New Zealand is known the world over for its beautiful scenery. Driving the country is a great way to experience it… if you are the passenger. With four pairs of peepers on this road trip, we were easily drawn to taking a scenic train ride once we reached Dunedin – everyone would be able to enjoy the beautiful landscape simultaneously. Throw in a glass of wine, and it’s a done deal.
Dunedin Railways Timetable.
There are several different scenic routes that leave from Dunedin.
- Taieri Gorge to Pukarangi
- Taieri Gorge to Middlemarch
- the Waitati Seasider
- the Moeraki Seasider
- the Oamaru Seasider
Both Taieri Gorge routes take you into Central Otago through Taieri Gorge (duh). They differ in that the Pukarangi route is a 4 hour return journey and the Middlemarch route continues on 19km to the end of the rail and stops for an hour of exploration before returning back, totaling closer to 6 hours.
Each of the Seasider routes travel Northbound along the coast for varying lengths. The Waitati is an abbreviated trip for those with limited time. The Moeraki Seasider takes you all the way to the Moeraki Boulders and sets you off to explore while the train continues on for those who booked the Oamaru route. After stopping in Oamaru for an hour, the train returns, picking up those left at Moeraki along the way. Everyone returns 7 hours after the initial departure.
The main point you need to keep in mind if you are interested in any one of the above routes? Only the Taieri Gorge to Pukarangi route runs daily. This means, if you want to do another one, check the timetable here and coordinate your time in Dunedin to overlap with the days it runs.
Taieri Gorge by default.
Based on my previous recommendation, you may have guessed that I did not plan ahead based on the timetable. Not my first planning fail. While we would have loved to have taken the Moeraki Seasider train, the only route running the day we had allocated was the Taieri Gorge to Pukarangi. Never one to be eschewed by a planning mishap, we hopped on board.
Historic Dunedin Railway Station.
The train station is just a few minutes from the center point of town. Whether you’re accommodations are in town or not, its a nice walk down to the station from the Octogon – the octagonal shaped town “square.” Completed in 1906, the Dunedin Railway Station has been given new life since the decline of daily passenger rail. The building is kept in near immaculate condition for its many current occupants. A portion of the main floor is dedicated to Cobb & Co. – a family friendly steakhouse chain, and the upper floor now hosts both the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and the Otago Art Society. A highlight we missed is the produce market held every Saturday morning on the northern grounds. And, if you happen to be around in March, don’t miss the South Island’s main fashion show, where the railway station takes center stage.
It is easy to see why so many projects have gravitated towards this space. It is a truly beautiful building down to the last detail, and so unlike any structure built in this century. The moment I walked passed the monogrammed glass windows and into the main hall, I felt transported to another time. That is my favorite kind of travel. Not to knock the age in which I live, but sometimes its nice to get lost in the fantasy of the past. Jane Austen, anyone?
As we were visiting in the low season, we booked onto the only departure of the day, leaving at 12:30p. And we were off!
Shortly after departing Jason and I popped into the bar car to grab a bite for lunch, as well as a little libation. If I had it to do over again, I would have self-catered. The choices are minimal with nothing noteworthy.
Like most train journeys, roughly the first 15 minutes covers the industrial grounds to get you out of the city. Once the grit and grime is behind you, however, the views are stunning. And that is really what this experience was about.
We didn’t talk much or pass the time playing cards. There was some historical commentary from the conductor, but this was mostly about enjoying the landscape around us. There isn’t much to say about the trip beyond that, and I don’t even have that many photos, because, well, they would be blurry.
This is not to say it wasn’t a wonderful experience. It was, and I think part of the beauty of it is that it was a quiet moment in the midst of life’s chaos. Sometimes I think people feel like that have to do too many things and put themselves at breakneck paces, wether in traveling or life. But sometimes, its nice to slow down, and take a good look at what’s around you. This train trip provided us with that. It was just me and Jason and his parents, sitting in quiet reverence of the beauty before us. Not something that happens everyday.
It couldn’t have fallen on a better point in our itinerary, as well. The next day would turn out to be the most jam packed we experienced on the entire trip. Next up: a day on the Otago Peninsula, complete with a castle, a bunker, albatross and a penguin colony.
Been on any spectacular train journeys? I have quite a few on my bucket list and would love to hear all about yours in the comments!