Topic: No crocodiles in this Nile River by Mary Bell Thornton

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No crocodiles in this Nile River is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry by Mary Bell Thornton

Archived version here.

“All aboard, mind your head.”

We duck and dive into the open carriages and with a ‘toot toot’ Dorothy, the little red engine, pulls away from Festival Site Station and heads up the Nile River inland from Charleston on the West Coast.  Why Festival Site? Because of the rock music festivals held here in the 1990s.

In the front carriage Grandma says, “Don’t put your hand out of the carriage, dear, and keep your head in.”

“I think her mother will tell her what to do,” the little girl’s father says.  The rest of us concentrate on the train driver, Marilyn Berendt’s commentary coming over the loud speaker. Dorothy takes us through the Nile River Flats, cleared in the 1860s and 70s to build the thriving town of Charleston, that at its peak had a population of 30,000.  Towering 60m kahikatea still stand as specimen trees.  They were spared the woodsman’s axe as their timber was not durable for building, mine props or railway sleepers. Marilyn says it was later discovered that the odourless kahikatea or white pine, was ideal for butter boxes and lining refrigerated ship’s hulls.

The landscape of green ferns, green rimu and green beech is relieved by white manuka flowers and limestone cliffs, and the brown waters of the Nile River on our left.  The river widens and parts to flow around a large island that Marilyn explains is a floater – a huge block of limestone that has fallen off the cliffs above.  Cliffs and limestone outcrops tower above the river on both sides.  Clickety clack clickety clack the wheels set up a rhythm that delights the children who seem unphased by the occasional cornering squeal from the iron rails that sets adults’ teeth sideways.

A towering outcrop of limestone aptly called the Ship’s Bow appears to be bearing down on us from across the river and conversation turns to Leonardo DiCaprio and the Titanic.

It is not surprising to learn that a BBC documentary on Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World was filmed here. Nor is it hard to imagine the landscape unsullied by human invasion.  We crane our necks for a view of the enormous rata tree that is one of the oldest trees in the rain forest.  It long since dispensed with its host tree and stands alone delighting visitors with its scarlet summer flowering.

Man’s historic use of the water for powering the stamping batteries on the goldfields and the sawmill water-wheels, can be seen in the remains of the water race that runs alongside the railway line. For the freedom explorer there are plenty of places to camp along the walking track which crosses and recrosses the line all the way up the valley.  Hunters and fishers use the track to access their playgrounds. 

Soft Rock Terminal and the end of the line sees us ducking our heads once more as we alight to explore more of the terrain on foot.  Because of time constraints our party elected to do the train ride only.  We follow a tour group up the valley and surreptitiously listen to their guide.  The children and their family including Grandma stop at the suspension bridge over the Nile but we carry on to try and reach the Triclops entrance of the Nile River glow worm caves in the half hour we have before the train returns to Festival Site Station.  Perhaps it is because they are irregular, and wend their way through tree roots and ferns, that the 110 steps up to the entrance are not as daunting as anticipated.  It is not without a little envy that we watch the party in front, don their hard hats, turn on their headlamps and disappear with their guide into the bowels of the earth. 

The train provides access to a number of ‘must do’ caving and rafting experiences run by the local adventure company.

Back in Charleston it is hard to imagine the huge town it must have once been and while there is little to show for the 4 million ounces of gold that were taken from the goldfields, it was a rich experience we had with Dorothy, the little red engine, that day.



This page archived version at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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No crocodiles in this Nile River by Mary Bell Thornton

Note:Mary Bell Thornton has had non-fiction, fiction and poetry published. Her works include several stories broadcast on Radio New Zealand. Mary’s writing room The Fo’c’s’le, nestles amongst manuka, ponga and houhere and looks out over Kenepuru Sound where she lives in retirement with her husband Peter. She writes surrounded by the song of tui, korimako, piwakawaka, shining cuckoo, a plethora of sea birds and the thrum of kereru wings. With no mains power and no road, life moves at a leisurely, creative pace.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
No crocodiles in this Nile River by Mary Bell Thornton by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License