All down the line: Oamaru to Te Anau

By Paul Harper

Herald Online reporter Paul Harper is making his way around the South Island by rail over the course of a fortnight. Here are some of the highlights of his trip.

The impressive Kingston Flyer turns around at Fairlight. Photo / Paul Harper
The impressive Kingston Flyer turns around at Fairlight. Photo / Paul Harper

Day Seven

It is a slow journey from Oamaru to Dunedin, taking the train roughly two-and-a-half hours to make its way around the coast, past Port Chalmers and into Dunedin. At the station we hurry down the platform to board the Taieri Gorge Train.

The Taieri Gorge Railway follows the old Otago Central Railway, which stretched all the way to Cromwell and was completed in 1921. The rail now finishes at Middlemarch, and crosses a series of magnificent viaducts and passes through stunning scenery along the gorge and Otago high country.

While it is bitterly cold on the outdoor viewing platforms on each of the carriages, the surroundings are amazing and offer a host of great shots for avid photographers.

The tour gets off the train at Middlemarch and on to coaches, stopping in Ranfurly, Clyde Dam and overlooking Cromwell to stretch our legs, before making our way to Arrowtown and then to Queenstown for the night.

Day Eight

The tour party were given a free day on Saturday, with most of the group opting for a voyage aboard the TSS Earnslaw, which only a week earlier celebrated 100 years since its launch. The iconic steamship crosses Lake Wakatipu for Walter Peak High Country Farm, nestled on the western shore, where visitors are able to get a taste of rural New Zealand life, including a sheep dog and shearing demonstration.

Returning to Queenstown aboard the Earnslaw, passengers are invited to join in a sing-a-long around the piano. Staff are dressed in turn-of-the-century garb, reflecting the early years of the historic vessel's voyages. The Earnslaw is more than just a fine way to see the gorgeous lake, but also an experience in itself.

The tourist town of Queenstown has no lack of activities for people to enjoy, from bungy jumping for the thrill seeking to gondola rides above the town for those who want to take in the amazing alpine scenery.

Day Nine

From Queenstown we drive to the southern-most point of Lake Wakitipu, to a town called Kingston. There we board the stunning black 1925 locomotive AB778 - the Kingston Flyer. The trip is only a short one, taking only about half an hour to cover the 14km stretch to Fairlight.

The tracks are flanked by farmland and tussock grass with mighty snow-capped peaks off in the distance. The carriages and locomotive are a labour of love as they are in pristine condition, and the trip is a treat for both rail fanatics and lovers of heritage alike.

From Fairlight we board the coach once again, which takes us to the Fiordland town of Te Anau for the night. Half the group check out the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves, which begins with a cruise across Lake Te Anau.

Once on the western shore of the lake visitors board small boats which glide through the caves. I was unfortunately ill and regrettably could not see the caves for myself, but I am told the glowworms appear as bright "clouds" above you in the dark, with only the roar of the water to be heard.

Paul is on the South Island Springtime Tour, run by Pukekohe Travel.

- nzherald.co.nz

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