Taranaki Rail Tour: Memories on a Forgotten tour

By Simon Kay

On a rail tour to Taranaki, Simon Kay relishes the fact that he is finally a welcome guest at an iconic hotel.

KiwiRail's Northern Explorer is one of the trains you'll catch on the Great Forgotten Taranaki rail tour.
KiwiRail's Northern Explorer is one of the trains you'll catch on the Great Forgotten Taranaki rail tour.

With stunning unimpeded views of Ngauruhoe to the left of me and Ruapehu to the right, I had a realisation that was both surprising and embarrassing.

Starting from the Chateau, I was walking the 6km Taranaki Loop track, reacquainting myself with the sound of gravel under my feet and spectacular sights in every direction.

I made several trips to hike and climb in this part of the country in my mid-teens. I'd passed through enough times in the decades since but hadn't stopped until now.

So as I made my way around the track, I had to ask myself why 30 years had elapsed since I was last here. Excuses like family and career didn't seem valid.

I was nearing the end of Pukekohe Travel's inaugural six-day Great Forgotten Taranaki rail tour, the latest addition to the company's growing rail programme.

Our final night was at the Chateau, a place I'd only previously been kicked out of moments after walking in as a scruffy Swanndri-clad teenager. Now I was pleased to be back as a guest instead of an interloper.

For myself and the other 80-odd passengers, the tour included many new experiences but also much that invoked memories of the past, both in terms of the itinerary and mode of travel.

Rail travel has a unique appeal and for many of the passengers, this tour brought back happy memories of train trips past.

This tour packages up many of the best things to see and do around Taranaki, while enabling people to appreciate our country's stunning scenery from the comfort of a New Zealand rail icon.

A third of the Taranaki passengers were previous customers. Some have done more than 10 trips with the company and the camaraderie is an obvious drawcard.

The tour started with passengers boarding the Northern Explorer at Auckland, Papakura, Pukekohe and Hamilton, before getting off at Taumarunui.

Buses ran from there to New Plymouth, via the stunning Forgotten World Highway, a stretch of which is still unsealed, through countryside that gives an insight into how large parts of New Zealand must have looked in pre-European times.

Afternoon tea and a spot of gumboot throwing at the Whangamomona Hotel en-route to New Plymouth was a first-day highlight.

Day two was a loop around Mt Taranaki by bus, taking in various attractions.

These included the Pioneer Village, the Envirofur possum fur factory and the impressive Ngamamaku and Hollard Gardens, with lunch at the picturesque Stratford Mountain House on the slopes of Mt Taranaki.

After a day free to explore New Plymouth, we boarded the Silver Fern for the first time on day four on the New Plymouth waterfront — where the city's railway station apparently used to be — and travelled to Whanganui. The highlight en-route was a stop at Tawhiti, a hidden gem of a museum near Hawera.

The last two days, we were aboard the Silver Fern, first from Whanganui to National Park, joining the Main Trunk Line at Marton, and then from National Park back to Auckland.

An early-afternoon arrival back at the Chateau allowed enough time to stroll or hike one of the nearby tracks, or play a round on the hotel's nine-hole golf course. My reunion with the area's alpine beauty was followed by a well-earned beverage at the Chateau's Ruapehu Lounge, a setting that exudes colonial charm, complete with grand piano, snooker table and mountain views through the Ngauruhoe Window.

And it was refreshing having a Chateau staff member inquiring what I'd like to drink rather than asking me to leave.

CHECKLIST

Details: See pukekohetravel.co.nz for more information.

- NZ Herald

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