Any rail holiday to New Zealand would not be complete without visiting one of our famed New Zealand steam railways.
For the rail-fan, historical buff or mechanical engineer aficionado, hunting down an active, living, New Zealand steam railway is a matter of pride and purpose. Thankfully the country has a great number of heritage railways in both the north and south island that provide a glimpse into the country’s rich railway history. These New Zealand steam heritage railways often operate with historic locomotives and carriages, offering visitors a unique experience and a chance to step back in time. Read on for most of the notable New Zealand steam railways in operation
Editors Note: For the discerning rail-fan you will know that it is very difficult on lists like this to leave any New Zealand steam railway out. Volunteers of every and any steam traction set-up go to great lengths to keep these wondrous machines running and their efforts and achievements should be rightly lorded. In light of this, the list quickly went from 3 to 5 to 10 and then 12. And before you know it, we had 13 New Zealand steam railways we wanted to tell you about. So it’s a Bakers Dozen! Finally, please also note the ranking means very little. Each of these New Zealand steam railways are worth a visit for their individual merits so don’t get too fussed on the order. Enjoy the read and take the time to visit. We’ve included a website link to each of the railways websites for your reference.
New Zealand Steam Railways #1
The Glenbrook Vintage Railway: Located in south Auckland, the Glenbrook Vintage Railway is run by a dedicated group of volunteers and features a collection of lovingly restored vintage steam and diesel locomotives. It offers regular steam train excursions, including themed events and special excursions. The wonderful Glenbrook station offers a glimpse into days past and three is also the chance to ride a railway jigger in between regular departures on the 65 minute return journey to the Waikuku.
New Zealand Steam Railways #2
The Weka Pass Railway: Situated in the South Island, near Waipara, this heritage railway traverses the picturesque Weka Pass. Passengers can enjoy a relaxed 13km journey through vineyards, farmland, and limestone formations, all while traveling in vintage carriages. This is a great stop if you are heading to Christchurch to ride the TranzAlpine.
New Zealand Steam Railways #3
The Kingston Flyer: This iconic heritage train used to operate from Kingston, nestled on the shores of the stunning Lake Wakatipu, right, through to Invercargill. Progressive track closures left a short tourist-focused line running 14km to Fairlight. Despite a chequered operating history, the Kingston Flyer is renown for its vintage steam locomotives, luxury carriages and the stunning countryside through which it passes.
New Zealand Steam Railways #4
The Plains Vintage Railway & Historical Museum: Located near Ashburton in the South Island, this short heritage railway offers rides on vintage trains and showcases an extensive collection of railway artifacts, preserving the region’s railway history. The Plains Railway features a few noteworthy steam engines including the USA built K88 Rogers Locomotive from 1877 and the powerhouse, Ja1260 built in 1952 in Dunedin.
New Zealand Steam Railways #5
The Silver Stream Railway: Situated in Wellington’s Hutt Valley, this railway operates vintage steam and diesel trains. Silver Stream Railway is named after the silver coloured stream that runs beside the railway near the suburb of Silverstream in the Hutt Valley 30km from Wellington. The railway provides an enjoyable experience for visitors, including themed events and occasional steam train excursions.
New Zealand Steam Railways #6
The Bay of Islands Vintage Railway:The Bay of Islands Vintage Railway is a charming heritage railway located in Kawakawa, Northland, New Zealand. This delightful railway takes passengers on a 1.5 hour nostalgic journey through the picturesque Bay of Islands region and is unique as it is the only working railway in New Zealand where the trains travel down a State Highway and right through the middle of a busy town.
New Zealand Steam Railways #7
The Pleasant Point Railway: Run by a dedicated team of volunteers who have preserved and maintained a fascinating collection of vintage steam locomotives and carriages. The railway operates along a historic branch line that was originally part of the South Canterbury Main Trunk Line, which opened in 1884. The Pleasant Point Railway operates not only vintage steam engines, but also a very unique Model T Ford Railcar. The railway also features a charming station and museum, providing insights into the region’s railway history and the significance of rail transport in New Zealand’s development.
New Zealand Steam Railways #8
Ferrymead Heritage Park: Based at the Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch, the Ferrymead Railway operates on the site of the first public railway in New Zealand dating back to 1863. The Canterbury Railway Society restores and its Ferrymead Railway operates one of New Zealand’s finest collection of heritage steam, diesel and electric locomotives, rolling stock, signaling equipment and buildings. In addition to the steam trains, Ferrymead Heritage Park features various other historical exhibits, including restored buildings, vintage vehicles, operates a tramway, and other displays that offer insights into New Zealand’s past.
New Zealand Steam Railways #9
Oamaru Steam Railway: The Oamaru Steam Railway offers visitors an enjoyable and nostalgic experience, taking passengers through the heart of the unique Victorian Precinct around Oamaru harbour to Harbourside Station. Here you can explore the Penguin colony, visit the local seals, or simply enjoy the magnificent views over the Pacific Ocean. It is a 30 minute return journey and trains run most Sundays.
New Zealand Steam Railways #10
MOTAT Steam Tramway: The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland, operates a fascinating tramway between it’s two display centres, on which occasionally runs Baldwin Steam Tram No.100. Built in Philadelphia, USA, the tram served in Sydney and then was brought to Waganui, North Island. It is the only example of a steam tram in the country and a delight to see in steam.
New Zealand Steam Railways #11
Goldfields Railway: Travel back in time and enjoy a ride on a heritage train with Goldfields Railway. Journey between Waihi and Waikino at the eastern end of the spectacular Karangahake Gorge. Experience a section of what used to be known as the East Coast Main Trunk Line which stretched from Auckland to Taneatua south of Te Puke. Enjoy an area rich in history, including historic goldmining which shaped much of this part of the Southern Coromandel.
New Zealand Steam Railways #12
Waimea Plains Railway: Waimea Plains Railway Trust was established in 1998 to restore and recreate a small part of the historic, once privately owned Waimea Plains Railway, which opened in 1880 and operated from Gore to Elbow (Lumsden). The star of the show is without doubt the fabulous Rogers K92, impeccably restored and in steam on select occasions. Built in 1877 in New Jersey, K92 served as an original ‘Kingston Flyer’ locomotive before being dumped in a river as reinforcement to a stop-bank. In 1985 it was rescued and is now in steam on selected dates.
New Zealand Steam Railways #13
Gisborne City Vintage Railway: Gisborne City Vintage Railway operates its steam locomotive WA 165 on public excursion trains from Gisborne south to Muriwai, a distance of about 17 kilometres. The journey encompasses some unique features such as crossing the main Gisborne airport runway (the only train in the world to cross the main runway of a fully operational airport) and also crossing the Waipaoa river bridge (the longest river bridge in the North Island). The excursion also gives you a unique showcase of the stunning seascape of Poverty Bay with Young Nick’s Head in the background, as well as our world famous fertile agriculture landscape.
The LOCO Journeys “bakers dozen” top New Zealand steam railways is not an exhaustive list and excludes the mainline steam rail charters that frequently depart across various parts of the country on special occasions, school and public holidays.
Regardless, we’d encourage all our readers to get out and about New Zealand and discover these brilliant heritage lines for themselves.