Dates TBC – 2024
A Holiday by Steam, exploring the length and breadth of New Zealand, brought to you by The Steam Dreams Rail Co – a trip of a lifetime.
The inaugural Kiwi Explorer will be an amazing 3 week tour of New Zealand with over a thousand miles of steam-hauled train travel in late 2024.
You will experience some of the most breath-taking landscapes on the planet, all without the pressure of having to plan an itinerary or worrying about driving. We’ve got it all covered – we’ve chosen the best routes and locations, we’ve researched the best hotels and must-see excursions, we’ll sort out your luggage and transfers so you can relax and savour every moment. Read on to hear more details on the current plans for this amazing tour.
Please note: following the effects of the pandemic, combined with changes within both the owner of the New Zealand railway network, KiwiRail, and their heritage sector and also the Hotel industry, Steam Dreams reluctantly feel that at this stage it is not possible to commit to The Kiwi Explorer in 2023. We are therefore writing to you to apologise for the further delay which means the Tour will not take place before Autumn 2024 at the earliest.
It is our intention as soon as it is practicable to revisit and refamiliarise ourselves with the country and assess what changes to the itinerary, if any, are necessary before we run the Kiwi Explorer. As soon as that process has happened we will be in touch with those on the Kiwi Explorer interest list to announce our plans.
Day 1 – Welcome to Auckland
Our adventure will start in Auckland, with an optional welcoming party on Day 1 to meet up with the Steam Dreams team and other passengers on the tour.
Known as “The City of Sails”, Auckland, with its mild climate and vibrant outdoor lifestyle, is built around two harbours and is a wonderful place to explore and have a first taste of Kiwi life.
During the day there will be optional tours of the harbour and the city or a trip to the Glenbrook Vintage Railway. Although this is the first official day of the Kiwi Explorer, if passengers wish to arrive earlier, they may book additional nights at their hotels (please ask the Booking Office for details).
5*passengers will stay at the luxurious Sofitel Auckland Viaduct, conveniently located minutes from Victoria Park and the harbour.
4* passengers will stay at the Grand Mercure, which is located on the waterfront and has stunning views across the harbour and the city.
3* passengers will be staying at either the Crowne Plaza or Ibis, both of which are in the heart of the city. Hand-picked by our Holidays Team, the hotels will make a great start to your stay in New Zealand.
Day 2 – Auckland to Rotorua
Our first day of steam train travel has the tour setting out from Auckland’s station, heading south across North Island to Hamilton before turning east along the freight-only branch to Kinleith. The railway does not stretch quite to Rotorua anymore and we will be transferred by road coach to our beautiful hotels around the edge of this world famous thermal spa.
5*passengers will stay at the newly refurbished Pullman Hotel with panoramic views, in the centre of Rotorua.
4* passengers will stay at The Millenium Hotel, centrally located in the city beside mystical Lake Rotorua and a short stroll from the town centre’s shops and cafés.
3* passengers will stay at the Ibis, ideally located overlooking Lake Rotorua.
Day 3 – Exploring Rotorua
Passengers will have the choice of relaxing in Rotorua or joining one of the optional excursions likely to include a tour of Lake Rotorua, a visit to the thermal pools or a trip to a Maori village.
We will spend a second night in our Rotorua hotels.
Day 4 – Rotorua to National Park (and Hobbiton)
For those keen to see Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie set, we will take a road coach excursion to Matamata early doors. There’s so much to see there, that road coaches will take these passengers straight to Hamilton after their studio tour to join the train there.
Those wanting a more leisurely start, will be taken by road coach to Matamata a little later, from where we will travel diesel-hauled (retracing our route) as far as Hamilton, where passengers will enjoy a lunchtime break to explore, including an optional visit to the famous Botanical Gardens.
From Hamilton we head south, steam-hauled, to the station of National Park. Here, our 5* and 3* passengers will alight for their hotels. (There will be an option for any 5* or 3* passengers who wish to travel over the famous Makatote Viaduct to stay on the train to Ohakune, and be taken to their hotels later by road coach). Our 4* passengers will continue onboard the train to Ohakune and their hotels.
