Thursday, 1 March 2012

Taieri Gorge Railway - Otago

Mary at Dunedin Railway Station

I love to do things spontaneously when I'm travelling...not having too much planned...seizing opportunities.  It all adds to the spice and excitement of travel.  And so it was that when I was in Dunedin recently with my sister-in-law and we spotted a half day train trip through the Taieri Gorge we said, almost in unison, "Let's do it!"

The Taieri Gorge Railway leaves from the stunning, much photographed and admired, Edwardian, Dunedin railway station, complete with Royal Doulton mosaic tile floors, and runs through central Otago to Pukerangi.  A couple of days a week the train goes a bit further on to Middlemarch but our trip was to Pukerangi and back, a distance of around 58km each way.
Crossing the Taieri Plain
It is an historic route, construction of the railway having started in 1879.  By then the Otago gold rush was over and the region was looking at new ways to develop the economy.  The railway helped by opening up farmland in a remote and inaccessible area, making it easy to move stock and produce.  In fact the line was used for commercial purposes right up until 1989 and was particularly useful for moving the steel and cement used to build the Clyde dam in central Otago. Today the railway is one of Dunedin's biggest tourist attractions.

Hillsides dotted with sheep
The first part of the journey heads south through Dunedin's suburbs and then north-west across the Taieri plain with panoramic views across to the hills. Then it is into the longest tunnel of the journey, 437m, before bursting out into the Mullocky Gully (don't you love that name?) and along to the Taieri River. The train follows the river, clinging to the side of the gorge, crossing a dozen viaducts and  through 10 tunnels in a  spectacular landscape, very reminiscent of the highlands of Scotland. 

The tracks cling to the hillside and follow the river

The Christmas Creek Viaduct.  So named because gold was discovered here
 on Christmas Day 1863

Here I am at the tiny Hindon Railway Station
The Wingatui Viaduct above the Mullocky Stream is one of the largest wrought iron structures in Australasia.  It passes through, and sometimes stops at, tiny railway stations and some, abandoned,  settlements.  It is hard now to imagine the thriving railway communities that once lived in this tough, isolated environment.  There is no doubt they must have been strong, hardy souls. Pretty much the only signs of life these days are the sheep grazing the steep hillsides. One former station master's house is now used as a holiday home, purchased for about 35 pounds when no else wanted it,  it is without power or piped water but the owners clearly love is pristine and set in a beautiful garden.  The owners gathered on the lawn and waved happily at us as the train went by.
The old station master's house

A typical view on the journey
The trip was a nostalgic journey for me.  The charming heritage railway carriage we were in, dating from the 1930s, was identical to one I travelled to school on...No, I am not that old...the carriage was old even then!   We thoroughly enjoyed standing out on the open viewing platforms with the wind blowing through our hair. Mary, who loves trains, grinned the whole afternoon. The turn around point was at Pukerangi where we had a few minutes to walk in and admire the landscape, we felt we had stumbled into a Stanley Palmer painting (well know artist of Central Otago landscapes).  This is a great trip and an easy way to experience the slendour of Central Otago if even for just a  few short hours.
The glorious Central Otrago landscape at Pukerangi