A family history of rail carriage sleepouts

When Dougal MacKenzie was a teenager growing up in the Broadfield area near Christchurch, he and his brother used to use an old railway wagon as a sleepout. It was already something of a family tradition; his father’s family had employed a railway wagon as a sleepout on their property by the Avon River, opposite Spreydon School.

Dougal and his wife Denise later converted two wagons on a farm they owned. In 1993 the couple converted two more wagons on their property at Palliser Bay, near Wellington. The wagons had been in service as KP wagons, used to cart general freight around New Zealand.

The MacKenzies did the conversion themselves, with some help from a professional builder, who also put in an implement shed for them.

Apart from a sliding door on one side and a large window on the other, where the steel sliding doors used to be, as well as chip board flooring, they are still structurally as they were when they slid off the back of the truck that brought them over from Wellington.

Te Rakau Cabins have grown bigger and better over the years. The bunkhouse was added to the two original cabins in 2014 and provides sleeping for a possible five more people. It also allows for more than one family to enjoy the beautiful setting, or provides another sleeping space for the children if parents want some peace and quiet.

Te Rakau is about halfway around the Rimutaka Cycle Trail which runs from Lower Hutt through the bush-clad Rimutaka Mountain Range, along an old rail trail complete with tunnels, and then around the rugged south coast. Te Rakau Cabins are a good point to stop at the end of the first day’s biking, and cyclists can enjoy a comfortable stay with linen provided, and the added extra of a home cooked meal if required. There’s an outdoor bath to soak those weary muscles in, while gazing at the stars.

The MacKenzies have tried to keep the wagons simple and value for money, with the added bonus of a few farm animals: Ruby the donkey, Gordon the pig, Barney the pet lamb/sheep and Max the goat. The tame chooks also have names! And up at the house there’s Tom the Norwich terrier and Rani the Burmese cat, who also like to welcome the guests.

If you stay at Te Rakau Cabins you can also spend a half or full day bird-watching in the area. Dougal and Denise run Te Rakau Birding and offer guided birding tours for visitors who want to explore the area in more depth and learn about the surrounding bush, wetlands and coastal birds.

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