Rotorua based rail enthusiasts Neil and Jane Oppatt have turned a disused railway line into a tourist attraction by combining it with the self drive concept.
The Mamaku Express is the world’s first commercial RailCruising excursion using 20km of disused track from Mamaku to Tarukenga on the Rotorua Railway near Ngongotaha.
For the first time in rail history, tourists can have a totally exclusive and entirely independent self-drive rail experience, says Neil.
“Imagine sitting in the RailCruiser with nothing ahead of you but the unobstructed curve of the rail stretching out into the distance; the countryside drifting by and the clickety clack sound of the rail beneath you.
“To-date the only way to come close to such an experience is to ride in the cab of a train locomotive, however, not many people have been lucky enough to.
“It is this kind of unique experience that inspired RailCruising.
“It’s the freedom of being on the rail and going somewhere, but not caring, just enjoying the ride.”
Tourists can travel in the four-seater RailCruiser V3000 Hybrid, the world’s first fully automated, state of the art petrol-electric hybrid RailCruiser.
It is completely manufactured in New Zealand by five individual companies.
Groups of RailCruisers spaced about 250 metres apart travel together like a virtual train in one direction to the destination railway station.
On arrival they are turned to head back to where they started.
“RailCruising is making it possible to put to good use an unused deteriorating railway line, which now adds value to the Rotorua tourism destination,” says Neil.
“RailCruising opens the way to save other abandoned lines which remain a valuable part of our railway heritage.
“The world is full of abandoned railway lines, which together, with a huge worldwide tourist interest in railway journeys, makes RailCruising the ultimate rail experience.”
The introduction of the Mamaku Express RailCruising excursion marks the start of a range of different types of railway tourism experiences unseen before in New Zealand.
He’s planning a longer excursion, the Mamaku Outback, an 86km return RailCruise from the Rotorua Railway Station to Bart’s Crossing, Ngatira near Putaruru.
Also coming next is RailBiking, using four-seater pedal-powered vehicles, which Neil is planning to introduce on the Rotorua to Ngongotaha track next year.
With work now taking place to four-lane Lake Road, Rail Riders is planning the development of a new Rotorua Railway Station to be positioned beside the railway line at the junction of Lake Road and Railway Road.
This will be the headquarters and main booking office for RailCruising and RailBiking operations on the Rotorua Railway.
Other railway owners in New Zealand and Australia have approached Rail Riders with a view to establish RailCruising on their lines either as the sole operator or in conjunction with full sized steam and diesel trains.