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Auckland to National Park by Train

Auckland to National Park by Train

Old Aug 8, 06, 12:10 am
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Auckland to National Park by Train

Index to my trip reports

If you like this report, you may be interested in some of my other trip reports.
  1. AKL-YYZ with NZ/AC in F & C - my first trip report
  2. Europe to Iceland & return on Icelandair (FI) - somewhere different
  3. Some FTers DO the Inaugural Worlds Longest Flight SIN-EWR vv 28 June 2004 - 2 long flights back to back
  4. 7 Crazy Days - includes an almost inaugural flight
  5. Champagne and figure eights on ice - Antarctica flightseeing
  6. a Lit.tle sPRinG.Ly JoUrney (BUDding KiwiS Can zig-ZAG around Europe) - mostly central and eastern Europe
  7. Big DO DOs - or a Kiwi Flyer's Month of Madness - lots of flights
  8. Another Manic Month for Kiwi - again lots of flights
  9. Mini Tour of NZ - over 100 domestic flights in New Zealand covering all domestic routes (ongoing)
  10. Across the Globe in 5 Continents - criss-crossing the globe
  11. Auckland to National Park by Train - train in New Zealand's North Island
  12. Across the Globe in 5 Continents Again - criss-crossing the globe, but this time mainly on One World
  13. A Warm Embrace of the Tropics - short trips to the tropical South Pacific
  14. Singapore (SQ) new first and business class, plus a medley of 12 F & C SQ flights - name says it all really
  15. Across the Globe in 4 Continents - around the world on star alliance, including some unusual flights
  16. Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Sampler - a sampling of Qantas flights, domestic and international, in economy and business (ongoing)
  17. Around the World in Under 60 Hours - around the world in a weekend
  18. The Heat is On - another longhaul economy trip in under 60 hours - what a contrast, Asia and Qantas' new first class lounges
  19. Fast on the ground and in the air - it must be Shanghai – a flying visit to Shanghai + Maglev
  20. It's a Fine Line Between Pleasure & Pain: 4 wacky weeks 2 RTW C, inaugural longhaul Y – mostly One World
  21. Back and forth across the Pacific on a variety of airlines in a selection of classes - 16 crossings of the Pacific plus some other related flights
  22. It isn't every day that you witness a hijacking attempt + NZ's forgotten 4th island - a visit to Chatham Islands coincides with New Zealand's first hijacking attempt
  23. There and back - first day Air NZ flies to Coolangatta (Gold Coast)
  24. A Run Around (part of) The Axis of Evil: A Perfect *A RTW in C? - Axis of Evil 0 US Immigration 1
  25. Wellington to Auckland by train - self-explanatory title
  26. A mad couple of days flying, including domestic international flights - a double longhaul inaugural, domestic international shuttle and domestic leg of an international flight
  27. Regional C *A RTW & (hopefully) finishing flying every route (100+) for an airline - featuring new QF First on A380 special flight, "you have to get off now", and 105th different current route with NZ
  28. One World Revolutions - Around Mostly the Southern Hemisphere - mostly Southern Hemisphere and mostly on One World on a mix of products
  29. Cris-cros the Med & the Globe on Emirates, Qantas & Star Alliance in mix of F/C/Y+/Y – starting with EK First on A380 and ending with Qantas economy, with a lot of travel mostly on *A in between
  30. An FTer flies to a Do (or Why take the nonstop when you can fly 10 flights instead?) - combining an FT Do with an aerial tour of northern Queensland
  31. The Ultimate Qantas Flight - short report on the ultimate flight
  32. Premium Flying Across the Ditch (Between New Zealand and Australia) - experiencing the forward cabins on Trans-Tasman flights (ongoing)
  33. 5 Boeings Straight to the Airbus Do - FTer feasts in first, business & economy - my journey to & from the *A / Airbus Mega Do
  34. NZ route oddities & One World turns by night (redeye special) - an odd collection of flight routes & schedules around the world
  35. From my first low cost redeye to a first class trifecta - an insane fortnight - some firsts of all types
  36. G'day, kia orana - it's another inaugural flight in Air New Zealand business class - a day & night tripping around the South Pacific on Air NZ
  37. A Feast of First Class Flying on British Airways, Qantas and Emirates - long distance in style
  38. A Weekend of Old and New - Lufthansa first & business, Air New Zealand business - a quick longhaul trip featuring some old and new products
  39. Star Alliance tres primo, and tres biz - a trio of first and business on Star Alliance
  40. A few flights to end 2011 - a quick trip around the world + more
  41. Five Continents in 3 Days and Some Other Mad Trips in 2012 - a selection of my 2012 travels
  42. Sky Team madness - 14 weeks, 200k miles, 5 continents, CI brand new business – mostly Sky Team
  43. Off to Star megado on Oneworld - mostly business incl brand new AA 787
  44. A Glutton for Punishment: red eye, new world's longest flight & more, in comfort?

