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Date: 04/12/17 11:16
New Zealand travel tips?
Author: march_hare

OK, this is getting serious.  I now  have conceptual buy-in from the dear spouse for a couple week trip to New Zealand, last week of September to first week of October.  A little wiggle room on each end of the schedule, but not much.

Some questions:

A few years ago, I remember reading about a pretty extensive steam excursion program on NZ railways.  Can't find much info now, though.  Are there still mainline excursions available?  Would they run this early in the springtime (I'm picturing this as the equivalent of late March to Arpil in the northern hemisphere, when pickings are kinda slim).


Date: 04/12/17 14:06
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: Hartington

The two I'm aware of are http://www.steaminc.org.nz/ and http://mainlinesteam.co.nz/excursions.html   The word "extensive" may be a slight exageration.

There are several heritage railways and tramways.   Some are part of multi-modal museums (Ferrymead and MOTAT spring to mind) whilst others are rail only (http://www.wekapassrailway.co.nz/ for example).   Then there's http://www.dunedinrailways.co.nz/ and  http://www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz/

But, as one railfan to another, railways are not why you go to New Zealand!   We spent 2 months exploring and had to make some quite difficult decisions about where to go without taking railways into account.   Whilst we had a ride on both the TranzAlpine and Taieri Gorge many of the visits to heritage railways were thwaterd by the fact they tend to only operate at weekends.   The only one I can think of that operates in the week is the Bay of Islands Railway (there are probably others) which runs down the middle of the streen in Kawakawa and if you go there stop and see the Public Toilets!

We hired 2 cars - one in Auckland for a week to go north.   Then we flew to Christchurch and took the TranzAlpine to Greymouth where we picked up the 2nd car.   We kept that for the remaining 6 weeks and dropped it back in Auckland.   The hire company (Apex) treated it as one 7 week rental and threw in a "free" ticket on the ferry from South to North (I think it only worked in that direction).   There are lots of motels, almost all with a small cooking area in the room.   None of them is very big - 10 rooms is big, 20 is huge!.   The Automobile Association (the AA) issues free guides to each part of the country and that includes motel/camp site listing as well.   We were ther January/Fenruary and most of the time we just booked a day or two ahead.   I booked the flight, TranzAlpine and car(s) and I also booked the mostels from Greymouth down to Queenstown because I figured it was high season in mid January.   I also booked the excursions to Milford and Doubtful Sounds from Queenstown.   We ran into slight problems twice - once in Dunedin where phone calls had failed to find a room but the local tourist office sorted us when we arrived.   The other place was New Plymouth where there was an American car rally in town and one of the places we phoned said try this place it's new; they had opened the day before we arrived and had space.

Talking about New Plymouth there's a line from Stratford near New Plymouth) across the North Island to Taumaruni which has been mothballed.   There has been talk of allowing raillbikes or maybe little critters to use it.

Date: 04/12/17 14:13
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: andersonb109

I did the Mainline Steam tour in 2006. It was very extensive and covered most available track on both islands. But from their web site it looks their passenger stock has been banned from main line. So nothing in the foreseeable future. There are numerous tourist lines but most run only on weekends so you can't really incorporate too many in a few weeks time frame. Operating out of Queenstown is the  1912 steamship Earnslaw. Not a train but still provides a great steam fix. The famous station in Dunedan is worth a look but no passenger service remains. 

Date: 04/12/17 14:48
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: Hartington

Re Stratford - Taumaruni - search Forgotten World Adventures.

