Golf cart tours on decommissioned railway

Golf cart tours on decommissioned railway

A unique tourism venture has invigorated the remote heartland between Taranaki and the King Country.

Forgotten World Adventures takes tours by golf cart along the decommissioned railway line between the Central Plateau and Whangamomona, and visitor numbers have soared since it started three years ago.

When the line from Stratford to Taumarunui was mothballed in 2009, 142 kilometres of heritage rail was destined to be ripped out. Then Waikato farmer Ian Balme had a bright idea.

"We basically stumbled across the railway line in Ohura, and at that stage a friend of mine was bringing in these golf carts from the States, and at that stage we thought it was going to be pretty easy just to chuck some railway wheels onto a golf cart," says Mr Balme. "About $100,000 later we had a prototype."

That was three years ago. They got more than 2000 visitors in their first season, and Forgotten World Adventures has doubled those numbers each year since. Mr Balme says part of that success is the railway's stories.

"The ability to get into this remote terrain with the stories of the old pioneers and how they've worked so hard to open it up, to be able to retell that again, is hugely satisfying."

For Taumarunui, the business has provided a welcome boost.

"It's probably kept one man going for between four and six months of the year," says mechanic Bill Goodwin.

Whangamomona local and tour guide Griff has spent his life on the sickness benefit. This is his first job.

"I started off just turning the carts around and being a nuisance, so they made me a guide," he says. "Decided I got on so well with the public and I enjoy being around them for one day. It's just out guiding the line, making sure we have no issues, making sure people have a really good day."

The railway cost £2.5 million to build. Construction began in 1901 and wasn't completed for 30 years. That was the result of numerous challenges, including labour shortages and extremely difficult terrain. The railway never made money in its lifetime either, with hopes a coal seam in the Tangarakau Valley would cover the cost proving ill-founded.

But it's that same perseverance to succeed and Kiwi ingenuity that's brought the railway back to life.

And now the golf carts and their stories will be woven into that rich history.

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