I was off to Hamilton for a couple of days this morning and I was back on the train.
Northern Explorer is the train, not me and I had read about the trip across North Island as being one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.
I would not be doing the most interesting parts of the journey today. This was rather like my first exciting trip on the Trans Siberian Express – for a whole two hours.
It’s good to get a taster of the whole journey though the conductor was clearly surprised when she read my ticket.
“You going to watch the cricket?” she asked somewhat incredulously.
I didn’t even know the cricket was on and will be endeavouring to avoid it at all costs.
On arrival in Auckland, I did my usual trick of working out how I was going to leave almost immediately.
It was just as well I did.
I followed the map to reach the Station and I spotted this rather grand building – a beautiful railway station.
The large sign saying Grand Central suggested a long history and I was looking forward to seeing what was inside.
It did not disappoint.
I walked in and spotted this beautiful counter, all the original features remaining. It had been opened in 1930 and reports at the time highlighted that it rivalled English and American stations.
The building has been maintained beautifully.
It really has.
But this was not the railway station. This building has been converted into luxury apartments. This was not the railway station that I was looking for.
It’s heydey had not lasted long.
The Depression did not help but its location was the biggest problem – too far away from Queen Street’s business district to be helpful to commuters and by 1937, it was a bus terminal as well.
In 1958, it became a carpark, student accommodation in 1990 though some of the platforms actually retained their original purpose until 2003.
The station I was looking for was this…
Better to find out when not carrying the rucksack.
I arrived after a leisurely walk through early morning Auckland and boarded the train.
The Northern Explorer is a very comfortable train and it runs three or four times a week between Auckland and Wellington.
The leg room is spacious and there is also a carriage without windows for taking photographs – the most important aspect of the journey in my view.
I do think there is a better view when you remain in your seat as the window is higher and lower. The windowless space in the viewing carriage has a much narrower view and I found it hard to get decent shots of the rolling hills.
When the train slowly pulled out of the station, we quickly had some good views of the shore.
A very nice aspect of the journey is that there is an audio commentary that is played through the complimentary headsets.
This tells you about the area the train is travelling through – its geography, population, local produce and its history. It makes for a very informative journey.
However, the smooth running of the train (unlike Vietnam trains) and calm narration does create something of a soothing and soporific effect – I caught myself dozing off more than once!
The train arrived at Hamilton, around two hours later.
If I had thought the platform at Auckland was a disappointment after having my hopes raised by Central, then Hamilton…
…made me think I’d gone back in time to my secondary school.
Finally, a top tip if you are thinking about booking a ticket on the Northern Explorer… if you are not from New Zealand, you will be charged more. If you use a VPN and set its location as New Zealand, you will avoid this.
The Man in Seat 61 explains how.