A train full of day trippers lifted Woodville spirits on Sunday, where retailers have suffered a downturn in traffic.

The slump in business is a result of the permanent closure of the Manawatū Gorge in April, due to unstable ground causing continuous slips.

The day trip was a result of an offer by the Feilding and District Steam Rail Society to deliver 500 people for several hours, if retailers could make their stay special.

Retailer Evan Nattrass of The Viking's Haul said "The Mad Hatters Day" was a group effort.


"It developed into a Mad Hatters-themed community day with lots of activities, stalls, market day, buskers, competitions, children's games, competitions - a great day out," he said.

After a haka to greet the visitors in a train station cleaned by volunteers, mad hats and out-of-town stallholders made Woodville the busiest shopping centre in the district.

It was a welcome support for retailers looking at an uncertain future until a new route through the Ruahine or Tararua Ranges is decided.

"It's given it an enormous boost, that people really care about the town and they want it to succeed," Tararua mayor Tracey Collis said.

"That just means so much with the uncertainty they have been facing."

"It's the best Sunday I've had in quite a little while," said Mr Natrass. "And I imagine a number of other retailers will be saying the same thing."

With a throng of more than a thousand shoppers and happy train trippers, he said it would likely become an annual event.

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