Driving your Queenstown airport car rental south to Te Anau and Milford don’t be surprised to come across a big black steam train belting along the track beside the road. Looking like a clip from the wild west with a plume of pumping steam and smoke trailing behind and the desolate Otago hills in the background it’s a great sight.
The line into Kingston is very old, in New Zealand terms, dating back to 1878 when it was built to service the Queenstown goldfields. In the 1890s a passenger service was introduced as well, providing comfortable transport between Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, Gore and Invercargill in Southland, and Dunedin out on the east coast. Once at Kingston it met the steamboats running through to Queenstown. The train went so fast it was called ‘The Flyer’, as in those days the roads were very rough or non-existent and rail offered the best option.
The service was closed in the 1950s but reopened in 1971 as a tourist trip, travelling from Lumsden to Kingston. It was later cut to the 14km length of track it now runs between Kingston and Fairlight. Surprisingly it still runs on the original rails laid in the 1870s.
But despite all the closures and cutbacks the ride is still a lot of fun and the Kingston Flyer, as it is known, looks great rumbling through the countryside. It runs several times a day through summer, and it can be taken as a return trip from Kingston, or one way if you have a pick up at the other end.
The rail terminus at Kingston is a great place to wait for the train as it rumbles in, brakes hissing, horn tooting and steam erupting from the funnel. The station is now a cafe and wine bar and is open most days over summer. It’s also a nice spot to check out the southern end of the lake.
- Children (under 5) travel for free
- Children fare (5 – 15) = $30 return
- Adult fare = $60 return
Choose an upgrade to the Birdcage and you can ride in a luxury compartment, sipping bubbles and enjoying a tasting platter as you rumble through the Otago countryside.
There are four departures each way every day, late September to late April.