Last edited by Kiwi Flyer; Apr 1, 16 at 4:06 pm Reason: Updated index of my TRs
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Old Aug 8, 06, 12:11 am
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I hope it is okay to post a report on a train ride. No flying this time (but watch for some more flying-related trip reports over coming months ).

Auckland to National Park by train

I have ridden the train between Wellington and Auckland before, but only at night time – thus missing the magnificent scenery of the central North Island particularly the parts that are not near the highway. I’ve had in mind for some time to do the trip by daytime to enjoy the sights. With the recent announcement that the service is ending 30 September 2006, I realised I would have to act fast while I still had the opportunity. Cross country trains are not fast, nor particularly comfortable, however they all run through great scenery and over some impressive engineering of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

So I checked the website and found just 1 date that I could make. Unfortunately there was no availability for the whole trip so I had to make do with a day trip, Auckland to National Park and return. Strange how hard it was to find seats (even full fare) when the service is being closed due to lack of custom. Perhaps, like me, a lot of people have booked to make a trip while they still can. It’s sad how the service has been run down. There used to be 3 trains each way, 2 in the day time and 1 at night, then reduced to 1 day and 1 night, and 2 years ago the night train was stopped. Supposedly the advent of cheap air fares has been the cause, but I suspect another part is due to the incredibly cheap bus fares (and buses stop at lots of places the trains don’t stop).

I set out on a stormy winters day, wondering just how much scenery I would be able to see through the wind-driven heavy rain. There is a check in of sorts on the railway platform, to tag bags and get your allocated seats – no pre-selecting seats here unfortunately. As I waited I could hear the rain drum on the skylights modelled as volcanoes, far above us. Britomart is a fairly new station with a strange set up. It is underground yet there are only diesel trains. So there are 4 enormous extraction vents dotting the plaza above. Also the station is a dead end as the city has no underground.

But I digress. Check in was slow as we had a full train today, all 4 carriages. We pulled out some 15 minutes late emerging to the gray, wet dawn like a lumbering bear out of hibernation. The first hour is fairly uninteresting as we head through endless industrial estates and suburbs with a few stops to pick up some more passengers. Then through lush countryside, pastures drinking the rain.

We wend our way through the wetlands of northern Waikato. Vast acres of trees stand in the swamps and creeks, many are clothed in a body suit of moss. The drooping willows contrast the erect native cabbage trees with their spiky leaves. The odd bird of prey wheels in the middle distance in search of food. The broad slow waters of the Waikato River belie the power of this, New Zealand’s longest river. Today we head almost to the headwaters of the Waikato River, but on the other side of the central volcanoes.

We get a brief chance to stretch our legs and get some fresh air in Hamilton. There is barely enough time to race to the station loos and its back on board. Don’t dally as the whistle gives just a few seconds warning the train is about to leave, and cannot be heard inside the station. Once past the city we are in the midst of the vast fertile farmlands of the valleys in the Waikato basin.


At first the slopes are gentle and the soils rich. But soon we head into limestone country with rugged bluffs and ravines. The heavy rain is causing some impressive waterfalls and torrents down the hillsides, but fortunately isn’t obscuring the views too much. The going is now slow as the track twists and turns and steadily climbs, only to descend into the next valley. The inland villages of Te Kuiti and Taumarunui look forlorn, a shadow of their past as logging and farming service centres, and important stops on the main trunk line. Taumarunui is world famous in New Zealand as a train stop where you have a tea and a meat pie, and even has a song about it. Alas today the train motors straight through, oblivious to the railway history.

By now the country is becoming more open and bleak. The soils are poorer, with many slopes devoted to forestry or left to scrub or native bush. Gorges cut through the land, shaped by the power of water. The train motors on and on. This is the heart of the King Country. So named as a place where for many years Pakeha (Europeans) were forbidden to enter by decree of the Maori King following the bloody land wars of the 1860s.

Eventually we reach Raurimu, the start of an impressive engineering feat 100 years ago. In this rugged countryside the engineers had a problem – how to get from the rolling hills of the King Country up the steep slopes onto the volcanic plateau? The solution was ingenuous considering at the time there were no aerial views, poor maps and nowhere that the whole setting could be seen at once. The Raurimu Spiral is a 7km piece of track that climbs 132m on a mountainside where the straight line distance is just 2km. We waited at the bottom for a freight train to descend the spiral, before slowly making the climb. At various points there are views of track just above and also just below, and the small village of Raurimu appears and reappears between cuttings and tunnels. Once at the top, the landscape is vastly different with the acidic volcanic soils restricting vegetation to various tussocks and the lower slopes of the 3 central volcanoes of Tongariro, Nguarahoe and Ruapehu rising above us. The tops hidden in a veil of wind-blown storm clouds.

National Park station is a short distance past the spiral but we head a bit further to switch tracks before reversing in behind the train that had already arrived from Wellington. We arrived some 40 minutes behind schedule, but the stop would remain as scheduled. There immediately was a rush for the caf with a queue filling much of the small platform. It seems the 3 carriages of the train from Wellington were also full today.

Rather than bore you, dear reader, with more of the same I'll skip most of the return trip. Going down the spiral there were quite a few hardy folk braving the mountain chill on the open air platform, getting some good shots as the rain had eased back.

