Do you remember train journeys you took as a child? Or perhaps some special memories from rail journeys here or overseas. Rail travel is easy and fun, no navigation or driving needed, just sitting back and gazing out the window at passing landscapes glimpsing into other’s lives – children playing in a backyard or a farmer herding cows, someone fishing in a river… Did you ever go on the Silver Star? You’ve probably heard of the TranzAlpine and the Overlander – but what about the Nile River Rainforest Train? Not the Egyptian Nile, this one’s in Charleston on the West Coast of the South Island. How about of the Awakeri or Forgotten World Rail Carts? They’re pretty quirky, not your normal train. But they’ll probably bring back memories of past train travel with their relaxing, slow pace as they travel through other people’s worlds, past and present, and you can be outdoors on them all amongst awesome scenery.
The TranzAlpine is just a train ride from the west coast to the east coast of the South Island, right? Don’t you believe it! Riding this train is like sitting in a theatre watching a 3D nature film unfold. No wonder National Geographic, in 2017, rated this journey as one of the 10 most scenic in the world. It’s spectacular and ever-changing.
TranzAlpine facts and highlights:
Start the journey in Greymouth or Christchurch and finish at the other end.
The full journey travels 223 kilometres in around 4.5 hours.
See twisting rivers and peaceful lakes backdropped by the Southern Alps as the train ascends through the lush green landscape of the often wet West Coast.
Pop in and out of 15 short tunnels and soar over four breath-taking viaducts, including the 72-metre high Staircase Viaduct.
Pass through the 8.5 kilometre Otira Tunnel, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere when it was completed in 1923.
Travel through beech forest that grows for miles in Arthur’s Pass National Park in the heart of the Southern Alps.
Cross over the braided Waimakariri River, witnessing its gorges and valleys.
See the farms and fields of the Canterbury plains stretching out forever.
Catch a glimpse of the tiny towns of Moana, Otira, Arthur’s Pass, Springfield and Darfield.
Get outdoors in the open-air carriage. It’s perfect for photography, and you can breathe in the mountain air – it’ll give you an appetite for dinner in Christchurch.
Relax in spacious reclined seats in carriages with panoramic windows, glass shelves and skylights giving awesome views.
Like a guided tour, a commentary includes history, culture, legends and landscape descriptions plays through the provided headphones on every seat on the places you pass by.
Don’t go to sleep between Springfield and the township of Arthur's Pass. This section with its tunnels and viaducts crossing deep gorges is considered a railway engineering masterpiece and by many people the most spectacular part of the trip.
Feel like you’ve stepped back in time travelling in one of Taieri Gorge Railway Train’s vintage carriages. They’re from the golden days of rail travel with wooden panelling and sliding up and down windows. It’s a slow journey along the railway line built in the 1890s linking Dunedin and the Otago goldfields. Dunedin has changed a lot since then but the Taieri Plains, stretching into the distance, probably not. The best bit is the Taieri Gorge. Hugging the side of the gorge the line twists, turns and sweeps following the narrow Taieri River far below. You’ll probably be holding your breath passing over some of the viaducts. It’s a stunner!
Taieri Gorge Railway Facts & Highlights
This journey starts in Dunedin, at its grand Edwardian railway station built in 1906.
The journey ends in Pukerangi.
It takes just over 2 hours to reach Pukerangi, 58km from Dunedin.
Only accessible by train, the Taieri Gorge towers either side of the line. It follows the river giving spectacular views of gorges, local flora and fauna.
Pass through ten tunnels.
Cross over 35 bridges – the largest, the wrought iron Wingatui Viaduct built in the late 1800s which spans 197.5 metres across Mullock Gully, 47 metres above the stream bed. The engineering will amaze and so will the views.
Enjoy a humorous, informative commentary on the environment and unique gold-mining history of the area.
The train slows down or stops a number of times giving plenty of time to take photos. There are even occasions to alight.
See quaint, wooden railway stations still standing in almost abandoned, once busy goldmining towns.
On-board guide pamphlets give further information.
Venture out onto the open-air platforms to enjoy a panoramic view.
Qualmark Silver Award – Endorsed Visitor Activity.
Driving Creek Railway is a must do. See what potter, Barry Brickell, achieved on land that was once scrub and farmland. The native vegetation he planted, kauri, rimu, totara, ferns…, have grown so that the area is beginning to look like it would have in pre-European days. But his greatest achievement would be the railway that winds its way up the slopes. Not a qualified engineer, he constructed the line to get clay from the upper areas of the property, then turned it into a tourist attraction, opening in 1990. Possibly Coromandel town’s most fun place to go.
Driving Creek Railway Facts & Highlights
Driving Creek Railway is on the outskirts of Coromandel Township on Driving Creek Road.
It’s a round trip.
The train winds 2.7 kilometres, climbing 115 metres, to EyeFull Tower and is a one hour journey.
Driving Creek Railway is New Zealand’s steepest railway – 1 vertical metre for every 24.1 metres of length – and its only narrow-gauge mountain railway. The track gauge is 15 inches (381mm), which allows for tight track curves and limited the amount of earthworks required.
Travel along, through, or over two horseshoe-like spirals, five major viaducts, five bridges, three tunnels - and there are five reversing points.
Keep a look-out for the unique pottery sculptures, tile walls and walls made of bottles emptied at parties lining the track or catch glimpses of them amongst the trees.
At the end of the line climb the EyeFull Tower. Designed to look like a lighthouse it provides spectacular views over Coromandel, the Hauraki Gulf and on a good day, Auckland.
Learn about Driving Creek Railways’ creator and creation from the informative and entertaining commentary.