5*passengers will stay at the iconic Chateau Tongariro, set in the heart of Tongariro National Park, nestling at the foot of the 6,500ft mountain of the same name, with grand public rooms and a stunning backdrop of the mountains.
4*guests will stay at the Powderhorn Chateau in Ohakune, which is a comfortable hotel where Ian McKellern and Peter Jackson stayed when filming Lord of the Rings.
3*passengers will stay at The Park Hotel in Ruapehu. A short walk from National Park railway station, it’s a real gem of a hotel with a warm welcome, restaurant, spa pools and good views.
Day 5 – Exploring Tongariro National Park
On this non-train day, passengers will have lots of options to explore this stunning area. A trip to view Mounts Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (better known as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy) can be taken by air or coach, or passengers can opt to go on a guided walk or on a coach trip across the park and on to scenic Lake Taupo.
We will spend a second night in our National Park/Ohakune hotels.
Day 6 – National Park and Ohakune to Napier
First thing on Day 6, our 5* and 3* passengers will be taken by road coach from their hotels to Ohakune Station, where they will join our 4* passengers on our diesel-hauled train as it sets off southwards to Palmerston North.
From Palmerston North, we head steam-hauled east through the gap in the mountains and then turn north towards Hawke’s Bay, the area world-renowned for its award-winning wines.
Our train terminates in the seaside town of Napier – famous for its art deco buildings, attractive street scenes and coastline.
5* passengers will stay at The County Hotel, which is centrally situated with beautiful art deco styling. A long list of celebrities have stayed here including The Queen & Prince Philip, George VI ….and Mark Twain!
4* passengers will stay at The Scenic Hotel on the front, overlooking the sea and convenient for the town.
3* passengers will stay at The Nautilus, which is again on the sea front, and (like many motels in New Zealand) is very spacious and well appointed.
Day 7 – Exploring Hawke’s Bay
Today there are a number of optional excursions including a walking tour exploring the art deco history of Napier or a visit to two very different wineries in the Hawke’s Bay area.
We will spend a second night in our Napier hotels.
Day 8 – Hawke’s Bay to Wellington
We board our steam train again at Napier and head 175 miles south west to Paekakariki on the west coast. Here we will join road coaches for the 25 mile journey to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington – a wonderful harbour city in the very south of North Island – and to our hotels.
5* passengers will be sure of a memorable stay at the luxurious Sofitel in Wellington, which is in the heart of the city, yet not on a busy thoroughfare.
4* passengers will stay at the Grand Mercure, high on the hill overlooking the city and highly rated for both comfort and service.
3* passengers will stay at The Ibis, which is centrally located and convenient for shopping, bars and restaurants as well as for visiting the sights.
Day 9 – Exploring Wellington
Wellington is a wonderful city, with a bustling harbour, great shopping and restaurants, and fabulous views from the hills that surround the centre. Passengers will have plenty of time to explore throughout the day, visiting the Te Papa Museum or one of the many art galleries, shopping centres or relax with coffee and cake. There is a fabulous cable-car in the city centre, which climbs up through and under buildings before emerging at the top of the line to provide a magnificent view over this lively, yet friendly city.
An evening dinner with a tour of Parliament is planned in the food capital of New Zealand.
We will spend a second night in our Wellington hotels.
Day 10 – Wellington to Picton, South Island (by ferry) and on to Blenheim (by road)
We start by ferry across the famous Cook Strait to the port of Picton. The three-and-a-half-hour crossing is one of the most picturesque in the world, travelling across the Cook Straits and up Queen Charlotte’s Sound, with dolphins regularly seen alongside the ship.
We will take road coaches from Picton ferry terminal for the 25 mile trip to Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough region – another area famous for its award-winning wines.
5* passengers will stay at Chateau Marlborough (winner of the 2019 Best Regional Hotel).
4* passengers will stay at the 4* Scenic Hotel in the centre of town.
3* passengers will stay in a central Blenheim hotel.
Day 11 – November 2nd Blenheim to Kaikoura
Passengers have until mid-afternoon to relax, explore Blenheim or join our optional tour of local wineries.
The afternoon and early evening will be spent enjoying one of the highlights of the tour, as we join the near 100-year-old coaches of the Marlborough Flyer at Blenheim and steam south to Kaikoura.