Coming back through the King Country the heavy rain of earlier in the day had left its mark with lots of surface flooding and swollen rivers. Fortunately none in this area broke their banks (some did in other parts of the country). The train raced whenever the tracks straightened, to try to make up some of the lost time. But slowed in other areas as speed restrictions where in force due to the danger of debris or water on the tracks.

Darkness fell as we headed through northern Waikato into the outskirts of Auckland. The last stretch took a long time and so, despite being only slightly late at Hamilton, we finally arrived back at Britomart nearly an hour late. I have heard tales of how unreliable the schedule is, so anyone contemplating a last trip please do not schedule flights or other transport based on an expected arrival time.

So ended an enjoyable day out. I was disappointed at not being able to continue over the volcanic plateau and gorges (with many large viaducts) on the southern side, however the great scenery of the northern half of the main trunk line still made it worthwhile.

Oh, if you are curious how National Park got it's name? It is the gateway to Tongariro National Park, which was the first national park in NZ (and one of the first anywhere in the world) following a gift from the local tribe to the crown in order to preserve the taonga (treasure) for all people.

Last edited by Kiwi Flyer; Apr 1, 16 at 4:06 pm
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Old Aug 8, 06, 1:07 am
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Great tour Kiwi, thanks
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Old Aug 8, 06, 1:17 am
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Excellent report, Kiwi Flyer^ (or should I call you Kiwi Rider? ).

Your descriptions took me back to some of the places I visited when I was there earlier this year, and by extension, to my entire wonderful time there... BTW, I will be posting pictures of my trip shortly (just finished culling and editing them; I'm adding captions and will then upload).
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Old Aug 8, 06, 1:47 pm
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Great report and brings back memories of when I did the trip as a university student years and years ago. Remember standing on the platform at National Park after arriving from Auckland,in the freezing cold in August,sheltering from the driving rain and waiting for the Wellington train which my sister was arriving on. In those days if you took a seat in the smoking carriages you could drink alcohol en route as they had a bar service. No bar service in non smoking carriages!
Sad it will be no more.
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Old Aug 8, 06, 1:54 pm
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I forgot to mention there is a cafe car where you can buy food and drink. Smokers will find the trip hard as no smoking anywhere, even on the outdoor viewing platform. Hamilton was the only stop in either direction (other than National Park of course) where through pax were allowed to get out briefly. I presume the southern half would be similar with 3 minute stop at Palmerston North.
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Old Oct 5, 06, 10:04 am
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Was great news for everyone that Toll Rail decided to keep the overlander running even though on a reduced service and they are going to give it a makeover, which i think is great news for NZ.
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Old Oct 6, 06, 7:31 am
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I did the Wellington-Hamilton portion of this journey back in April. It was really enjoyable.

We arrived at National Park, and had a 45 minute break for lunch. We set off from National Park, and were half way down the spiral when we stopped. After a few minutes an announcement was made that we were retruning to National Park 'for operational reasons'. We then had to very slowly reverse back up the spiral and back to National Park. The 'operational reason' was to pick up the idiot who had got on the train going back to Wellington, rather than the Auckland bound train.

When I got off the train at Hamilton, there was nothing there. No taxis or buses, and no-one manning the ticket office. You'd normally expect at least a few taxi numbers on the information board. I spent the next hour dragging my suitcase and hand luggage up and down hills trying to find my hotel in the city centre

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Old Oct 6, 06, 9:59 am
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Originally Posted by Kiwi Flyer
I hope it is okay to post a report on a train ride.
I've been guilty of posting a train report or two here and so far I haven't been flamed too badly. Sadly, your fine report won't serve so much as a reference point for potential riders but rather more as an historic footnote for a once great train ride.

I was about to write "train journey" as opposed to "ride" but it is just a day trip. I do remember riding overnight on the bright yellow Northerner back in 1987. I also got a chance to ride the daylight return on the Silver Fern. Great trip. Played snooker on the fabulous table at the Chateau as well.

Regarding liquor service on board, I recall my first ride aboard The Southerner back in 1984 between Invercargill and Christchurch. The seating was quite comfortable - arranged 2-1 - and the leather seats were covered with lambswool. Beer and other libations were served at your seat by a hostess. I was a smoker back then, but I don't remember if I was able to smoke in my seat. I probably was though, because that's the type of seating I would likely have asked for.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Oct 6, 06 at 10:05 am
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Old Apr 21, 07, 9:08 pm
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Originally Posted by Kiwi Flyer View Post
With the recent announcement that the service is ending 30 September 2006.
To update, the passenger train service did get a reprieve although not (yet) a permanent one. For the next few months every second Saturday will use a steam engine between Fielding and Ohakune return.
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Old Jun 18, 08, 8:52 pm
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Further update, with the government buying back the trains it is a safe assumption this service has been saved.
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Old Jul 15, 08, 2:10 am
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The rest of the Overlander service (North Island train between Wellington and Auckland) is written up here.
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