Dunedin’s dramatic railway station marks the start of two wonderfully scenic train trips, both run by the Taieri Gorge Railway (03 477 4449, taieri.co.nz). One threads inland through the Taieri Gorge itself while the other winds along a spectacular coastal route north to Palmerston.
The Taieri Gorge route
The Taieri Gorge journey stretches 77km northwest from Dunedin through rugged hill country. Constructed between 1879 and 1921, the line once carried supplies a total of 235km from Dunedin to the old gold town of Cromwell, returning with farm produce, fruit and livestock bound for the port. Commercial traffic stopped in 1990, and much of the route was turned into the Otago Central Rail Trail, but the most dramatic section – through the schist strata of the Taieri Gorge – continues to offer a rewarding journey at any time of year.
Most trains run as far as Pukerangi (58km from Dunedin), a lonely wayside halt near the highest point of the track (250m) where you wait a few minutes then head back. Some services continue a further 19km to the old gold town of Middlemarch.
The air-conditioned train is made up of a mix of modern steel carriages with large panoramic windows and nostalgic, refurbished 1920s wooden cars. Storage is available for backpacks and bicycles, and there’s a licensed snack bar on board.
Taieri Gorge and rail trail combos
As well as the day-trips, the Taieri Gorge trip makes an excellent way to start your journey inland towards Wanaka and Queenstown. Buses meet the train at Pukerangi or Middlemarch and head through the Maniototo to Queenstown: book through the Taieri Gorge Railway.
Cyclists can take the train (bikes go free, though they need to be booked) then hop straight onto the Otago Central Rail Trail.
A completely different but equally picturesque rail journey, the Seasider, leaves Dunedin Railway Station and runs along the main northbound line 66km up the coast to Palmerston. It initially follows the flank of Otago Harbour then winds through Port Chalmers to Blueskin Bay with tunnels, bridges and great coastal views all the way. The train ($86 return; $57 one-way; 4hr return) runs sporadic days throughout the year (check the website for times) and stops for 30min for coffee in Palmerston.