The Wairarapa commuter train is quite posh. Every day, while I’m waiting at my bleak suburban train platform, it swooshes past, reminding me that I’ll soon be boarding a clattery old train that fights with my iPod for aural dominance.
But I’d never been on the Wairarapa train, so I took advantage of a long weekend, bought a Wairarapa Day Excursion ticket… and discovered the train was replaced by buses from Wellington to Upper Hutt.
Never mind. Soon enough, I was on the train and it was lovely. It had individual lights, air conditioning, a food carriage, little tables in front of every seat and quietness.
As the train passed through the Rimutaka Tunnel and into the wide, open and sunny Wairarapa, I realised I didn’t yet have a final destination in mind. While the Day Excursion ticket offered the promise of exploring the Wairarapa by train all day long, it wasn’t much use when there was only two trains – one in the morning, one in the evening.
So I decided to make like the Traveling Wilburys and go to the end of the line, otherwise known as Masterton.
Hang on, what does Maurcie Shadbolt have to say about Masterton? “Avenue of trees at northern and southern approaches lend town atmosphere.” I just checked on Google Streetview to see if this was still true, and discovered that the Masterton Streetview pics were taken on a winter’s day with a heavy grey sky, making it look like the sort of town that should be bypassed for fear of inducing a depressive episode:
But, Maurice, what if you approach the city by train, in the middle? What is there? “A museum of some interest.” Righto.
Aratoi is the Wairarapa museum of art and history, but it seems to do art much better than history. The historical content is lurking in a couple of rooms, telling a tale of the days when photos were black and white, but with a brief burst of colour and glamour provided by Georgina the transsexual mayor. It was indeed of some interest.
Of more interest was the art. The main gallery had a selection of large paintings and other wall-mounted works from the Rutherford Collection. A lot of them had a crazy 1980s post-modern feeling, which made me happy.
Next door to Aratoi is Shear Discovery. While this might sound like the name of a suburban hairdresser, it is actually the National Shearing and Woolhandling Museum. Yeah, national.
The museum is based around two old shearing sheds, and is filled with wool and old shearing equipment It parties like it’s 1949 (where “partying” is “relaxing with a cuppa and a fag”).
It has a smell. It’s the dusty odour of raw wool. It reminds me that I have been in an actual shearing shed before – one time on a high school geography field trip, another time at Brownies. It brings back feelings of discomfort and unease. I don’t like the rural. I like urban.
And then next door to Shear Discovery is the Jubilee Fire House. Its centrepiece is the magnificent Jubilee steam-powered fire engine, looking a bit like the Wonkamobile. The fire house also houses old pieces of fire-fighting eqipment, as well as the museum volunteer, who followed me around, literally describing things to me. In front of a case of old fire extinguishers, “That’s our collection of old fire extinguishers.” In front of the selection of old uniforms: “These are old uniforms that firefighters wore.”
But, oh, you know, it’s a small museum run on love. I suppose one can’t always expect to be just left alone.
The shops on the main street seemed to mostly be closed in the afternoon. Hey, just like the ’80s – so retro.
There was just over five hours between trains and I was slightly worried that I’d run out of things to do. There’s no 3G coverage in Masterton, so I took along a a book in case I needed something to pass the time.
But I all my sightseeing took up most of the time, and I found a nice cafe to fill in the rest of the afternoon, and if I didn’t pay too much attention to the thinly plucked eyebrows of the girls behind the counter or the polarfleece of the patrons, I could even pretend I was back in Wellington.
Masterton might not be as glamorous as other Wairarapa destinations like Greytown or Martinborough, it’s perfectly lovely place to spend a nice sunny afternoon. But just an afternoon, thanks.