Julie Harries heads out west for a bush railway journey through the Waitakere Ranges, and finds plenty worth checking out on the way.
One of the best kept secrets in West Auckland is the Rainforest Express train tucked away in the Waitakere Ranges.
It's an enjoyable trip to get there from the city centre and worth taking the time to wind along Scenic Drive and enjoy some of the available stops, including the Elevation Cafe which has a spectacular view of Auckland. Further along is the Arataki Visitors Centre, where you can learn some local history, and find out about the Waitakeres' trees, animals, and walking tracks.
Arrive 30 minutes before the Rainforest Express leaves Jacobsen's Depot on Scenic Drive to get the lowdown on what to expect on the 2 hour tour or the longer picnic trip.
There you can see the original train that carried the workers who laid the tracks, built nine bridges and carved 10 tunnels out of rock, all of which you will be carried over and through during the journey.
The line was originally created to aid the construction of the Upper Nihotupu Dam, and is still used today for pipe maintenance. Watercare has run the train as a tourist attraction for the past 12 years.
The train is a small modern vehicle that runs on a narrow gauge with seating for about 50 people. It has a glass ceiling and a glass closed side for great viewing.
As you trundle along the narrow track you will look down on to nikau palms and through stunning natural bush - have a go at identifying kauri, rata, ponga and native birds like kereru (wood pigeons), tui and fantails.
A stop on the dramatic Quinn's Viaduct provides more stunning views and a photo stop. The train driver will be happy to answer questions and talk about the track's history, and local flora and fauna.
At the end of the track there are sheltered tables for picnicking.
From here you can walk to the dam's edge via steps or a gravel path.
Once everyone is on board for the return trip there is more commentary on the sights in the tunnels, including of glow worms on the ceilings, and a few wetas - happily safely out of reach on the walls.
Jacobsen's Depot: 280 Scenic Drive, Titirangi, Auckland, ph (09) 302 8028, see watercare.co.nz. Cost: $25 adults, $20 senior citizens and teens under 18, $12 for 5-12 year olds. Under 5s free.
Arataki Visitors Centre: 300 Scenic Drive, Titirangi, Auckland, ph (09) 817 0077, see arc.govt.nz. Weekends 9am-5pm; weekdays and public holidays; 10am-4pm.
Elevation Cafe: 473 Scenic Drive, Titirangi, Auckland, ph (09) 814 1919, see elevationcafe.co.nz. Weekends 10am-late; Wed-Fri 11.30am-late.