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Great New Zealand Railway Journeys

Reviewed by Dorothy - 29/10/08

Great New Zealand Railway Journeys
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Graham Hutchins takes readers on twelve railway journeys - the scenery, the history of each area, conversations with fellow-travellers – an enriching experience for the armchair or active traveller.

These journeys are still possible because determined New Zealanders with a great love of their native land and strong sense of history have banded together and defied the plans of those who would close all the railways and have been rewarded with good patronage from New Zealanders and overseas tourists. Visitors from other countries have been astonished by the number of closures that have made it impossible for them to do a comprehensive New Zealand rail tour.

Graham Hutchins' book provides enjoyable reading for anyone interested in New Zealand scenery and history, and has a special appeal for railway enthusiasts. It also serves as an excellent advertisement for the journeys it describes. His entertaining accounts of his interactions with fellow travellers show how such a journey provides a good opportunity to get to know other travellers – both Kiwis and visitors to this country. Excellent photographs highlight the scenery and points of interest on the trip.

The journeys described from south to north are:
The Kingston Flyer
– a short vintage steam-drawn railway journey, a return trip from Kingston at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu to Fairlight on the remnant of the railway from Invercargill to Kingston

The Taieri Gorge Railway – a half day return trip from Dunedin to Pukerangi or Middlemarch on a line hacked through the rock in the closing years of the nineteenth century and saved by Dunedin enthusiasts when the line was to be closed

The Seasider – running on the main trunk line along the coast from Dunedin to Palmerston

The TranzAlpine Express – a daily return trip across the Southern Alps from Christchurch to Greymouth passing through the village of Arthur's Pass and the Otira Tunnel

The TranzCoastal – running daily on the main trunk line from Christchurch to Picton and back and connecting with the Cook Strait ferry

The Weka Pass Railway – The Frog Rock Flyer – on most Sundays from Waipara to Waikari and back through limestone country on a short stretch of line saved from demolition when the branch line to Waiau was closed

The Wairarapa Train – from Wellington to Masterton - giving glimpses of varied scenery and small town life and serving commuters and tourists

The Scenic Suburban – 10.5 km service between Wellington Central and Johnsonville on a scenic stretch of line built in the 1880s – the electric unit serves commuters of all ages travelling to work, to school or to do business in the inner city.

The Capital Connection – between Wellington and Palmerston North on the main trunk line, another service for commuters where unlike most catering on trains wine is served and the business is brisk.

The Art Deco Express – a steam hauled train from Paekakariki to Napier run by volunteers during Napier's Art Deco weekend in February

The Overlander – Wellington to Auckland – a twelve-hour journey saved from planned cancellation in 2006 by the protests of citizens and business interests – a route that includes the Kapiti Coast, the city of Palmerston North, across the Hapuawhenua viaduct, the volcanic plateau with views of Mts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, the King Country, the Raurimu Spiral, Taumarunui (gateway to the Whanganui River and National Park), Otorohanga (gateway to the Waitomo Caves), Hamilton on the Waikato River, and on to Britomart Station in Auckland

Auckland to Waitakere – route to the western suburbs of Auckland, now popular with commuters, a line with some modern stations and a lot of graffiti.

For railway enthusiasts a crowning feature of this book is Graham Hutchins' optimistic view of the future expansion of rail travel now that the Government has bought back Kiwi Rail.