One-way trip schedule: click on the trip to book
Weekend return trip schedule: click on the trip to book
Your heritage train is powered by the famous WW1 Memorial “Passchendaele” Steam Locomotive between Picton-Kaikoura and then powered by our retro, red and white, 1950’s classic DA locomotive between Kaikoura-Christchurch.
The historic Ab 608 “Passchendaele” (built in 1915), is one of the most important and famous steam locomotives in New Zealand. Fit for Kings! Ab 608 was used to power a number of special trains – including Royal Tours of the South Island, such as The Prince of Wales in 1920 and The Duke and Duchess of York in 1927 (The Prince of Wales and Duke of York would both one day become Kings of England).
During the steam era the Ab-class was the largest type of locomotive operating on the Picton – Blenheim route. Ab 608 was also the lead locomotive on the official train from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass for the opening of the 8.5km long Otira Tunnel in August 1923 – a feat of engineering which was the longest tunnel in the British Empire at the time.
“Passchendaele” is a wartime memorial, named after the worst battle in NZ military history, and in honour of the fallen NZ Rail workers. Built in the late 1800’s, the Picton to Blenheim line heads south from Picton across the Waitohi viaduct building up to maximum power under a full head of steam to tackle the strenuous climb up the Picton Elevation. One of the steepest gradients in the country at (a 1-in-37 slope), this incline provides the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the steam locomotive’s enormous power and dramatic sound effects.
Upon reaching the plateau, the journey then takes on a more sedate nature and the train engages in a graceful gallop meandering alongside the Para Wetlands, home to an abundance of birds, game fish and unique wetland vegetation.
The long river crossing across the wide Wairau River is another highlight, providing entry to the magnificent Wairau Valley with the distant southern mountains in the backdrop. A sea of vineyards on both sides, greets the train on the stretch to Blenheim town – clear evidence that Marlborough is indeed home to 80% of New Zealand’s wine production, most famously the sauvignon blanc variety. There is also the option to start your train journey from Blenheim Station steam-hauled to Kaikoura.
Traverse the rolling southern hills of Marlborough, carving a line through the Dashwood Pass and bursting onto the beautiful Awatere Valley with the peak of the majestic sentinel, Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku standing guard at the rear. Continue across the historic Awatere River railroad bridge to the quintessential country town of Seddon where we stop to replenish the steam locomotive with water.
The landscapes then open up to greet the Pacific Coastline for the journey to Kaikoura, a town acclaimed for its abundant marine wildlife, famed resident sperm whale population and dramatic mountain backdrops. Towering over Kaikoura, the ‘Guardians of the Seas’ – the mountains of the Southern Alps, rise majestically from the deep trenches of the Southern Ocean with the railway line wedged in between.
Of particular interest is the remnants of the 2016 Kaikōura 7.8 magnitude earthquake which has left clear evidence of its sheer power and destructive capabilities, along this breathtaking stretch of shoreline. This is equally matched by the impressive and incredible engineering solutions that restored the state highway and railway in record time.
Between Kaikoura and Christchurch, The Whale Train is powered by a retro, red and white, 1950’s classic DA locomotive. Departing South from Kaikoura, The Whale Train continues to hug the coast threading it’s way in and out of a myriad of 19 tunnels, on either side of Kaikoura, all carved out of the cliff faces, before turning inland via the vast Canterbury Plains for the final stretch towards the main South Island city of Christchurch.
The Whale Train has viewing balconies at both ends of each heritage carriage, a convenient viewing position, ideal for photo opportunities and fresh mountain air. Absorb the history, stories and culture of the region with our onboard commentary.
There is the option for your journey to be a day trip or a weekend train excursion (depending on your date selection).
* Station departures are only available for selected dates.
Snack boxes are available for pre-purchase at the time of booking. Light snacks and refreshments will be available onboard. You are also welcome to bring your own food onboard.