Riding one of the world’s great train trips

web dunedin stn IMG_0633The historic Taieri Gorge Railway is considered one of the world’s great train trips. On an overcast day, during a 10 day trip to the southern New Zealand city of Dunedin, I checked it out.

Leaving the well-photographed 1906 Dunedin Railway Station, Graeme Smart and John Chapman drive us through tunnels and over viaducts … what I didn’t know was that I would get an invitation to ride in the cab for a while!  It’s tough being a travel writer at times. Not!

Judy, the guard, tells me she started as a volunteer about ten years ago and about 5 years ago qualified as a guard – which includes helping with shunting I believe.

“It’s an amazing job! I have fantastic moving scenery from my office and it changes daily, and with the seasons.”

However, she has also been up to her knees in snow while digging down to find the switch controls.  Fearfully, she was only 3 months into her job when the train and car collided:  a tough, and scary memory that’s still vivid.

“It seems my training just kicked in and I went into another mode and did what I had to do.” What a woman!

The scenery includes; pine forests, sheep, cattle, llama, horses. Add hills and rivers and bush to the tunnels, viaducts, bridges and tannin coloured streams and this trip is fantastic. There’s also a dog statue to commemorate all working dogs and I’m not surprised my fellow passengers were enthralled.

Those around me were from the UK and the USA, from Taranaki and Singapore.

But enough talk:  sit back and enjoy just some (40) of the many photos I took in this, the biggest slide show I have put into a blog.

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My ten days in Dunedin – was spent traveling in a NZ RentaCar  and if you too are in a car, parking is available at the north end of the station.

I have a copy of the booklet Taieri Gorge Railway. A photo guide by Antony Hamel … its last page is named ‘Train Enthusiasts’ Page.

It talks about trainspotting ‘can become obsessive;  he also warns ‘Foaming at the mouth when in the presence of a train requires medical attention.’

So, you have been warned!

Hokianga Harbour: blue skies, sand dunes & ancient trees

The Hokianga is not just blue skies, massive sand dunes and ancient trees – it’s also the cradle of not only Ngapuhi, but also of the European settlers in the early 1800s.

I have done too much in the last 24, or so, hours for a little blog, but there are plenty of stories to come out of this area from my pen and camera.  Lonely Planet raved about Footprints Waipoua  (@hokimustdos) and so will I! I took the evening guided walk – with 6 others from Canada, USA, and the Bahamas’ – and we all voted it fabulous. Our local Maori guide, Koro, really did guide us through the forest and introduced us to the biggest, and oldest of the kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest, and more. I don’t want to spoil the story now – book mark this blog and come back for more. (Or watch the airline magazines for this one!)

Another one that’s worthy of a bigger audience than this blog  – although my numbers of readers have gone up while I’ve been travelling Northland, so welcome to you who are just discovering  NZ and my travels – next overseas trip will be Turkey hopefully and, absolutely, Borneo later this year. But back to the story that deserves a post and printed article is Sandtrails Hokianga which i went on this am.

See the photo of the sun just hitting the sand dunes (taken from my room at the Copthorne Hotel &Resort Hokianga) well that was just the start of an adventure, great scenery, and an introduction to Andrew Kendall’s tribal history – including the arrival of Kupe. Like our guide last night, he is a really nice guy: what even better, this tour is an exclusive, limited to three people! I suggest you book in advance if you can.

Some photos as a taste of what’s to come  . . .

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and more. . .

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The top of the North: the tail of the fish

The “Top of the North” is the long finger of land that tops the North Island of New Zealand and stretches from Kaitaia to Cape Reinga of the North Island. On a road trip ( the rental car company I recommend is RentalCarsNZ) you will go through the tiny towns of Ahipara, Awanui, Herekino, Houhoura, Ngataki and Pukenui. (heading north)

Often referred to as ‘the winterless north’ by we kiwis, it’s a great place for holidays around the perfect beaches: swimming, boating, fishing, and snorkelling are just some of the things you can do – many of us just relax in the sun!

Cape Reinga’s lighthouse looks over the often tempestuous seas where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet. On sunny, picture-perfect, postcard days, the vivid green of the Tasman Sea and the cobalt blue of the Pacific Ocean is truly fantastic, a truly striking scene – today the blues seemed to merge.

Kaitiai is the main visitor hub for the area: a great place to base yourself, handy to all the beaches, and it’s from here you can leave to go riding along the sands of Ninety Mile Beach, stand at Cape Reinga with it’s awesome views and discover local history and Maori legends.

I went up the beach with Sand Safaris and had a great time (once again, a blog to follow once I’ve returned to Wellington – and worked my way through all the stories I’ve collected – will start at the beginning of this trip and just keep writing). I will confess now, I did not go sledging down the dunes  – I used up my adrenaline quotient with the Paragliding in Paihia. – see the blog of about a week ago.

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As I said, I lost my story that I wrote  for the day and  these pics,  and couldn’t get on-line last night … so apologies and more tomorrow night – but in the meantime, the villa at the end is the Endless Summer Lodge a great hotel with delightful hosts Anna & Blaine (tell them i sent you Smile)

I have now checked into the Copthorne Hotel & Resort Hokianga right on the beach and tonight I out with Footprints Waipoua for a guided walk into the forest – so no writing tonight as out!