Take a stroll inside the 1.6 hectare, predator-free, wildlife enclosure afterwards. It's a peaceful place, full of native birdsong.
Wander the sculpture garden.
Back at the station watch the DVD about Barry and the railway.
Nile River Rainforest Train - West Coast South Island
You’ll love Dorothy and Cecil! No, they’re not train drivers, but replica train engines that look like overgrown toys. Powered by Morris 1000 car engines they’ve been built by Underworld Adventures to take visitors into the ancient, untamed and unspoiled rainforest of Paparoa National Park on a narrow-gauge railway. It could be your favourite ride in the South Island, it's always one of our favourite stops on the Coast.
Nile River Rainforest Train Facts & Highlights
Dorothy and Cecil leave Festival Site Station, Charleston - once a gold-mining town in the late 1800s - 30 kilometres south of Westport, on State Highway 6.
Return to Festival Site Station.
The whole tour is around 1½ hours in duration, you'll have the chance to walk through the rainforest to the spectacular Nile river from the end station.
Hop aboard for an approximately 10 minute train ride to Soft Rock Terminal passing through Nile River Flats, cleared in late 1800s to build Charleston, and then the rainforest.
From open-sided carriages view the river alongside and the wild landscape of Nīkau palms, towering kahikatea, ferns, rimu and beech.
The BBC ‘The Lost World’ series was filmed here. It wouldn’t be a surprise if a dinosaur came crashing through the trees, it’s that kind of place!
See the historic remains of sawmill water-wheels.
At Soft Rock Terminal nothing will prepare you for the sight of intriguing limestone cliffs cloaked in greenery towering above the water-carved Nile River Canyon.
Take a short 200 metre forest walk from Soft Rock Terminal to the Nile River Suspension Bridge. The bridge is a replacement to the original which washed away in the gold boom days.
The area’s history is a tale of gold mining. Learn all about it on the journey.
Want to follow in the paths of ancient Māori and early European explorers? Ride along part of 142 kilometres of railway line which follows them, now used by Forgotten World Rail Carts. Decommissioned in 2009, the track in the remote King Country was started in 1901 and took 32 years to complete - tunnels dug with shovels and earth moved by wheelbarrows, they were tough in those days! It’s awesome this back-breaking work hasn’t gone to waste and been forgotten. It’s like time has stood still in this quiet part of the world which was once thriving. Soak up the sights and sounds on this memorable trip.
Forgotten World Railcarts Facts & Highlights
The journey starts from the Forgotten World Motel, Taumarunui where passengers are shuttled to Okahukua and the rail carts.
The journey ends in the historical village of Matiere.
Cover 16.5 kilometres over one and a half hours at a top speed of 22km/hour in what is essentially a golf cart with railway wheels.
Travel through five hand-built brick tunnels, the longest being 1.5 kilometres.
Enjoy tootling through rolling farmland dotted with cows and native bush. You might even spot a pheasant or wild turkey.
Information posts along the route with historical photographs show a once flourishing area of sawmills and farming.
Local guides with local knowledge bring the history and stories of the area alive.
The local hall in Matiere has lots of information to read. Once a busy town in the 1920s and 1930s, today Matiere is almost a ghost town of old weatherboard buildings.
People’s Choice 2019 & 2018 New Zealand Tourism Awards.
Qualmark Silver Award - Endorsed Visitor Activity.
Finalist Tourism Ticker Tourism Sustainability Business Excellence Award - 2019 New Zealand Tourism Awards.
Strap in and clatter on out for a fun relaxing trip on the Chicken Run! Once the busy East Coast main trunk line from Hamilton between 1928 and 1978, when train use dropped off the track used on this trip became the Taneatua Branch line. With further dwindling passengers and freight it was closed in 2003. Paul, a former railway engine driver, subsequently cleared the line and opened Awakeri Rail Adventures.
Awakeri Rail Carts Facts & Highlights
The journey starts from Awakeri Rail Adventures replica rail station, not far out of Whakatane.
It’s a return trip to Awakeri.
Travel 8 kilometres on this one hour journey along historic railway line.
Experience driving this "train" yourself - there’s no need to be nervous. It might feel strange not using the steering wheel which remains from the petrol-powered, roofed rail cart’s life as a golf cart, but it has no use. The cart gets up to 20k/h with owner/operator, Paul, taking the lead. He sometimes gets visitors to form a train and follow train rules.
Paul’s commentary via walkie-talkie is educational and entertaining.
Stop along the way to take photos or enjoy the scenery of toetoe, farmland where sheep and cattle graze, and mature trees dotted alongside the line.
Friendly chickens will come running when Paul calls for them on arrival at Caulfields Crossing, where an old New Zealand Rail ganger’s hut stands at a farmer’s level crossing... if they’re not already waiting along with geese and ducks!
Awakeri Rail Carts with MoaTours
As part of our Christmas jaunt round the best holidays spots in the Bay of Plenty, we stop in and visit Paul and the team at Awakeri on our 5 day Christmas in the Bay tour.
MoaTours guests on the Awakeri Rail Carts
Selfie on the Awakeri Rail Carts
Views on the Awakeri Railway
Rail Journeys and more on our Small Group Escapes
We hope you enjoy this introduction to some of our favourite undiscovered rail journeys of New Zealand, memorable and fun journeys in stunning parts of the country with great people. Which is really what discovering New Zealand on our Small Group Escapes is all about.
We're MoaTours, a family owned New Zealand tour company and we've been operating Small Group tours all over New Zealand since 1971. Our "MoaTours" trips are especially crafted for Senior travellers to see the very best of New Zealand in a friendly small group setting with all the care and attention of our Kiwi Guides. Find out more about our tours here.