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Sunday 26th July 2009

Our Christmas Choo-choo - The Weka Pass Express
The Weka Pass Express - Waikari, North
Canterbury, New ZealandThe Weka Pass Express - Waikari, North Canterbury, New Zealand

There's something about steam engines, with billowing hot plumes and pulling long passenger trains that screams Christmas to me. It might be because I think of model railways circling Christmas trees in the shop windows, I imagine young children with their faces pressed up against the cold glass, their breath fogging up the view. I also like to reminisce about one of my earliest childhood memories, my first ride on a train in the snow, a coal train pulling away from Nightcaps, when I was not yet 5 years old.

Although it wasn't Christmas then, and these days where I live steam engines, or any other fire breathing animals are banned come December due to the extreme fire risks in the Summer drought conditions. Yet another good reason for why we have our Christmas in July, when the ground is still soft, green and there is almost a possibility of snow!

We've made it a bit of a family tradition to visit the Weka Pass Railway on the weekend that it runs closest to our Christmas, of course we always hope for it to snow that weekend, truthfully I think we hope for snow all Christmas week long. We can get some pretty decent snowfalls in June, July, although we seemed to have missed out this year, apart from a very light fall in late May, which was gone quicker than you can say "Frosty the Snowman" much to the fairies disappointment.

Snow or no snow it doesn't stop us from packing a picnic, visiting and taking a ride on "our Christmas train", we often may make the trip other times during the year too, however we especially plan a trip for Christmas and wouldn't miss it for the world.

This particular weekend was clear and bright, if still rather nippy, so I suggested the fairies wear jackets and jeans, however that was not the most welcomed idea. They would have much preferred to dress in period costume, naturally as Mary and Laura, bonnets, parasols and all. The fairies continually encourage me to dress as Ma, myself, well I haven't picked up enough courage for that, perhaps next year. Last year we re-enacted the Crunchie Bar robbery - we'll say no more about that companies more recent marketing strategies.

For our picnic I had made some tasty Cranberry and Orange muesli logs and baked bread rolls early in the morning, we packed our favourite carrot salad packed in a tiffin, of course no Marshall picnic is complete without Ginger beer! (Gladstone's is our preferred local brand.) The bread wasn't long out of the oven before we left and still too warm to fill without the salad wilting and besides I wanted to pick up some deli meats to include on the way.

We arrived just in time at Glenmark station to see the engine's light shinning down the track pulling the train from it's first trip of the day. The excursion takes place twice a day, each 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month. It's a quick turn around and after buying our tickets I missed the opportunity to assemble our salad rolls, before the whistle blew. We took up our positions in 2nd class, where I soon I had a new experience of filling salad rolls as we went bumpy bump along the track.

The fairies enjoy spotting the bunny holes and wild hares and rabbits running away from the track as the train moves through, not to mention waving to all the passers by who too are just as intrigued to see the all too rare steam engine.

This year is particular special for the volunteers of the Weka Pass Express Trust and those who help maintain and run the train, as it's the A428 engine's 100th birthday, there are celebrations planned for the 6th to the 8th of November.

You can find out more about the Weka Pass Railway, history, running dates and fares by visiting their website http://www.wekapassrailway.co.nz

  • Cranberry and Orange Muesli Logs
  • ¼ cup of dried cranberries (Craisins), roughly chopped
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • 2 cups of rolled oats
  • ½ cup of unsweetened dessicated coconut
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
  • A large pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup of soft brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • ¼ cup of dark chocolate, chopped (optional)
  1. Combine the chopped craisins, orange juice and zest and leave for several hours or overnight to marinate.
  2. In a large saucepan toast the rolled oats, coconut, sunflower and sesame seeds over a medium-low heat, stirring continuously for 5 to 6 minutes until the mixture is fragrant and has lost it's "raw smell".
  3. Add the salt, sugar, honey, butter and craisin orange mixture continue mixing until the butter has melted and the mixture begins to clump together.
  4. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
  5. Stir through the chopped chocolate and press the mixture into moulds; I like to use my gem irons for a rounded bottom log shape, however you could use muffin pans, brownie, bar or slice pans or a lined sponge roll pan and cut the mixture into rectangular logs.
  6. Makes 12 to 16 bars / logs.
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