Once every 2 yrs the rural capital of scotland- Middlemarch holds a singles ball attracting countless youthful individuals from across the nation searching for love

As the train chugs over the Taieri Plains, female sides clad in sequins press against male thighs in polyester suits. The carriages sway unpredictably, flinging youthful revellers at random together within the narrow aisles.

The boys are drunk, although not yet entirely Casanova mode, and also the women giggly, peacocky, beautiful scamper from their achieve, smiles stirring faintly with attraction.

It’s Saturday night on the lengthy weekend and the home windows the custardy sunset is sinking fast, bathing muddy paddocks of unshorn sheep having a romantic golden hue.

Welcome aboard New Zealands Love Train eight carriages filled with single millennials looking for love, journeying from from coast to coast to some small rural town with the hope of meeting a mate.

IMG 2 TT
Eight carriages full of single millennials take the train from Dunedin to Middlemarch. Photograph: Niamh Peren for the Guardian

That destination is Middlemarch and a singles ball which, inspired by the matchmaking dances of the 1950s, has been bringing together thousands of young, mostly unattached, people every two years for the past decade and a half.

The ball has taken on a mythical status in New Zealand, becoming infamous because of its debauchery, heavy consuming and periodic, lengthy-lasting love matches.

Having a well-documented man drought within the South Off-shore country of four.seven million people, the big event is becoming especially attractive to single women. That consequently has attracted rural men shepherds, stock agents and maqui berry farmers within the high country from the underpopulated South Island. Isolated and time-poor, they’re frequently overlooked on dating apps for example Tinder since the Gps navigation pinpoints their whereabouts as countless kilometres in the nearest cocktail bar.

So for a lot of the singles ball at Middlemarch (normal population 186) is really a significant calendar event, an authentic chance to satisfy someone, a, a spouse.

However they need to arrive at the ball, and this is where the romance Train a 154km, two-hour ride from Dunedin is available in. Some 300 hopeful singles ride the train to Middlemarch. An additional 300 wait in the other finish from the line.

IMG 3 TT
Revellers loosen up on the train to the ball. Photograph: Niamh Peren for the Guardian

Theres a fire starting in my heart

As the evening blooms the booze flows and the sound system pumps out Adele, Fleetwood Mac and Dave Dobbyn, men fling fistfuls of cash at the train bar for screw-tops of cheap white wine.

Theres a fire starting in my heart, croon a carriageload of strangers, singing along to Adeles Rolling in the Deep, as empty cans of Speights and Coruba are crushed beneath six-inch stilettos and polished riding boots, stomping in time to the beat.

Reaching a fever pitch and its bringing me out the dark.

Latasha Logan, 30, works in a call centre and is travelling from Christchurch to attend the ball, a round-trip of nearly 1,000km. She has accentuated her pale blue eyes with aqua eye-shadow and a contrasting slick of bright, fuchsia lipstick.

To nail the Black and Bling theme of the ball, Logans wrists jingle with sparkly bracelets, hoops of green, blue and silver that catch the light as she talks.

My grandparents met at a dance, and the ball is a different way to meet people that doesnt involve the internet or the pub, says Logan, who once learned Portuguese for an internet date who turned out to be Fijian-Indian.

IMG 4 TT
Latasha Logan: My type has a beard and drives a Hilux. Photograph: Niamh Peren for the Guardian

Chatty, gregarious and confident, Logan employs a single word to describe her dating life disastrous.

There are a lot of options here tonight … my type has a beard and drives a Hilux [a pick-up truck]. A lot of guys are really shy and I am not, so I dont mind making the first move, asking a guy to dance. It is a modern world.

At the other end of the train, drinking canned Smirnoff, truck driver and pig hunter Ethan Hippolite is on the lookout for a woman he can share a spa with by candlelight.

Having got lucky at the ball two years ago, Hippolite encouraged his mates to join him this time, saying theres a lady here for everyone.

Year after year, many more women than men board the Love Train bound for Middlemarch.

IMG 5 TT
Truck driver and pig hunter Ethan Hippolite: I just need my Juliet. Photograph: The Guardian

I am definitely single I guess I am looking for a bit of companionship, says Hippolite, cherubically handsome and moderately sober in a snug-fitting navy suit.

The best woman is the ones that dont talk, otherwise someone that gets on real well I just need my Juliet.

As the Love Train pulls into Middlemarch, shyness and reserve are discarded.

Girls trip down the steep carriage steps in their ballgowns and howls emanate from the men as they stride down the main street towards a marquee, erected in a sodden paddock beside the towns rugby grounds.

