The Northern Explorer
I decided to check out the new wheelchair accessible carriage on KiwiRail’s Northern Explorer train service. It was scheduled to leave at 7.45am to travel southbound from Auckland to Wellington.
I knew I had to get up super early in order to get a tour and take some photos of its accessibility. The KiwiRail platform had also recently moved from the Britomart Station, near the Ferry Terminal to a new location at the Auckland Strand Railway Station, Ngaoho Place, Parnell.
Check-in opened bright and early at 7am. I managed to make it in plenty of time and was greeted by a very helpful and welcoming customer representative.
I was told that they have two long-stay Wilson car-parks close by that use the ParkMate Mobile App.
But if you prefer to organise a taxi and need a wheelchair hoist R&R Total Mobility, Re-li-on-us Mobility are two good options. The accessible taxis will have to be pre-booked as they often get tied up with school transport contracts at this time.
The friendly staff were delighted to show me the new wheelchair accessible carriage. I mentioned that we often travel with extra equipment (like commodes) and asked if they provided storage for such items. They pointed out a whole carriage that could be used for such a purpose. I was advised that it was a good idea to let them know the sort of equipment we wanted to take on board prior to travelling. This is to make sure they can accommodate on the day of travel and whether assistance is needed in loading it on and off at the other end.
“NB: There maybe an extra charge for items after a certain amount”
The hoist takes you up onto the train with plenty of room to turn.
On your right-hand side, as you enter, you will see the ‘accessible bathroom’ which boasts a really good space for easy wheelchair transfer and an accessible push button for the sliding door.
Once on Board the Train
Sight and Hearing
The train carriages are also fitted with hearing loops that can be activated by your built-in transformer if you select the ‘T’ switch on the hearing aid. Service dogs are also allowed to travel but need to remain seated with you restrained.
Wheelchair Space in Carriage
Onboard you will find two wheelchair accessible spaces to pull into. Allowing you to sit in the comfort of your own wheelchair, power chair or mobility scooter. You can also pre-order your food from the cafeteria and have it brought to your table. The carriage is conveniently located next door to the cafeteria which also has wheelchair access. Each wheelchair space provides a table with two standard seats for anyone travelling with you. The panoramic windows are fantastic with a special non-reflective glass that allows you to take photo’s as you journey along. The wheelchair spaces also have a headphone jack allowing you to connect with the audio commentary as you travel.
“What a way to travel! My son Finlay just loves train travel as he gets to sit with all his family and talk while experiencing spectacular scenery”
Other KiwiRail Train Services
All three train journeys provide the same in terms of accessibility as the Northern Explorer.
The Coastal Pacific
The Coastal Pacific runs from Picton through to Christchurch and stops along the way in Kaikoura, a picturesque township that has a backdrop of snow-capped mountains that meet the sea. It is home to diverse marine life and famous for its activities like whale watching. The train stops right beside the Kaikoura township, a great place to stop over for a few days. From the ‘Whaleway’ Station, it is an easy wheel to the scenic boat trip terminals, the accommodation, walkways and eateries.
The train journey has been out of service since 2016 due to the Kaikoura earthquake which changed much of the marine environment. However, it will be making a return in time for Summer – KiwiRail Announcement on Stuff
Stop off at Kaikoura
- Kaikoura Railway Station is located on Whaleway Station Road and is a 15-minute walk to the town centre.
- Kaikoura Shuttles and Taxis offer short tours and double up as the towns taxi service. It is also the departure point for Whale Watching Tours
A Couple of Must-Do’s
- The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is an easy wheel or walk along the waterfront.
- Whale Watch Kaikoura will take you out on their boat to get you closer to the action
Accessible Places to Stay
- The Kakatu Retreat is a purpose-built ‘holiday house’ with fully-accessible facilities for anyone travelling with mobility needs. They also have courtesy transport on-hand to pick you up.
- Wacky Stays has accessible accommodation and a bit different with bed & breakfast provided.
- Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park – we usually stay here as it has a large wheelchair accessible 2-bedroom motel with a roll-in shower.
The TranzAlpine, runs from Christchurch across to Greymouth and takes in the lakes and the Buller Gorge, another exciting trip to take.
Stop off at Lake Brunner
The train stops at Lake Brunner (Moana) and it is possible to stay here for the night with various accessible accommodation on offer. However, it is easier to organise transport from Greymouth and do a day trip. The lake is stunning and you could easily spend nearly three hours enjoying lunch at the Station Cafe and then exploring this beautiful serene location. There are plenty of walks classed (easy) such as the Rakaitane Track, which is wheelchair accessible. Another walk classed as easy is down by the lake, and takes you over a swing-bridge. The place is a haven for Brown Trout fishing with local fisherman in the area keen to take you out. Or possibly a scenic houseboat charter to embrace the lake and it’s idyllic scenery.
An Accessible Place to Stay
Lake Brunner Country Motel & Holiday Park lovely hosts with courtesy transport that can take a fold-away wheelchair.