Long-time Maritime Museum volunteer Barry Parsons shares tales of life at sea aboard RMS Rangitata and his first trip to New Zealand in 1962

By Barry Parsons | 28 April 2022

Our ship arrived in Wellington on Saturday, 17 February 1962 from London via Madeira, Kingston (Jamaica), the Panama Canal and Pitcairn Island. The ship was quiet after the passengers had disembarked and the shore officials had left. Now was the time for the crew to go ashore. Two who were seeing the capital city for the first time found little to do on a Saturday afternoon except familiarise themselves with the road layout, photograph the trams on Lambton Quay and admire the railway station. The main Parliament building attracted their attention, as did the neighbouring ‘Beehive’ and the large wooden Government Building just across the road.

The following day the pair had a day off duties and decided to venture further afield, but where? Finding themselves in the Railway Station they checked the timetables and found they could get out to and back from a place named Paekākāriki within their free time. With no idea of what was there they decided to take the electric train to see for themselves; a beach, stretching for miles! But no people on it on a sunny Sunday. What was wrong, could it be sharks? A quick paddle seemed safe enough and a laze on the sand before heading for their return train.

The pair were not free again at the same time for further exploring until the following Thursday afternoon when they took the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens, which they admired before walking back down to the British Sailors Society in the centre of the city for a coffee and snack before returning on board. Their ship next visited Port Chalmers, where the main attraction was the antiquated steam train to Dunedin with its remarkable railway station. During a tour of the coffee bars the pair met others from their ship which brought the luxury of a taxi back to the ship‘s gangway within their means (with five to share the fare).

On to Auckland where the pair ventured by ferry to Devonport for a swim. Then on Sunday, 11 March, the Purser arranged a coach trip to Rotorua and Tarawera at a cost of 21/- each for the 330 mile (530km) round trip. Māori boys dove for coins at Whakarewarewa and the pools of seething mud attracted amazed attention. Interest was also shown in New Zealand’s first supermarket, close to the Great South Road in South Auckland. A visit to the Zoo followed to see kangaroos (another ‘first’) and a polar bear, a very rare sight in the Southern Hemisphere! Volunteers from the ship gave blood at the Hospital’s Donor Centre, a graceful old two storey wooden house apart from the main buildings. A walk up through the Domain to the War Memorial Museum proved tiring but well worth the effort.

Back in Wellington on 17 March, a trio hired a Morris 1000 for a tour of the interior of the North Island. On the way to Taihape a traffic officer pulled the car over but he merely wanted to advise them of a slow puncture he had spotted (phew, the relief!). So
a night in a motel at Taihape was arranged while the puncture was repaired, after hours, at a local service station. This unbalanced the planned tour and the following day was crazy. From Taihape to Taupō, Wairakei, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North and back to Wellington at 9.30 pm, some 570 miles (900 km) in a small car with the speed governed. The car rental cost each of the three participants £9-10-0 each.

A week later, on Saturday, 24 March 1962, RMS 𝘙𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘪𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘢 sailed from Wellington for the last time. The old ship was given a great send-off with an impressive display of streamers and with the traditional paying-off pennant flying from the mainmast. At 552 feet (nearly 170m), the pennant was as long as the ship itself and was kept aloft by a helium balloon. Unfortunately the pennant had a short life as the ship and the wind were heading in opposite directions.

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