The Driving Creek Railway had come highly recommended by our wheelchair using friends “suitable for all ages and abilities,” they enthused. When visiting the Coromandel it was on our ‘must-do’ list for wheelchair accessible attractions.
So far we had found everything about the Coromandel a true quintessential Kiwi experience. From our relaxing holiday hideout, our seafood and foraging discoveries, to the native bush and golden sandy beach walks. We enjoyed an array of good eateries, explored farmers markets, shopped in walk-in home galleries and enjoyed the local craft shops. This region was proving to be sheer paradise.
“No wonder the Coromandel is an Auckland holiday destination!”
The day before arriving at Driving Creek Railway, we had experienced the quirky interactive fun of the Waterworks Theme Park. As a family on the road we were definitely on a roll with everyone entertained; Grandparents, Mum, Dad and the kids. If only we’d brought the dog, as even she would have discovered a lot of fun and inclusion.
We headed north from Coromandel Town along Ringa Road, then turned off onto Driving Creek Road. The Driving Creek Railway is at No. 380 Driving Creek Road.
If you are based in Auckland you might like to take the ferry over to Coromandel and connect with a tour or shuttle to visit the attraction. Check out the ferry times and options here.
Another option would be hiring an adapted vehicle from Freedom Mobility as accessible transport on the other end of the ferry may not be available. Although New Zealand is getting better with providing accessible public transport it still has a long way to go.
When you first pull into the Driving Creek Railway location you will be greeted by a large gravel visitor carpark. Once you park your car the only way up to the attraction is via a steepish gravel road or up steps. We chose to drive up the gravel driveway a little further in order to get closer to the entrance and found two marked gravel ‘disability’ parks. One was already in use and the other wasn’t accessible enough to lay our hoist down. Just to the side of these two marked parks was the ‘pull in’ reserved for ‘minibus tour companies’ only. We chose to slip in here as it was quiet and let the office know just in case.
During the busier season it may pay to phone beforehand and ask for a park to be reserved. We were lucky on this occasion. There are potentially other areas designated for disability parking.
Ticket Office & Shop
A wide gravel pathway flanked by a variety of ferns and other native vegetation leads you up to where a quaint little ticket office is. The whole place immediately transports you into another time.
Waiting on The Platform
After buying our tickets we were asked to head down the platform to await the train. The pathway is uneven in places, adding to the character of the place but could frustrate manual self-propellors in places. So many bit’s and pieces caught our eyes dating back to the gold-mining era. It was a collectors paradise and certainly kept the grandparents entertained bringing back childhood memories.
We spied the little windowless train chugging down the line to pick us up. We jumped onboard and the train driver came around to collect and punch our tickets. He gave us a wee safety talk, explaining about the tight spaces we will be passing through and the need to keep hands and heads clear of the open windows. This was going to be an interesting time keeping our Finlay’s hands occupied.
This was a fantastic way to experience the stunning regenerated native bush of Totara, Kauri and Rimu forest! Time to sit back and enjoy the scenery while listening to the incredible story of Barry Brickell who engineered and built this 2.7 km railway by hand. He was a passionate potter who decided to purchase this land for the yellow plastic clay derived from the weathering of the old volcanic rocks. He had to work out a way of transporting the clay and fuel from the pine forests up and down through the bush, a railway seemed the most logic solution.
Finlay was in his element, it was so cool to see him enjoying an activity on an equal level with the whole family. This is much more than a railway journey, it takes you through tunnels, across viaducts to discover hidden gems along the way.
Visiting EyeFull Tower Lookout
The train eventually took us to the base of EyeFull Tower where everyone got out to walk up to the lookout. Finlay stayed in the carriage because of the small gap and tight turning space on the platform. The staff offered assistance to get Finlay off and into their courtesy wheelchair, but we refrained knowing the challenges in transferring.
Negotiating the Platform
To get off the train here there is a small gap and a narrow turning space once on platform. The staff are more than willing to offer assistance in getting on and off and have two basic courtesy wheelchairs on hand if needed. In the past they have assisted those who can do a standing transfer from one chair to another. We decided Finlay was better off staying inside the carriage with his power chair and one of us stayed with him while the rest visited the Lookout. Have to say this certainly wasn’t something Finlay was happy with doing but the stop wasn’t for long.
The walkway up to the Lookout
If you’ve managed to get off the train, the walk or wheel up is fairly simple. The terrain starts out as a hard-packed gravel path and then leads onto a series of covered wooden ramps which gradually lead you up to the Lookout.
When you arrive you find yourself on a massive deck overlooking the bush canopy and out over the Hauraki Gulf. A Guide talks more on the history of the land and about further developments on the horizon.
Back on the Train for the Return Leg Home
We returned back down to Finlay’s delight, the driver switching our train onto the homeward tracks to head back to the station. We were able to check out the gems we’d missed along the way the first time. So much we missed and more to see!
One thing I hadn’t bargained on was the close proximity of the tunnels as we travelled through. The train driver routinely would warn all passengers to keep their hands clear just before entry.
“As Finlay is one for grabbing anything that comes into his reach, the tunnels kept me on my toes!”
Back At The Station
Once back at the Station, the staff asked us to wait for a short time and then greeted us once all the passengers had left the train. A wooden ramp was put in place by the train driver and we exited through two opening gates. The turning space inside the carriage was just enough for 2 or 3 people to get in and out without problem.
Lots More Expansion Happening
On our visit they were putting the finishing touching to a new venture called The Coromandel Zipline Tours. Not sure if our Finlay would be up for this one but certainly the rest of our family would. More and more of these tree canopy tours are cropping up around New Zealand, proving excellent fun and a way of putting money back into the regeneration of native trees and birdlife.
Coming Soon … a hands on Potter’s Experience
Now, this will be a definite must-do on our next visit, can’t wait!
Find out More
By visiting the The Driving Creek Railway