Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Visit to rail-cruising company a FRONZ highlight
One of the highlights of the Queen’s
Birthday FRONZ conference at Rotorua
was a visit by delegates to the company
that is operating rail tours on a section of
the disused Rotorua Branch Line, winner of
the federation’s Weta Workshop Award for
Creativity and Imagination.
Rail Riders at Mamaku, is the base for a
business the owners describe as the world’s
first “rail-cruising” operation.
Rail Riders was founded by Neil and
Jane Oppatt and the operation is being
developed with the help of Track Manager
The company was formed in late 2009
following what they describe as a number
of years contemplation over the mothballed
and gradually deteriorating Rotorua-
Putaruru Branch Railway Line.
The goal was to provide an experience for
people who enjoy adventure and to create
a totally new way for people to see New
Zealand, relaxed, independent and in
The assignment of the lease from the Rotorua
Ngongotaha Rail Trust came first and soon
after work began on the development of the
world first RailCruiser.
The Railway offers gentle curves and steep
grades with beautiful lake views and nature
bush scenery. It carries with it the heritage
of past generations who built and lived their
lives on the commerce of the rail: tourist
operators; loggers; haulers; millers and
foresters of all sorts.
The Railway was the heart of a forestry
mecca that thrived in Mamaku for many
years around the 1940s.
“It (rail-cruising) will become one of
Rotorua's iconic tourist attractions,” says
Neil Oppatt. “With a world-wide ageing
population the new growth area in tourism
is activities called ‘soft adventure’.
“Rail-cruising typifies ‘soft adventure’, being
exciting yet not scary, very safe, comfortable
and an all-weather activity.”
He says interest in railways world-wide is
huge and is one of the world's most popular
tourist activities. He predicts there will be a
significant new rail fan visitor market going
to Rotorua for the rail cruising experience.
“Already they have come from England,
Australia and the United States having read
about our operation in railway magazines.”
Neil Oppatt believes his main challenge for
the future will be getting approval to operate
pedal-powered “rail-bikes” on the railway
and replacing 1200 sleepers west of Mamaku
to add another 23km of operational track to
the existing 20km of track he uses.