Sometimes it’s better just to slow down, smell the coffee and be in the moment. Travelling by train is a great way of making the journey an adventure, with someone else in charge of the driving and something to look at other than clouds.
Our main trunk line has been delivering passengers up and down the country in comfort and style for well over a century, and these days KiwiRail focuses on three wonderfully diverse scenic routes: the TranzAlpine (Christchurch to Greymouth); the Coastal Pacific (Christchurch to Picton); and the Northern Explorer (Wellington to Auckland). You can hop on or off along the way, but for me and my eight-year-old son David, our magical mystery tour began on the last of these: in Auckland’s Britomart Transport Centre.
Out of Auckland and through the green Hobbity fields of the Waikato and the rolling King Country we went, past Mt Ruapehu with its coy fascinator of cloud and across the volcanic plateau. We then corkscrewed around the Raurimu Spiral and pulled in at National Park station.
We were shuttled to the Chateau Tongariro and needless to say David’s jaw dropped as fast as his smile grew wide.
The Chateau’s luxe lounges, formal restaurant and even underground swimming pool had him grinning like a weasel.
The following day we got an early pick-up to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We completed the 19.4km walk in six hours and felt quite ready for a big dinner and a bath when we got back to the hotel that afternoon.
No early checkout for us the next day. Our train didn’t leave till 1.15pm so we were able to relax before leaving for the station. Then it was back on board for Wellington past the Plateau’s alpine beech forests and on to the Rangitikei cliffs, the Manawatu plains and the Kapiti Coast.
Coming into Wellington by train is always exhilarating. You fly out of the last tunnel and the harbour lies before you. We set off around the bays to find the best place to while away the evening and soak up every last drop of sunshine.