Being a train-spotter from way back, grabbing a seat on the Taieri Gorge Railway has been a biggie on my bucket-list for quite some time.
Despite all the high-billing marketing hoopla that has dubbed it "one of the world's great train trips", my expectations were still exceeded. Not only does this excursion deliver a hefty dose of natural eye-candy, but it prises open much historic wealth and knowledge from the vaults of New Zealand's pioneering heartland.
The day excursions depart from Dunedin's historic railway station, trundling through the folds and hummocks of Taieri Gorge, and the rugged schist country of Central Otago. Traversing the original line, which first connected Dunedin with Alexandra more than 120 years ago, the excursion is punctuated with a multitude of tunnels, bridges and viaduct crossings.
And for most of the journey, like a glistening shepherd in the hinterland, the Taieri River is just down below you, as you soak up the scenery from the panoramic windows.
Accentuating the heritage theme to this excursion, the train's carriages were built in the 1920s, with lovely feature touches, such as the opening sash windows and wooden trim. The onboard commentary is informative and enlightening without being obtrusive.
This excursion captures a real sense of our country's goldrush legacy and pioneering soul.
What particularly struck me about this enchanting day trip is the genuine pride, charm and laidback friendliness of the staff. And they have every reason to be proud - this train trip is one out of the box.
See www.taieri.co.nz for more information.