The Waitakere Tramline was built in the early 1900s to facilitate repairs and maintenance to the Waitakere Dam. Weekly trips have now been running for 35 years and are a great way to amuse the entire family, whatever the weather. Joelle Thomson goes for a ride.
When it's raining cats and dogs and even the children have tired of yet another trip to the DVD store during Auckland's so-called spring, there is a great outdoor activity you can enjoy, whatever the weather. And, best of all, it won't break the bank, nor the speedo on the car.
The Waitakere Tramline is situated about a 40-minute drive from most parts of the greater Auckland area. It offers a great armchair travel experience through the bush, winter or summer. And while one side of the tram is uncovered, the shelter of the rainforest is usually ample protection from any rain you do encounter.
The word "tram" needs to be applied loosely here since the words "miniature railway" might seem more apt, once you're seen the mode of transport on its two-foot gauge line. Built to cart equipment to build the Waitakere Dam in the early 1900s, the 20-seat tram is now run by volunteers.
The views from the "Dam Tram" are spectacular, as is the fauna. Vast kauri trees poke their majestic heads through the forest while clusters of nikau palms sit proudly on the steep sides of this verdant landscape.
The occasional rimu tree droops its whimsical arms over regenerating native bush. And every now and then there is the glimpse of a faraway view, while most of the journey offers an enclosed, but cosy forest feel.
Access to this tram is an adventure in itself. Once you have booked your space on the tram, you are given directions to a long road by a dark green hill and a dusty track, on which tram passengers are instructed to walk up until they arrive at the tram.
"If it seems like you're not going anywhere, then you know you're in the right place and you'll see others wondering the same thing too," I was instructed when I booked myself and two young excited children.
It was a day of gentle Auckland rainfall rather than a torrential downpour and by the time we were halfway up the track, the rain had completely stopped. "We've pretty much got to be looking at the sort of rainfall Noah's Ark had to endure for us to cancel a journey," Waitakere Tramline Society volunteer Bill Eaton says.
A stop at the return point of the 75-minute journey provides a chance to stretch your legs, walk through the rainforest and discover the surprisingly beautiful Waitakere Dam.
There are two other tramlines in the Waitakere Ranges - the now defunct line by Huia, on which no tram runs any more, and the Waitakere Rainforest Express, which runs to the Nihotupu Dam - crossing the new Sir Edmund Hillary Trail along the way. All you need to do is book in advance, drive about 40 minutes, then sit back and enjoy the view. Literally.
The Waitakere Tramline Society operates four trips a day every Sunday except Queen's Birthday Weekend and Christmas. Adults $10, children aged 5-15 $5, pre-schoolers free. Bookings essential, phone (09) 818 4946. waitakeretramline.org.nz