Date: 04/12/17 18:56
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: jfrank39

I did the trip to NZ in 2009 because they were offering bargain air fares.  I only had a few days to spend.  I went in August.  I flew to Auckland where I changed planes to Christchurch.  From there I took the Tranzapline, Tranzcoastal and Overlander to get back to Auckland.  I flew from there to Melbourne and then back  to the US.  New Zealanders drive on the 'wrong' side of the road.  If you really have two weeks my suggestion is to rent a camper or car in Auckland and enjoy your two weeks.  You can take the ferry from Wellington to the south island.  I made all my reservations from my computer here in Houston.  And it all worked out.  About a year later they had a bad earthquake in Christchurch that destroyed much of downtown.  They had another just recently that put the Trancoastal out for the rest of the year.  I have no idea if the line from Christchurch to Picton is still blocked.  There were numerous landslides that covered the track and the road.  If you end up driving most of the way, at least take the Tranzalpine train ride.  The place is beautiful.  There is so much to see you can never see it all.  Do a lot of research before you go.  The place is in a time warp of about 50 years ago.  People don't even lock their houses or cars.  Here are my pics of the trip and also the results of the recent earthquake.  Great place to retire if you have the time and money.



Date: 04/12/17 19:17
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: tq-07fan

Unfortunately one of the biggest things I came away with from New Zealand was that it ended up being quite expensive. Great trip though. My dad and I didn't go see or ride any steam trains as that's not our thing. We flew to Auckland and after riding a city bus to do laundry we flew to Dunedin. In Dunedin we did ride the Taieri Gorge Railway out of Dunedin, pluled by a Bo Bo Bo diesel from Japan.. We rode the bus up to Christchurch and then rode the Trans Alpine to Greymouth and back on the next day. Rode the Coastal Pacific and the ferryboat to Wellington then after a weekend in Wellington rode the Northern Explorer to Auckland.  We only hired a car for an overnight trip back to Hamilton. I would highly recommend all the regular rail trips, pending the Coastal Pacific is back up and running by then. New Zealand is very scenic and the railway is the way to see it. Kiwi Rail gives you headphones that you can plug into a commentary that gives an excellent history of both the railway and New Zealand itself. Public transit is good in New Zealand, with a little planning and research you can get to many places by bus. I would also recommend getting bus passes and simply riding to see the cities. They are different than what we are used to and the people are some of the friendliest people in the World. I could have spent much more time in Wellington. I came mainly to ride the trolleybus system which is set to end sometime this year. I found that Wellington had a lot more to offer including the Te Papa Museum and Zealandia. Auckland a ride on the North Shore busway was quite scenic and of course both cities have electric commuter trains. Christchurch we didn't get to spend much time as we did all this in ten days. If you do hire a car I would recommend Rent-A-Dent. Not so new cars but they have smaller cars which is a big bonus as the lanes are small in many planes over there. The regual railway KiwiRail is really intersting in itself. My dad and I were both amazed at how much they moved on 42 inch gauge track. I also really liked the signals, British looking signal heads arranged to display American style aspects, with some Australian stuff thrown in, just ot be unoque. If you have any questions or need to know any transit system websites don't be afraid to PM me. There are also several members in New Zealand on trainorders that can also answer a lot of questions as well.

Have Fun!


Date: 04/13/17 09:07
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: hogheaded

Given your late September timeframe is stll "low" season in many areas, you should have little trouble finding accomodations at the last minute just about anywhere. Rent a car and stay flexible. As Hartington says, railroads are not really why you go to New Zealand, although I would amend this to say "if you are an outdoorsy type". The scenery on the South Island's West Coast is particularly stunning and you'll find "treks" (trails) there, and all over the country for that matter, that stand a good chance of monopolizing your time. At least they did for my wife and me. Hence the "Casual Railfan" inserted into the title of my ongoing NZ travelogue.

Whether or not you are able to catch steam, you'll still enjoy yourself on any of KiwiRail's trains. I was unable to schedule-in any weekend museum steamers, but given everything else, this was a very minor issue.

Whatever you do, don't miss the Taieri Gorge Railway, which is NZ's equivalent to the Durango & Silverton (note: you can ride in the vestibules on the TG, unlike the D&S). Set aside a Sunday to do this, as the train travels an additional 19+- miles to Middlemarch (all other runs turn around in the middle of nowhere at Pukerangi). Middlemarch is a cute little town whose station gift shop sells handmade kids' wool sweaters for as little as NZ $25 (US $17.20!). Besides the station, Middlemarch also has an original water tower, engine house and best of all, a working cast iron Sellers (U.S. patented) turntable, maybe the only operable one left in the world. The train's 40 year old Mitsubishi B-B-B locos quickly grew on me. I'll have a three or four posts on TG Ry and Dunedin Railways, TG's owner that also operates scheduled railcar trips of varying length on KiwiRail north along the Coast from Dunedin. Dunedin railway also occasionally hosts diesel or railcar excursions on KiwiRail, including freight-only trackage. Check out their website. Dunedin, my favorite city in NZ, has a huge, ornate and gorgeous old RR station, to boot.

