We left Invercargill just before 8:00 am intent on arriving in Dunedin in plenty of time to catch our 2:30 pm train up the Taieri Gorge. The 200 km was expected to take about 2.5 hours of driving plus coffee stop, getting us there in plenty of time for lunch before the train departed.
For most of the way we drove through rolling hills dotted with sheep and occasionally cattle. The low sun was sometimes in our eyes but mostly added interest to the landscape by casting shadows that emphasised the contours. After a couple of overcast days we were pleased to have it shining.
Our coffee stop was at Balclutha. We found parking in the main street near Heart and Soul Cafe. That made it an easy selection. The coffee, muffins and other refreshments got good reviews from the group.
We made good time into Dunedin from there. Majella had me locating a needlework shop recommended by a friend so that she could make the most of her shopping time. Her plan had been to park in town and check into our accommodation later but the accommodation was in town so we drove there to see if we could park. It was too early to check in but we were allowed to park off the street and arranged to meet back there at 1:30 pm to check in and catch our train.
The Quest where we were staying is across the street from Cadbury World, next door to a supermarket, and just a block or two from the main shopping area. All the women were going to the needlework shop and some needed their men along to carry their wallets so we all headed in that direction. Once that mission was accomplished we split up as couples to find lunch and otherwise fill in the more than an hour until our rendezvous.
Majella and I wandered up a lane way where we found The Albion Cafe – named for the lane. That was an obvious choice for lunch and noon seemed late enough. The cafe was run by two men who had only recently opened it and had an interesting menu of sandwiches that were prepared in advance and then served toasted so the cheese was melted.
From there we browsed some of the local shops, picked up some essentials at the supermarket, and headed for Cadbury World. The queue there was long and many of those standing with baskets of chocolate selected for purchase looked as though they might be better to swear off chocolate for life. Majella’s selection of goods seemed puny by comparison. We waited in line, made our purchase, and walked back to the Quest where we checked in and dropped our bags. As the others arrived they did likewise and by 1:45 pm we were on our way to the station to catch our train.
Dunedin Railway Station is an amazing building decorated with stained glass windows glazed tiles in railway themes. It is worth a visit just to see the building. On this occasion we were there to ride the Taieri Gorge Railway. We had booked in advance (necessary) and had a group discount as one of the advantages of travelling together. We paid and collected our tickets in good time.
When railway traffic declined in the 70s and 80s the line was to be closed and the Dunedin station sold off. The city council bought the station from the government for $1 and the historical association uses it as its base to run the train as a tourist attraction that keeps the rail going. The building also houses an art gallery that we had time to browse before boarding the train.
The train was about 5 minutes late leaving because there were some adjustments needed after the morning run. It headed out quickly on the mainline south drawn by a vintage diesel engine. Once we had turned off onto the gorge line it slowed as it snaked up the gorge.
There was intermittent commentary about sights along the way and lots of photography. The train included a dining carriage where we could buy food and drink, an ice cream on the way up and refreshing cider on the way back. Other than at the turnaround point, Pukerangi, we had one real stop along the way for the viaduct at Deep Stream where, on the way up, we were able to get out, walk across the viaduct and rejoin the train on the other side.
Our train journey was scheduled for 4 hours and we arrived back in Dunedin around 6:40 pm. We walked back to the Quest, picked up the van, and headed for Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. We gaped at the steepness of the street but nobody felt up to walking or driving up it after what must have been a more tiring day than we had expected.
We drove out onto the Otago Peninsula hoping to find somewhere there for dinner. A few kilometres along the winding foreshore road we had not found food and some of our travellers were finding the road, despite the water view, less than enjoyable. We turned back to town and parked at the Quest.
In the end, dinner was BBQ chicken, bread and salad from the supermarket. We enjoyed that with drinks and conversation until rather later than usual.