Syrian refugees sang and danced in the aisles of a train on an "awesome" trip across the Otago countryside yesterday.

Red Cross volunteer team leader Leisa de Klerk said Dunedin Railways offered the 87 Syrian refugees, who arrived in Dunedin this year, a free return trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway between Dunedin and Middlemarch.

At Middlemarch, Red Cross volunteers put on a barbecue for the 70 refugees on the trip, aged between 2 months and 88.

"It's all a part of welcoming the former refugees to Dunedin," she said.


Syrian refugee Manhala Hameed, 55, of Dunedin, said it was her first trip on a train and she was afraid before departing, despite travelling with her daughter, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

However, the former Damascus resident was relieved to find the train had luxuries on board, such as a toilet.

Dunedin Railways chief executive Murray Bond said the trip was free for the refugees.

"It's all complimentary from us as a big welcome to Dunedin."

Syrian refugee Ahmad Allimuri, 13, said he and his friends danced in the aisle of the train carriage and sang Arabic tunes on the way to Middlemarch.

At Middlemarch, the signing and dancing continued and he rode a pony in the town. "It was awesome."