Initially we climb up into the foothills of the mountains before descending down to the coast of the South Pacific – once there the Flyer will steam for mile after mile within touching distance of the ocean while the mountains rise dramatically on the other side of the train.
Passengers who wish to get the full Marlborough Flyer experience can travel to Picton by road coach at lunchtime and ride up from Picton to Blenheim with the train, before we head off to Kaikoura.
It is planned that in Kaikoura both 5* & 4* passengers will stay at the newly built Sudima Hotel on the promenade, adjacent to the ocean and with the mountains behind.
3* passengers will stay in either the Panorama Motel or Gateway Motor Lodge
Day 12 – Exploring Kaikoura
It would be hard to think of a more beautiful place on earth and in early November, as Spring turns to early Summer, the temperatures may be in the high 60s or even 70s Fahrenheit, yet the mountain range is still likely to be snow covered. The ocean trench just off the coast means sperm whales are often seen close to shore. There will be optional excursions for whale, dolphin and seal watching (by boat or plane) as well as a visit to a lavender farm.
We will spend a second night in our Kaikoura hotels.
Day 13 – Kaikoura to Christchurch
After a leisurely start, we set out around lunchtime for the run down the coast to the ‘capital’ of South Island – Christchurch. Initially continuing to hug the coastline, after about 20 miles we head inland to the Lowry Peaks Range and along the valley of the Waikari River, before we come back towards the coast and reach our base for the next two days in Christchurch.
5* passengers will stay at the luxurious and newly renovated Distinction Hotel in Cathedral Square, a perfect location from which to explore the centre of Christchurch.
4* passengers will stay in the Crowne Plaza, also in the heart of Christchurch.
3* passengers will stay at The Ibis, again an ideal location for exploring the city.
Day 14 – Exploring Christchurch and Fireworks!
There is so much to see and do in Christchurch – passengers can either enjoy a day at leisure or join one of our optional excursions, including a visit to the earthquake museum and a historic tram tour of the city or a full day trip excursion on the famous TranzAlpine Express, which crosses the Southern Alps to the west coast at Greymouth. New Zealand celebrates Guy Fawkes’ Night, so evening fireworks are anticipated.
We will spend a second night in our Christchurch hotels.
Day 15 – Christchurch to Dunedin
We set out on the eastern side of the country travelling south past the town of Timaru before a break in Oamaru, home to a Steam Punk Museum in the beautifully maintained Victorian buildings around the harbour area.
In the late afternoon, we continue southwards and throughout the day we once again pass many sea vistas, hills and mountains. We arrive in the evening in the southern city of Dunedin, which at a distance of 11,870 miles – as an exhausted crow might fly – is the furthest city from London in the World!
5* passengers will stay at the Distinction Hotel, the former Royal Post Office Tower which has been transformed by this luxury hotel group and now ranks 4th out of all the hotels in New Zealand by Trip Advisor.
4* passengers will stay at the Southern Cross Scenic Hotel, which is centrally located, beautifully decorated and very comfortable.
3* passengers will stay at Kingsgate Hotel, which has lovely views and all rooms have a balcony.
Day 16 – Exploring Dunedin (Optional trip on Taieri Gorge Scenic Railway)
Built in the middle of beautiful rugged hills, Dunedin offers lots of things to do, but surely nobody will want to miss the optional excursion on the Taieri Gorge Scenic Railway to the inland rural town of Middlemarch, actually named after T S Eliot’s novel, and back to Dunedin.
You may choose instead to join a harbour cruise, visit the nearby penguin colonies or visit the wonderful Larnach Castle with views over the city and sea beyond.
We will spend a second night in our Dunedin hotels.
Day 17 – Dunedin to Invercargill
We set off steam-hauled towards the southern-most point of the main KiwiRail network at Invercargill. After initially staying near the coast, the train will cut inland past the edge of the Blue Mountains to the town of Gore, and then southwards to Invercargill.
5* star passengers will stay at The Ascot Park Hotel, adjacent to the racecourse and with a relaxed and spacious layout.
4* star passengers will stay at The Kelvin Hotel in central Invercargill.
