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Located just 2.5 hours east of Auckland, the Driving Creek Railway evolved through the vision and determination of potter Barry Brickell. A rail enthusiast, Barry started building the narrow gauge rail tracks back in the 1970s as a way of transporting the clay and pine wood located high up the hill down to his pottery studio.
Becoming a tourist attraction might not have been part of the original plan but as the railway and the pottery studio grew, so did Barry’s vision. He began a major forest restoration by planting 14,000 native trees, then established a sculpture and pottery studio and workshop, and transformed the working rail track into a tourist attraction.
These days, the train chugs slowly up the hill, carrying visitors through tunnels and over viaducts and bridges. Slow enough, in fact, that you can read all the little nametags nailed to the trees and learn about the areas goldmining history. This part of the Coromandel, after all, was the location of New Zealand’s first gold rush in 1852.
The 3 kilometer track twists and turns through native bush and forest. There’s a lot of stops and starts and forwards and reserves along the way as the train driver (and entertaining commentator) manoeuvres the train along it’s narrow tracks. Along the way, you might surmise that not only did it take a lot of sweat and muscle to create this rail track but also a whole lot of wine. The banks on either side of the track have been shored up recycled wine bottles. But they must have run out of the vino at some stage, because some banks are missing the wine bottles and are shored up with used tyres and clay bricks instead.
Eventually, the train arrives at the Eyefull Tower, where, it is true, you will get an eye full of the spectacular New Zealand landscape.