I’m always slightly intrigued by enthusiasts who spend so much of their free time indulging their passion and sharing it with the general public. This is essentially what Ferrymead Heritage Park is, a group of heritage enthusiasts who spend their time preserving, and living, the past for future generations. They’ve been doing it since the 1960s, incidentally on the site of New Zealand’s first public railway. On Sunday three generations of my family went along for their annual Children’s Day, which meant free entry, free sausages and lots of extra exhibits and stalls for children and families.
We hopped on the tram as soon as we entered the park. The loveliest of grey haired gentlemen drive the trams and keep the safety rails down and all the little hands and feet inside. Wooden carriages in beautiful condition, are a pleasure to ride in. Reminds me of the trams in San Francisco where they too have revived old cable cars which are used in general service.
My favourite at Ferrymead is the houses, in full working order, complete with people ‘living’ inside, in costume. The house I chose to visit (I was only allowed one…) had a woman in the front room making a baby quilt, a gentleman playing a pianola, which the boys had a turn peddling, two kids eating their lunch in the kitchen, and a woman and her daughter playing in the children’s bedroom upstairs. It’s pretty realistic, so much so, that I felt slightly odd peering at what the kids were having for lunch – cheese sandwiches! I chatted to the pianola player, who turned out to be a food technology teacher at a local intermediate school. Having spent all week with kids, all credit to him for then spending his Sunday cooped up in a hot, dark living room pumping the pedals of a pianola.
Further on down the High Street we came across a sign that even the boys could read, Free Sausage Sizzle, and after a surprisingly short queue, we were all in possession of hot sausages in bread and tomato sauce. A classic kiwi lunch sure to please. We sat under the trees and enjoyed the entertainment – a variety show of small children’s music, and some impressive young singers, through to martial arts and Suzuki violin. The boys were keen to try out the adapted wheelchairs for basketball, rugby, and racing. It was harder than it looked.
We left the wheelchairs with a whole new respect for those who play sport in them and lined up on the platform to wait for the steam train. It was just like being back in England, except without the yellow line to stand behind I had a running battle to keep the boys safe while they enthusiastically peered up the line for the train. When it arrived and the crush of people getting off had barged through the mass of people waiting to get on (Cantabrians are unskilled at getting on and off trains), we squashed on and stood like sardines, so very reminiscent of many train and tube journeys in London. We then heard there was a 20minute wait (even more reminiscent) but the boys were unperturbed as they had a prime view on the carriage platform. Finally departing on the loop, the boys thoroughly enjoyed their ride, complete with earsplitting whistles.
The earthquakes haven’t left Ferrymead unaffected and their Hall of Flames with their marvellous display of vintage fire engines was closed. Somewhat disappointed, but now thankfully tiring, we went instead to their next favourite place, the miniature trains. Noses and sticky hands pressed up against the glass and they pointed and exclaimed at the tiny trains. It really is enthralling to watch these miniature trains travel through a slice of history, in perfection. Grey haired men watch carefully over their handiwork and little boys wish to have a turn. Thankfully the glass prevents them from asking.
Tired and happy, with iced lollies to lick on the walk back to the car, we head home from Ferrymead. Despite being very busy, the park had a real buzz about it which was nice to be a part of. And with free entry, we’ll be back next year.