I have had the good fortune to see much of this big ol’ world. I have flown across continents, driven across countries, been on the back of an elephant and a camel and what I can tell you is that there is no method of travel more comfortable or relaxing than traveling by train.
There is a sort of nostalgia about it. Even if I’m clipping across the countryside in excess of 120 miles/hour where telephone poles look like a picket fence, I still find myself waving at the farmer’s kid in the field as he waves back. The gentle rhythm of the ‘clickety-clack’ even helped to soothe me to sleep on an overnight sleeper train from Venice to Vienna on a cold winter’s journey.
Sure there are still places where climbing aboard and riding the rails is the optimum choice. City hopping around Europe or on the Eastern corridor of the United States, you have no better option. But for the most part, rail travel is slipping into the history books with the tracks being torn up and only a few select locomotives and railway cars making their way to the rail museums.
But, nestled in the New Zealand countryside, roughly 15 minutes outside of Rotorua, RailCruising is taking the forgotten and abandoned lines of the past and offering people just like you and I the opportunity to see the beautiful countryside in our very own, powered, self-drive, four-passenger railway vehicle. And thus, restoring a little magic back into a bygone era.
Each individual RailCruiser V3000 is a fully automated petrol-electric hybrid rail vehicle with seating for 4. The open-air vehicles have been specifically designed for optimum visibility and can be operated in all types of weather.
Each RailCruiser group is required to elect one member to act as the RailCruiser driver. This person takes their position in the driver’s seat. The driver’s job, if required, is to communicate with the Rail Guide on the radiotelephone, apply the brake in an emergency and activate the horn if needed.
Don’t worry, every aspect of the journey is covered by the company’s Safety System which is approved by the railway regulating body in New Zealand, the New Zealand Transport Agency.
What does that mean? It means that it’s all computer controlled and once you push the throttle forward, the onboard GPS system does the rest.
When everybody was settled, our Rail Guide Collette, was confident that we were going to have a good time. I had been elected the driver, and she gave me the OK to move the throttle into the forward position and we slowly pulled away from the station.
Once out of the station, the speed automatically increases to a steady 20kph, the speed is controlled by the onboard computer and will automatically slow you down when you come to a crossing and speed you up again in the open plains.
Rolling along, the onboard commentary offers fascinating tidbits of New Zealand Railroading history that can be turned off if you just want to enjoy the countryside. The unobstructed 306-degree views are spectacular. Let’s be honest, there aren’t a lot of people who can say that they have driven their own train. Sometimes the thrill of adventure of endless track in front of you and the warm summer air is all you need for a great afternoon out.
So far, the 1.5-hour excursion runs along 9.5 kilometers of track, which used to be the main passenger line bound for Rotorua and further locations South. It cuts through farmland, swings through dense forest and offers unobstructed views of some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery.
Once you arrive at the next station, which is the limit of the current rail line, you do have the opportunity to visit the toilet and stretch your legs a bit as you wait for the rest of the cars to arrive. When everybody traveling with you arrives, your Rail Guide spins you around and sends you back to the departure station.
The afternoon activity is suitable for kids of all ages and doesn’t take so long that they begin to get fidgety. It’s a great excursion for a bit of relaxation and fun at the same time.
Currently work is underway to raise additional funds to put more lines in service and to extend the experience across the valley. A mere 150 years ago, the rail line first brought tourists to Rotorua and after years of abandonment, tourists can again be seen riding the rails.
Reservations: Are Essential
Online: BOOK HERE
By Phone: 0800-724-574
Outside New Zealand: +64 7-362-8460
Summer Departures (Nov-Apr):
Daily at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm (special departures at 9am and 5pm for groups of 8 or more by special request)
Winter Departures (May-Oct):
Daily at 11am and 1pm.
Adult: $76.00/ adult
Adult (4 or more): $68.00/adult
Senior (65+ years): $64/senior
Children 6-16 years: $38.00/child
Infants 0-5 years: FREE
Family (2 adults and up to 3 children): $190/family
Group Booking: Please contact them directly
For more information, please contact them directly: CONTACT THEM
*All Prices are in New Zealand Dollars and are subject to change without notice.