Fell Locomotive Museum (Featherson, NZ)

Trains are often depicted as heroes.

Choo. Choo.

Nobody doesn’t love train rides. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. When I was in college I knew a guy called “Chooch.” Trains are inherently interesting to everyone and for a good reason. The romance! The unparalleled ability to move stuff! The metaphor for determination!

The extraordinary specificity of the local museum!

Which brings us to Featherson and the Remutaka Range (this is the acknowledged spelling, although you will still see it spelled Rimutaka in places). Construction on the railway was authorized in 1871. The site for the Remutaka Incline had a gradient that was, in technical terms, “steep AF.”

As seen here.

The system chosen to get trains up and over the incline was that of the Fell locomotive. It was arduous and slow but ran from 1877 to 1955. And the Fell Locomotive Museum is in possession of one of the six Fell locomotives that served the line, and now the only Fell locomotive in the world. It’s been restored enough to demonstrate its movements, which you can see here with the power of your imagination (I do have a video but I refuse to upgrade my WordPress account at this time).

chugga chugga chugga chugga

The museum has been nicely funded, and the exhibits include a model of the railworkers’ settlement and film of the train and workers in action. Mr. Exhibitist felt the film was perhaps a rosy presentation of what was an extremely isolated lifestyle for the workers’ families, but it is very nicely done.

As long as you didn’t have any sort of urgent need because there was everything was a slow, arduous train ride away.

Various artifacts of the rail line (there is still a train running through Featherson, but not on the Incline–the Fell locomotives and the line they ran on were taken out of service when the tunnel was made), news coverage, and information about the operation of Fell locomotives are in the museum, and the very knowledgeable volunteer docent can tell you a lot about it. I absorbed roughly nothing of these facts, but I remember that these contraptions had to do with passing identification disks to and from the trains. I think.

Probably if you zoom in you can find out

The centerpiece of the museum is obviously the locomotive itself, and you can get pretty up close with it.

Shoveling coal probably sucked.

Anyway, the Fell Locomotive Museum is a nice way to kill some time in Featherson, which is itself a pleasant place to kill some time outside of Wellington. It’s also a Book town, with many small bookshops and literary events. Just a swell little town. Entry to the museum is $6 for adults, $2 for children over 5, and/or $13 for a family. There’s a little shop! I bought a tea towel.

Not my tea towel; a sidewalk mosaic.

Golders Cottage (Upper Hutt, NZ)

Happy 2022! Yes? February still ok for new year wishes? Has any of us emotionally marked time in any meaningful way in the last two years? Probably not. Have I been visiting museums? Still not like I used to. But having covered the country’s castle last year, let’s look at a slightly more modest historic home, built in 1876, five years after Larnach Castle.

Far more successful as a family home than Larnach, frankly

Golders Cottage was built by John Golder, the son of Scottish immigrants and a real DIY kind of guy. The house was occupied by the Golder family up until 1985. Several pieces of furniture and other items in the house were made by John and have spent their whole existence there, now keeping company with some other period displays donated by the community.

No Golder has ever needed an IKEA

John married Jane Martin the year after the cottage was built; they added 12 children and a few more rooms to it before John was killed in an accident in 1902. On our visit the guide asked, “Can you imagine 12 children in this house?” but frankly I cannot imagine 12 children. How do you think of names for them all. The original cottage was a bedroom and living/dining room downstairs with two small bedrooms upstairs, and the additions started in the 1880s, as it presumably got hard to breathe in there pretty quickly.

The eldest two children were moved to the upstairs rooms in 1889 and used them until their deaths in 1968.
Now I feel bad about throwing out my dried wedding flowers before moving to New Zealand

A kitchen and scullery were eventually added, but that was six kids in and Jane did the cooking over the fire in the living room up to then. John kept busy being a notable community person, but I can’t help thinking more about the monumental effort Jane had to make every day in a tiny space to keep the whole thing going, while being pregnant like, all the time.

Lots of stew.

The cottage is full of objects (as noted, some original to the house) from the late 1800s and early 1900s, from textile-making stuff to cooking implements to clothing to toys to books. Perhaps you’ve never seen how lace is made by hand:

Short answer: witchcraft

And I am, as always, pleased to report the presence of several unsettling human stand-ins, which I’ll never get tired of.

Knitted shawls please the guardians and keep them still

The garden of the cottage (which I definitely must put in a good word for because my own kid has started volunteering as a garden helper) still has a few very old specimens, such as this lemon tree, which is over 100 years old.

You will not age this well

There’s also this really lovely herb spiral, put in in the 1990s, and I want one. It’s so cool.


Golders Cottage is a great example of a well and long lived-in period home and worth a visit. It’s open on Saturdays and public holidays from 1:30-4:00. I believe for adults the entry fee is $5 (bring cash or be ready to make a bank transfer). Check out their website for more information about the cottage and the Golder family.