The one thing that I cannot address is September weather. A Kiwi will have to fill you in on that. Bring a raincoat!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/14/17 06:30 by hogheaded.

Date: 04/13/17 10:46
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: march_hare

Thanks, all for the suggestions.  Looks like we can both get there for under 3,000 airfare, so the trip is increasingly looking like a go.

I might be able to take a day by myself to go see freight trains, if anybody has a suggestion on particularly busy spots, or opportunities to chase through scenic areas.

Date: 04/14/17 07:07
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: hogheaded

Beyond the airfare cost, if you book lodging through Hotels.com, or whatever:  the price quotes on Hotel.com  or wherever don't include hotel taxes, which are fairly stiff. Thus, our rule of thumb was to figure a quote in NZ dollars was what we actually would wind up paying in US dollars once taxes were added in. In the same vein restaraunt food is more expensive down there, but since tipping is nearly unheard of, it is pretty much a wash in many cases. (Note this peculiarity: The standard deal in many restaurants seems to be that your check is not delivered to your table. When you're finished, you merely go to the counter and pay.) American fast food (most of our big chains are there) is much more expensive than here.) If you want good, reasonably priced fast food, go to a hole-in-the-wall fish & chips joint, or buy yourself a savory pie, which can be found in any convenience store, gas station or bakery. The only food that I sorely missed was a proper salad.


Date: 04/14/17 08:21
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: march_hare

Dear spouse and I are both quite fond of lamb (I grew up on a part time sheep farm) so I hope to be ordering quite a bit of that, and I have enough experience with New Zealand wines to know that will be a good accompaniment.

Aside from one moment of weekness at McDonald's in Scotland (just had to try "scottish food" in Scotland) I tend to avoid American fast food when overseas.

Hadn't heard that tip about tipping.  Thanks for that.

Any locals out there that can fill me in on how freight traffic works in NZ?  Good places to see some?

Date: 05/21/17 07:52
Re: New Zealand travel tips?
Author: Hartington

Since nobody else has replied regarding freight I'll simply report what I saw some ten years ago backed up by what I've read since.

By now there may be a web site somewhere that lists trains but then there wasn't. There are several Facebook groups e.g.


to name but two.

The line from Picton to Christchurch on South Island was badly damaged by an earthquake last year and hasn't reopened yet. The Christchuch to Greymouth line has seen a reduction in the amount of coal which was the main commodity although I believe there are some milk products from Hokitika that come up the coast and then across to Christchurch.

As far as I could tell, catching a train on the move was largely a matter of luck. Nothing seemed to run with any real frequency. I found locomotives breaking and building at several ports; Invercargill, Port Chalmers (Dunedin), Lyttleton (Christchurch), Picton, Wellington, New Plymouth, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland.

Auckland has a recently electrified suburban network (25Kv AC) and Wellington has a long standing suburban network at 1600v DC which has received new EMUs since I was there. The main line from Hamilton to Palmerston North is 25kv AC with some interesting bo-bo=bo locomotives but the government has announced they will stop those locos and use diesels in future although they plan to maintain the overhead wires "in case". Apart from the tourist "Kiwirail Scenic" trains the only loco hauled passenger is the daily Wellington/Palmerston North (once a day each way) and the trains from Wellington to Masterton through the Rimutaka tunnel. Prior to the building of the tunnel the railway over the Rimutaka range had been operated by tank engines using a Fell Rail system and there's a small museum in Featherstone with one of the locos in it.

I think your best chance of catching something is probably Christchurch, Tauranga or Auckland (the line that runs from the port across the bay) at the moment.

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