4 Dec 2017

Orient Express-style luxury train plan unveiled

6:05 pm on 4 December 2017

An ambitious plan has been unveiled to run an Orient Express-style luxury train through New Zealand.

no caption.

Photo: daboost/123RF

A local company with Chinese backing hopes to have the service running in two years, taking tourists through regional New Zealand, with the train crossing the Cook Strait on the rail ferry.

The wraps came off the Antipodean Explorer at a joint New Zealand-China mayoral forum in Wellington, and the journey will be pitched at the same class of wealthy international tourists, as other luxury trains in Europe, Canada and Asia.

It has been 38 years since a luxury sleeper train ran in New Zealand.

Passengers had their own bathrooms and breakfast could be served in the cabin.

Attempts to convert it into a part-seated train ran into trouble when blue asbestos was found, and after lying idle for 12 years was sold and now runs from Singapore to Thailand as the Eastern and Oriental Express.

Ironically that is exactly the style of train planned to evolve from 31 former Auckland commuter carriages, into the luxurious Antipodean Explorer.

"It's a moving hotel to take guests all over New Zealand to explore the very best of the country in one," said Antipodean Explorer's co-founder and general manager Amanda Johnston.

The venture has been seven years in the making, and will comprise a six-night journey from Auckland through most of the regions, to Otago, linking to Queenstown by luxury coach.

"We will stop for periods of between two and five hours every morning and afternoon, for our guests to enjoy the very best of tourism activities," said Mr Johnston.

"We have identified up to 75 businesses up and down the country to work with the provide that experience."

The train is a joint venture between local interests and the Chinese development company Fuh Wah, which is building a five-star hotel on Auckland's waterfront.

Richard Aitken, who is Fuh Wah's New Zealand managing director, said the train journey might frame further investment.

"We are looking for further hotel investment particularly in Queenstown in the first instance, to anchor the other end of the route, and then we'll look to other opportunities through New Zealand," said Mr Aitken.

A question mark still hangs over Northland, with the single track line not rated for passenger traffic, and a longer term goal is to have two trains, operating in both islands without the need for them to cross on the ferry.

The rebuild of the former commuter carriages is expected to be done in Dunedin, seen as a boost by the mayor Dave Cull.

"They say they intend to use the Hillside workshops which are largely mothballed, there is another business in there, a foundry, but I'm sure the expertise is still there," he said.

"We have also got the most photographed and beautiful railway station in New Zealand so we are the perfect place for it to pull up," said Mr Cull.

Antipodean Explorer said design and conversion work would begin soon and take about two years.

The cost of the venture, and the price of the journey has not yet been made public.

Video: From material preserved and made available by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, New Zealand.