3* star passengers will stay at The Ibis.
Day 18 – Exploring Options
Option 1: Passengers may choose to relax in Invercargill, taking in the famous Bill Richardson Transport World or Classic Motorcycle Mecca, or take a ferry or flight to the wonderful Stewart Island, home to amazing wildlife and stunning scenery.
Passengers choosing one of the options above will spend a second night in our Invercargill hotels.
Option 2: Alternatively, passengers may choose to travel by road coach to Manapouri on the west coast, to take a boat cruise of Doubtful Sound, exploring beautiful waterways and seeing wildlife, likely to include dolphins, fur seals and sometimes penguins. The trip starts with a cruise across Lake Manapouri, followed by a road coach trip over the epic Wilmot Pass through Fiordland’s rainforest and into the Sound. This is a long day but an experience of a lifetime.
After the boat cruise returns to Manapouri, passengers will be taken by road coach for the short trip to Te Anau, a small town on the shores of the breath-taking Lake Te Anau, for the night.
In Te Anau, 5* and 4*passengers will stay at the comfortable Distinction Hotels while 3* passengers will spend the night in a central Te Anau hotel.
Day 19 – Invercargill or Te Anau to Queenstown
All passengers (whether they have chosen to stay in Invercargill or go to Te Anau) will be transferred to Queenstown, the skiing capital of New Zealand, by road. On the way we will stop at the south end of Lake Wakatipu at Kingston and plan to organise a trip on the famous steam-hauled Kingston Flyer which is due to reopen in 2020.
Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, one of the most beautiful and scenic stretches of inland water in the world, set against the dramatic Southern Alps. Renowned for adventure sports, it’s also a base for exploring the region’s vineyards and historic mining towns.
5*guests will stay at Hotel St Moritz. Blending luxury with warmth and genuine welcome, the hotel is superbly located in town and has panoramic lake and mountain views.
4*passengers will stay at the Mercure with majestic views over Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountain range.
3*guests will stay at the lakeside Novotel, conveniently located for both a stroll along the shores of Lake Wakatipu and adjacent to the shops, bars, cafes and restaurants of vibrant Queenstown.
Day 20 – Queenstown
There will be numerous opportunities to explore this delightful city, including a cruise across Lake Wakatipu on TSS Earnshaw, the vintage paddle steamer, or a trip up the mountain by gondola for lunch.
The official tour sadly has to come to an end here, but the delightful Queenstown is a perfect place to end on a high note.
Passengers can fly back to Auckland for their return flights home or travel onwards to more or less anywhere from the small but well-connected airport with regular flights to all major New Zealand and Australian airports.
CARRIAGES, TRAIN OPERATION & HOTELS/CATERING
We will update further details of our tour including timings and optional excursions as we continue to work with Kiwirail, The Federation of Rail Organisations of New Zealand (FRONZ), Steam Inc and Dunedin Railways.
We plan to use a range of lovingly restored steam locomotives and carriages, giving passengers a taste of many different types of Kiwi train travel during the tour. Some of the beautiful wooden carriages are nearly 100 years old, and even the most recently built date back to the latter half of the last century. While more minimalist than those used on UK charters, they offer an historic charm. Unusually for mainline charter vehicles, many of their coaches are connected by open balconies from which passengers are allowed to view the scenery!
Passengers who opt for our top class will stay in the best hotels available in each location. In some of the more remote parts of New Zealand there may only be 4*accommodation available but in most cases passengers will enjoy the full 5*treatment. Throughout they will have hearty breakfasts and dinners in their hotels and will be served snacks on the train. They will also receive a complimentary glass of champagne and half a bottle of wine each train day.
4* Dining passengers will be accommodated throughout in mainly 4*hotels. They will also have breakfast and dinner in their hotels throughout the tour and on train days will be served snacks, with a complimentary glass of champagne on each train day.
Non-Dining passengers will be served complimentary tea, coffee and water (subject to availability on that day’s particular rolling stock) on the train and will be offered a small range of snacks at their seats. Hotels will normally be 3* in town centres close to amenities and the station. Passengers are welcome to bring their own food and drink on the train.
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We look forward to welcoming you to New Zealand, the Steam Dreams way!
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