It was a misty start to the morning at the NZMCA park at Ngongotaha. Luckily the mist cleared away and the sun came out for our Rail Cruising adventure in the early afternoon.
Our self-drive rail trip started at Mamaku Railway Station, a log cabin type purpose built facility. The passengers all gathered for the obligatory but very necessary safety briefing, then we sent on our way.
The railway line into Rotorua was first planned in 1877 to bring tourists to view the famous Pink and White Terraces, then known as the 8th Wonder of the World. The famous terraces disappeared when Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886, and the railway was finally completed in 1894. The line eventually closed and Rotorua Railway leased the section from Mamaku to Tarukenga after it lay unused and overgrown for the last 13 years, and the business venture was officially opened in 2012.
Four of the units were sent on their way at intervals. Geoff joined us and sat in front of the four seater car, while the pair of us were in the back, with Robin being the designated driver. Not that there was any driving to do, as these things are automated and run themselves. But someone has to be in charge in case of emergencies, to call on the radio for help, or apply the handbrake.
The railway line took us through the Dansey Scenic Reserve, full of beautiful native forest. Rimu trees with their distinctive foliage were in abundance, from huge forest giants to the many young trees we saw alongside the track. Tree ferns and lancewoods were also plentiful.
We cruised along at 20km, driving through a deep cutting covered in ferns, and listening to the onboard commentary which told us of the areas we were passing through. Now and again we caught sight of the rail cruiser ahead of us, but usually we appeared to be all on our own. Not that we were of course, there were two extra cars following us further down the track, and the monitor back at the station was keeping track of us by GPS.
Each cart is equipped with a generator in the rear, and these were turned on before we departed on our return trip. We needed this extra bit of help to deal with the steep 1.35 uphill gradient on the return journey. Back we went, through farmland and the lovely Danseys Scenic Reserve once more, and catching glimpses of Lake Rotorua. Approaching Mamuku Railway Station, our 19km return trip had come to an end. Ours was the last trip of the day and we watched while the carts were turned around and prepared to be safely stored for the night. It was a great trip with an interesting commentary, taking us through very pretty country indeed.