Lit up with orange streetlamps, Middlemarch feels like a lovers wonderland, with new couples beginning to peel off into the shadows, their breath misting in the cold autumn night.

On the dancefloor, heels are cast aside as the heady crowd grind against one another, the live country band belting out Jimmy Barnes anthems and swoony, upbeat love songs.

Sliced hot meats and buttered bread are served in the makeshift kitchen, and two worn sofas placed beside the bain-marie groan under the weight of courting lovers.

Thats where the real love happens, says a local woman serving up roasted pork in the kitchen, pointing towards the decrepit sofas. The couples that really like each other sit there and talk all night.

Middlemarch map

In the first-aid tent, a youthful lady has been discovered within the carpark having a bloodied face, the very first casualty from the night. Whether she was pressed or fell, nobody is quite sure, so shes offer sleep around the concrete floor from the rugby altering rooms, her intricate up-do collapsing into scores of sweaty, bloodstream-stained curls against her bruised face. With exceptional amount of alcohol consumed in the ball, accidents and injuries have grown to be standard.

Alice Lowe, 28, is located on a plastic chair around the fringe of the dancefloor. Her ankle hurts, kind of, but shes shy too, and also the mass of limber physiques groping each other towards the beat of Working Class Man intimidates her. Nobody has requested her to bop.

This is much from my safe place, states Lowe, that has been single for 4 . 5 years. I was looking forward to it, but now i’m absolutely afraid. However I really find it difficult to make new friends, which means this was something I figured I ought to try.

Visiting the ball together with her confident friend, Latasha Logan, helps.

Were total opposites, states Lowe, clutching her purse firmly in her own lap, her red scarf wrapped tightly round her shoulders. She can speak with anybody. I ought to have introduced a pack of cards, that will have individuals to sit lower and speak with me.

In the corner shop 100 metres in the road, Margaret OBrien does a quick exchange mince and cheese pies. Shell stay open till after night time, then tomorrow morning can help cleanup the city, usually full of forgotten footwear, cell phones, dresses and those that have missed the train to Dunedin.

The ball is bloody great for the city, she states. We take some youthful bloodstream coming through. It began like a real upmarket event its gone a little wild now. But you may still observe how much individuals are trying, just how much effort theyve attended for just one single night.

IMG 6 TT
Bonding on the dancefloor. Photograph: Niamh Peren for the Guardian

As midnight draws closer, the nights potential begins to fade. Those whove drunk too much spew their hopes into the bushes, and the girl with the bleeding face is put into a carriage with an ice pack and a container of takeaway food.

On the return to Dunedin, the carriages are quiet and subdued. The health inspector and the liquor inspector who spent the journey up crocheting and reading novels have fallen asleep, their heads nestled in their crossed arms.

Hippolite, spotted cosying up to at least two different girls, has disappeared, and may have found his Juliet, for tonight anyway.

Staring out the window in carriage M, Lowe and Logan are downcast, eyeing the bleak southern sky whose stars have been obscured by gathering rain clouds.

We got hangry, says Logan, with a weak laugh, gesturing at the pile of chocolate bar wrappers heaped between them on the wooden table.

Did you meet anyone? Did you like anyone?

No, they say in unison. But theyre looking forward to hitting up the museums in the morning.

I dont really know what I like, Lowe says. And I feel exhausted now.

As the Love Train pulls into the Dunedin railway station at 3am, 250 people make their way to taxis and motels in the frigid rain. The bloodied girl is taken to the hospital to be assessed for concussion, perhaps a broken jaw and perhaps a broken nose. Her friend accompanies her, distracted and fuming that she lost her new shoes at the ball.

As usual, about 50 people missed the return train, either loved-up or forgetful, maybe both. Theyll be forced to hitchhike home, or jump on the Shame Train which returns at midday on Sunday.

The checklists of the singletons have grown shorter as the train empties out. Earlier in the night, people were specific and aspirational about what they were looking for. A good dancer. Determined. Passionate about life. Loyal. Rich. Likes fishing.

Now, as dawn nudges closer, the scramble for a partner has simplified. A nice person. A warm body. Someone to talk to in the dark.

Lowe, crossing the road to her backpacker hostel, is tired, but she doesnt regret coming one bit. She pulls her shawl tightly across her shoulders as the slimy rain soaks through her gown.

I dont really do the dating scene much but tonight, I tried. I did try. I wanted to come.

Find out more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/29/love-train-young-single-new-zealanders-romantic-quest-middlemarch