Running almost every day of the year, the Taieri Gorge Railway (TGR) is a must-do for train buffs visiting the Dunedin area. You can leave your Dunedin Airport Car Rental at the Dunedin Railway Station and jump on the train there before heading into the arid, often tortuous landscape of Central Otago. There is no better way to see this area.
The TGR runs on what was previously the main line through Central Otago, which was built to service the large, isolated farming areas hidden amongst these wild hills and gullies. The line was closed in 1990 with the first 63km subsequently being taken over by the TGR. The rails were lifted off much of the remainder and it was handed over to the Department of Conservation. It has since become the hugely successful Central Otago Rail Trail.
There are two options to choose from – riding the train to Pukerangi, 45 km from the start of the line proper at Wingitui, or to Middlemarch, at the 64 km mark. The Pukerangi option runs once or twice a day through summer, with reduced days during winter. The Middlemarch option runs several times a week in summer and on Sundays in winter. Trips can be done as return rides or one-way, allowing it to be used as an entry run to the rail trail or onwards to Queenstown.
Highlights of the journey include the Wingitui Viaduct, a magnificent wrought iron structure and the biggest of its type in the country. At 47 metres high and 197 metres long it’s an impressive sight. There are similar, but smaller, viaducts at Christmas Creek, Slope Gully, Flat Stream, the Notches and the Larches, among others. The track follows the course of the Taieri River and there are also 10 tunnels along the way.
The TGR owns nine locomotives, one of which has been used for spare parts. The remaining eight are in service or are being restored. Most are DJ class locomotives and there is also a DE class and a shunting engine. There are a number of carriages in use including 11 Scarrett heritage carriages, three steel-clad 50 foot carriages and three all-steel panorama cars.
There are two car parking areas at the Dunedin Railway Station and it is advised to allow 20 minutes to park your car and purchase tickets before the train departs.