly one-of-a-kind handcrafted goods.
Next day, with Alison on board, we continued north, whizzing through Auckland and finally .stopping at Kaiwaka where we discovered FOUR Leafs at the charging station, with enthusiastic owners all ready to swop more stories. One of them was someone Dave has been corresponding with via the Leaf owners’ facebook page.
Our final stop before Russell was at Kawakawa with its famed Hundertwasser toilets, but we were more focussed on the charging station there – and then the railway station cafe. Here are former ‘railway children’ Dave and Alison waiting for their lunch.
And so on to the Bay of Islands and the ferry at Opua and across to Russell. That evening we had a light meal then went for a walk along the seafront while enjoying the sunset.
Russell is a gorgeous little town, full of historical buildings, quirky shops and beautiful gardens. It was the site of the first English settlement in NZ.
We established where the wedding would be next day, in the garden at Pompellier House, with the reception at the “Duke of Marlborough’ where we were staying.