The Steam Dreams Rail Co is running a 3 week tour of New Zealand in Autumn 2021. See http://www.steamdreams.co.uk for more info.
This blog reveals how the research trip scoping out the tour panned out.
Day 9 of the research trip was another “important” one – we were meeting Dunedin Railways to discuss using their set for some of the legs on South Island.
We had a great meeting with the Sales and Operations Managers at Dunedin station. Not only were they willing to run some legs of the tour, they let us see several of their carriages – including modern air-conditioned ones with huge picture windows and even windows along the edges of the roof to give maximum light and viewing possibilities! Other carriages were more traditional and beautifully appointed. And the station itself was just majestic.
After saying our goodbyes to yet another group of endlessly helpful and enthusiastic Kiwi railway people, Marcus and I met up with Marianne and Ben and headed for Larnach Castle, which had been recommended to us by the owner of the motel. It didn’t disappoint. We had tea in the Hogwarts style dining room and gawped at the view from the stylish William Morris decorated rooms. We agreed that we’d all rather like to stay at the Castle, but we were off once again.
We piled ourselves and our bags back in the Nissan for the 190 mile trip to Te Anau, stopping at Gore (for you guessed it, something to eat) along the way. We again stumbled across a delightful cafe, selling a range of freshly made treats, served with a smile and a sense of humour.
On arrival in Te Anau, we found our hotel (one of the ones we’ll be staying at on the Kiwi Explorer, so they were keen to look after us) and had a meal in the bar area before retiring for the night.
Day 10: After a quick breakfast, I took a quick tour of the town and checked out some of the hotels. Te Anau hadn’t been on the original itinerary, so Judy hadn’t been to source hotels on her recce in 2018. It was down to me to decide if the hotels were good enough for our passengers (those that choose to take the optional excursion to Doubtful Sound on Day 18 of the tour in 2021). Whilst the hotels aren’t chic or fashionable, they are comfortable, the service is excellent and the setting is unbeatable – on the shores of Lake Te Anau – its flat calm surface reflecting the landscape and sky better than any painting.
Next stop on the journey was Kingston, set on the southern most banks of Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown is some 30 miles further north, also on the Lake). Whilst the Kingston Flyer hadn’t re-opened when we were there, plans are that it will be running by the time the main tour gets there in November 2021, so we’ll have the chance for another bit of steam! In the meantime, we had to make do with another delightful lunch at the Kingston Flyer Cafe and a walk along the peaceful shore of the lake. Then onward to Queenstown.
Queenstown had a very different feel to the other towns we’d seen in South Island – more cosmopolitan, more stylish, more ski resort, more beautiful people. But nonetheless, friendly and welcoming – and with more fresh air than you’ll ever experience. On arrival at our little cabins on the edge of town, I looked into the distance at the mountains and realised it was like looking at real life in HD. (Not long ago, I found myself watching TV in old-fashioned non-HD by mistake and it made my eyes hurt it was so fuzzy!). Every view in New Zealand when the sun is out is crisp, clear and vibrant.
Day 11: We spent some time in nearby Arrowtown, a quaint town with an American wild west feel to it (a little like a small version of Oamaru) and mooching about Queenstown. It was good to wind down a bit after all the driving and various meetings.
We took the gondola up to the top of mountain to the Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve – the adventurous can try indoor sky diving or tobogganing; those looking for a more leisurely pursuit with a view can enjoy the cafe or restaurant at the top. There are so many options for activities and excursions from Queenstown, it’s going to be a hard job to choose which ones to do. From the steamboat on the lake to a flight to Doubtful Sound, there’s something for everyone. What a perfect place to end the tour.
Queenstown airport is small but perfectly formed (so no worries about finding the right terminal) and is served by airlines flying to all major New Zealand and Australian airports.
Marcus had driven over 1,200 miles and we’d all survived. I bade farewell to my travelling companions, as they were heading to Australia for further train and driving fun, and I was heading home. We’d covered many miles and talked endlessly, laughed heartily and seen some beautiful sights, but it was the end of the research trip. And what a successful trip it had been. Not one person had said we were mad or that it couldn’t be done. In fact, railway person or not, everyone had given us the thumbs up and agreed the Kiwi Explorer 2021 is set to be the trip of a lifetime.