At Queen’s Birthday Weekend, a lucky 400-plus people climbed aboard the Bay of Plenty Steamer as willing guinea pigs – to try out a potential new tourist venture targeting cruise ship visitors to the Port of Tauranga. Locomotive JA 1275 (for you trainspotters), built in 1951, hauled a diverse group of travellers (Ranging from local mayors and other VIP’s to a two week old girl and her parents) on a round trip from Mount Maunganui down the coastal plains to the forestry town of Kawerau, and back.
The hypnotic sight of the chugging locomotive hauling carriages drew a huge response from the public. Organisers happily acknowledged they had under-estimated the “unbelievable” reaction – as people filmed from cars, waved from level crossings, and climbed on the roof of houses and other vantage points for a better view of the “fire- breathing monster.”
At a photo and refreshments stop outside Kiwi 360 , the kiwifruit theme park, a Mainline Steam official warned parents to keep hold of their children who, used to Thomas the Tank, might panic at the sight of a black, hissing iron monster. But there were only beaming smiles.
JA 1275 doesn’t spew polluting coal smoke by the way; she’s almost as environmentally friendly as a Toyota Prius – running on “recycled waste furnace oil” from ships. When the driver shifts his throttle lever, more oil is squirted into the boiler. Before the conversion, a loco like this would burn through tonnes of coal a day.
The Bay of Plenty Steamer’s trial run was all about “putting wheels to the idea” of an excursion for cruise ship passengers, with up to 50 ships due next summer alone, and even more in following seasons. One of the organisers, Tourism Bay of Plenty’s General Manager Tim Burgess, is enthusiastic about developing the train trips. “We know it works now.” And he speaks confidently on the possibility of more excursions to cater for both locals and domestic tourists - in addition to cruise ship visitors.
A key player in the trial, Kiwi 360 Chief Executive Graeme Crossman, has visions of train rides that could run throughout the summer to cater for domestic tourists to Mount Maunganui. They could become one of the Bay of Plenty’s top tourist attractions reaching an “iconic status” very quickly, he says.
Steaming towards Matata along the coast, the surfing rolling in, and well into this unique jaunt, vehicles are still shadowing the train. Passengers lean out the window to film JA 1275 in full flight.
See our Photo Gallery for more Choo choo pics!