From the time Wharetiti Ropu enthusiastically welcomed the visitors off the train into Woodville until the Dannevirke Highland Pipe Band farewelled them off back to Manawatu, The Mad Hatters Day was a real party on Sunday.

Consensus in three of the 11 carriages surveyed just before departure at 2.30pm was the visitors had had a "bloody wonderful" time in the words of one passenger.

After seeing the slip-ridden Manawatu Gorge (many more slips than expected and two major ones burying the road), the 530 passengers disembarked from the Feilding Steam Rail train to be welcomed by Ropu with haka and waiata.

Bused into town, the visitors flooded the huge market in Fountaine Square and poured into Vogel St which was festooned with bunting and bustling with stalls, street performers and buskers.


Businesses off Vogel St, like the Organ Museum, Pioneer Museum and Untamed Opossum Fur factory received a steady flow of visitors as buses ran a shuttle.

Many businesses had gone to great effort to dress-up for the visitors and the winning business was Woodville Mart.

The six buskers were also judged, with Dannevirke's Christopher Cape heading off John Harter of Masterton to take out first place.

Many local and out-of-town businesses set up stalls in Fountaine Square and all reported excellent trade.

Tania Bowman of Purely Living sold a lot of essential oils, Rhys Punler of The Store, operating from the Bridge Cafe reported interest in his tools and wooden goods which he says "complements the Kiwi lifestyle".

New owners of The Lavender Farm had their first products from last season's oil and, with the promise they were chemical-free, Sharon Brass was very busy.

To entertain the children while parents browsed there was a variety of free, skill-based challenges like swinging a croquet mallet to hit green bottles, coconut shies, fishing, sack races and hoopla. There was even chalk to decorate the pavement.

Of course the day was all about hats and close to 100 people wearing every kind of headwear creations, assembled at the Fountaine Square rotunda for judging at 1.30pm -
the winners being Kerrianne Prince and Denise Quinney.

All the cafes and food stalls were flat out, Woodville Lions selling out of sausages after an hour and a half, while the shops reported both interest and sales.

There was a carnival atmosphere for the entire three and a half hours the train was in Woodville and all the planning by the committee of seven paid off with the "best event in many years", according to two long-time residents.