Day 5. Along with Peter, Geoff, Robin and Jenny we were booked to take the Forgotten World Adventures “Ride The Rails” adventure. We met our guide,Ian,at the Whangamomona railway station where 4 converted Golf carts awaited us. These carts had been purchased in Canada and cleverly converted the same way as modern railway maintenance vehicles are to run on road or rail. After the precautionary prep talk and filling out some documents we were off at the giddy speed of 20KPH (Max).
We were taking the moth balled line towards Taumarunui. Kiwirail have not used the line for about 10 years and Forgotten World Adventures have a 30 year lease on the line unless the line reopens. This all came about when a goods train derailed damaged over 7000 sleepers and they are in no hurry to repair it. The damaged track is visible but with the carts only weighing in at around 500kgs it’s not a problem.
It was great to see countryside that would normally only be visible by rail travel. Hill country farms to native bush, we passed through it all. As well as sheep and cattle there was an Alpaca farm and even wild life such as Pheasant, Turkeys, Lapwings which we suspected were nesting on the track bed and Feral goats. Ian, our guide told us that the odd deer and pig have also been seen.
Over bridge’s and farm access tracks we only had to endure one road crossing where technically we had right of way with a Stop sign controlling road traffic. However as most people using this road know there are no trains operating they don’t bother to stop so we had to take extra precautions. As the tour name suggests there are 20 tunnels ranging from 80m in length to1525m which do tend to be on the cool side but are generally dry.
Ian stopped at points of interest to tell us what had taken place or been at any given spot. Towns and villages with populations up to 1200 that had sprung up with the advent of the railway, coal mining, brick works and farming and had all but disappeared leaving just the odd house or building to mark their passing. The land now reverting back to pasture.
Part of the tour was a supplied morning tea and lunch where Ian was able to pass on more information about the railway and it’s impact on the district. Apparently since the road between Stratford and Taumarunui has been named the Forgotten Highway more people are now using it and tourism is slowly making an impact on the area.
Our final stopping point was at Ohura which was a saw milling and mining town with a population of 650 in it’s hey day. More recently the Ohura prison which was formerly a miners hostel has now been closed and converted to a back packers accommodation and camping ground. There is an on site cafe for the weary traveller. We wanted to check this out as a possibility for our next venue but it was well and truly booked out.
Our journey's end came just 2 km’s and 2 bridges short of the junction with the North Island Main Trunk line. Interestingly one bridge was a road/rail bridge where the road was under the railway. Ian quickly switched the carts from rail to road wheels and drove them into the garage to await the next booking.
We were then transported back to Whangamomona via Taumarunui via mini bus where dinner at the Whangamomona awaited us. The latter was our own arrangement and not part of the tour.
The tour is called the 20 tunnel tour and is one of 4 options that Forgotten World Adventures offer. They operate from October to May so if this sort of adventures interest’s you log on to their website (as above) and see what they have to offer. You won’t be dis-appointed. Two seater and four seater carts are available which can be fully enclosed if required. One thing the brochure doesn’t tell you is that there are toilets along the way so those with a weak constitution should not fear.
Lunch break.Lost count of the bridges.Bit of a climb here but nothing greater than 1 / 40.Tunnels at this end of the line were lined in brick from the nearby brickworks.Journeys end just 2km from the junction with the North Island main trunk line.
All in all a thoroughly wonderful day, we couldn’t have had better weather, although we had to watch the suntan.