On a day in this, our retroactive tour of New Zealand (made December 2011-January 2012) we face a dilemma…
…what do you do with your day when you want to get out and about and see things, but the tail end of a cyclone is bringing down driving rain that shows no sign of abating any-time soon?
In our case the answer is, …. you take a little train journey and go “RailCruising”.
What on earth we ask, is “RailCruising” ?
The answer is that “RailCruising” is the brain child of Neil and Jane Oppatt who run Rail Riders Limited.
They tell us that it all started with the closure and slow deteriation of the Rotorua-Putaruru Branch Railway Line, now also known as the Rotorua Railway.
The track was originally made to bring tourists to Rotorua and had other uses but hadn’t been in use for some time…
Neil and Jane envisioned a way to use the line in a completely new and origonal way… one that would give people taking a ride the chance to have a “driver’s eye view” of their train journey.
But how would this be possible? A normal train has a driver in the engine at the front and carriages attached behind, so unless you are lucky enough to visit the cab, getting a driver style view is never possible.
The solution came in a complete re-think of the train itself.
These tiny little individual cabin style trains allow the visitor to ‘self drive” on the rails, and thus achieve the driver’s eye view the whole way.
To be fair ‘self drive’ means in reality that you are in charge of an emergancy brake, since the entire trip is fairly well completely automated, and there is no actual steering needed in these petrol-electric hybrid V3000 RailCruisers.
The train trip is called the Mamaku Express and is a two hour excursion over 20 kms of track. Since it’s a single line at the moment and not (yet) a loop, this means getting about 10 kms down the line, then being turned around and making the return journey back down the same track.
We hear from Neil that they hope to extend the length of the journey in the near future to connect with Rotorua so who knows? Maybe on our next trip here we can ride the extended version! Our little train consists of a 4 seater cabin where two seats are low in the front and two seats are higher at the back.
The “driver” in charge of the emergancy brake i.e. an adult, ( …Dream on Little Mr.!) sits in one of the back seats, so the Kiwidutch kids get the lower seats at the front, and after Himself has had a quick demo of the train’s workings, we set out from the station to the familiar clickty-clack of train wheels.
When we did this trip the line had only been open three weeks so we can truly say that we have been amongst the first group of people in the world to experience riding in one of these amazing little trains!