175 Days on the Road
Train aficionados, rejoice! There’s a scenic and historic rail journey starting in the heart of Dunedin and taking train buffs and avid sight-seers along the dramatic river gorge of Central Otago! Today, we are travelling like old-school backpackers aboard Dunedin Railways’ Taieri Gorge Railway.
Our day starts a bit like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets except instead of starting at the Weasley’s Burrow we start at the Hogwartz Backpackers trying to race as quickly as we can to the railway station because we are just like irresponsible school children about to miss the train!
It’s raining and we arrive at the magnificent Dunedin Railway Station building looking like drowned rats. The iconic building of Dunedin is an attraction in itself made from dark volcanic rock and the contrasting white limestone found along the coastline. Inside the Dunedin Railway Station brings more “wow” moments with the floor being made up of mosaic tiles depicting steam engines, vintage New Zealand Rail (NZR) logos and other rail-related goodness.
We pick up our train tickets that are sat waiting for us on the ticket desk with images of the views we’re about to enjoy printed on them.
All aboard Dunedin Railways!
9.30am ticks around and the locomotive horn blows. All aboard!
Only 40 of us are riding the train today, so we have a full carriage to ourselves. Tip: the back carriage has unobstructed views of the railway!
Made from wood paneling with heavy windows that slide upwards, the carriages are a vintage novelty in themselves. Thankfully, there is heating, which is much needed on a grim day like today.
The perfect rainy day activity
So our journey to the start of the Taieri Gorge Railway starts by using a main trunk line from the centre of Dunedin, through the suburbs and out to outer city farmlands. The Taieri Gorge Railway when we split away from the main trunk line at Wingatui Junction. From here, we are now heading on New Zealand’s longest privately-owned railway line on a journey to Pukerangi.
We admit it, before getting on this train today, we were a little worried about the visibility considering the sky is white and the rain is coming down hard. However, the visibility is not impeded whatsoever. It’s perfect for views that get more and more impressive the more we travel down the Taieri Gorge Railway!
After moving through the farmlands of the Taieri Plain, we meet up with the Taieri River. At this point, it is just winding its way not too far below us with just a few trees separating us from the river. The river is backed by small hills covered in bush with yellow flowers called gorse. Now, this is a pest species of plant in New Zealand that has got out of control along the Taieri River, but some might argue that the yellow flowers decorate the hills quite nicely – it depends how you prefer to look at it, we suppose.
In our very own carriage aboard the Dunedin Railways
narrow Tunnels and viaducts
Windows and small decking areas between carriages provide the opportunity to capture photos of uninterrupted views. However, you really need to know what is coming alongside the railway up ahead before sticking your camera out of the window. The sound of the train’s horn usually means we are approaching a tunnel and, boy, are these tunnels narrow! The longest tunnel is the Salisbury Tunnel at 437 metres which is wide enough just to fit the train in!
As well as going through narrow tunnel after narrow tunnel, we cross over plenty of viaducts, such as the Wingatui Viaduct. At 197 metres long and 47 metres above the Mullocky Stream, it is one of the largest wrought iron structures in the Southern Hemisphere!
Mount Allan, Little Mount Allan and Christmas Creek
Throughout the trip, commentary is given through the speakers in each carriage, telling the history and significant facts of each place we are passing through. The Taieri Gorge Railway was a late-comer to the railway game in New Zealand, with its completion being in 1921. However, sections we are riding today first opened to traffic in 1889. It’s main use was for the transportation of farm produce and fruit. For this reason, the stops we see along the way are mostly to farming stations signposted with large traditional train station posts of names like Parera, Mount Allan, Little Mount Allan and Christmas Creek. The train actually stops at the next train station for passengers to enjoy the views and history of Hindon Station.
A stop at historic Hindon
We stretch our legs, check out a statue of a sheep dog dedicated to all the sheep dogs that served the farms in this area over the years, and have a look around the building that held a refreshment room until 1949. The sound of the horn prompts us to get back on board and continue to the most scenic part of the Taieri Gorge Railway!
The dramatic Taieri River GOrge
The views of the Taieri River shift to the opposite side of the train where rugged and rocky cliffs drop into the river far below us. Viaducts take us over waterfalls joining the river below. Goats cower in caves on the edge of the gorge. We even spot the remains of a rusty locomotive washed up on the river banks below… Gulp!
End of the line
The end of the line today is at Pukerangi, 250 metres above sea level. Other days, the train takes passengers as far as Middlemarch. If you wanted to go any further, you would need your bike to do the Otago Central Rail Trail.
We get out of the train again to watch the locomotive move to the back of the train. Our carriage is now at the front! All there is to do now is to enjoy the journey all over again back to front! This is a good time to have our lunch and look out for anything we missed along the way.
The train to Hogwartz
By 1.30pm we are back in Dunedin! We head back to Hogwartz for a bit of hostel banter with our fellow hostel-dwellers and some work.
Tomorrow, not only are we seeing the nesting area of the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony, but we are going to be looking out for little blue penguins during the “Super Moon”! Join us then!
Travelling through the stunning Taieri River Gorge!
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See you tomorrow!