New Zealand Heritage Rail

Tokomaru – a Pahiatua rail car

Still with her traditional art deco charm, a gem in New Zealand’s heritage rail scene is ‘Tokomaru’, or RM31, a railcar built in 1938 and now managed by Pahiatua Railcar Society at Pahiatua, in New Zealand’s North Island. 

This unique style of railcar was one of only six built by NZ Hutt Workshops for the New Zealand Government Railways in 1938/39 as an innovative way to compete with the rise of motor vehicles, and to replace slower and expensive steam trains, while providing comfortable and fast local rail services.  

RM31 is 30 tonnes and 21 metres long, and while only one carriage, she was built with two compartments, the larger ‘second-class’ seated 36 passengers, and the smaller ‘first-class’ area seated 16 passengers. As with all these standard railcars, Tokomaru was named after famous Māori canoes and was used for North Island passenger rail services for more than 30 years until withdrawn from service in 1972.  

While the railcars are now red with white stripes and grey roofs, they were originally a sleek silver body with a green stripe. Initially, they were used to run a fast return service between Wellington and New Plymouth and later Hawkes Bay between Wairoa and Napier and a Sunday service from Napier to Wellington return. This was of course extended over the years, but they never operated in the South Island.

RM31 is the Society’s only operating railcar and is one of four preserved railcars of the Standard class but the only one in operation of the national lines. Being stored for a time at Masterton, RM31 was bequeathed to the Pahiatua Railcar Society in 2001, an organisation dedicated to the restoration of heritage railcars, locomotives and rolling stock formerly owned and operated by the railways department.

Cruise Express is chartering Tokomaru in October 2019 for a panoramic, 4-day journey from Auckland to Wellington, visiting boutique vineyards in the famous Martinborough wine region – home to the Pinot Noir-flaunting Escarpment winery, now owned by Barossa Valley’s Torbreck. Passengers on this incredible journey will also stay in the grand, Chateau Tongariro, back-dropped by sacred, lofty peaks in the heart of the North Island and the quirky capital of Wellington with a visit to the incredible Te Papa National Museum.  

To secure your seat on New Zealand’s heritage rail or for more information click here or call Cruise Express on 1300 766 537

Spectacular Southern Rail

The Southern Rail Spectacular lived up to its billing – it was spectacular!

The Southern Rail Spectacular – a new and first-ever 5-day adventure – offering the opportunity to ride behind one of Australia’s most famous locomotives, the legendary Beyer-Garratt 6029. This 265-ton monster, the largest locomotive ever to operate in Australia, is just part of this heritage rail tour from Sydney to Victoria and back in August of 2018.

Heritage Rail

Written by Cruise Express client and train enthusiast, Ken Ticehurst

The Cruise Express’ team spent over a year in planning this monumental journey and with a mountain of red tape to climb, the team put together an amazing array of 11 steam and diesel engines and 33 carriages to make five train sets for the journeys.

Below are a few highlights I’d like to share:

Day 1: Leaving Sydney Central station at 5:18am the train, hauled by two heritage diesels, travelled on the goods line, passed the dead centre of Sydney (Rookwood) and on to the main southern line. The Beyer-Garrett 6029 was attached at Junee. At Yass Junction, the train waited for the Melbourne bound XPT to pass. It was a great sight to see the 6029 & XTP together.

Day 2: After an overnight stay in the lovely Atura motel in Albury, we joined the first run of the Spirit of Progress on standard gauge tracks for the trip to Melbourne. It was a smooth ride in air-conditioned carriages, and a stop for lunch at Seymour, allowed time to visit the rail museum. Overnight in Melbourne at Vibe Savoy hotel was also most pleasant.

Day 3: The train to Castlemaine was hauled by two steam locos, one A class and one K class, and another set of carriages. At Castlemaine another set of heritage carriages were provided, with the A class Loco pulling the train to Maldon. Two special carriages, Macedon and Tambo, were used in the old Overland express in years gone by. A stop at Muckleford was provided so that we could photograph the train doing a run through the station.

Day 4: Another train, with K707 at the lead, took the group to Newport rail yards for an inspection of the fascinating activities undertaken to restore many locos and carriages. After lunch the Spirit of Progress train once again headed for Albury.

Southern Rail

Day 5: Another night at the Atura, at 6.30am we headed in 3 coaches to Canberra. As unpredictable as any travel can be, heritage rail journeys are no exception! After all the planning, ARTC announced that track work would extend to Monday. The Beyer-Garrett took the train to Moss Vale where it was decoupled and the two diesels were attached for the return to Sydney.

The organisation was first class. So much work behind the scenes was necessary to make a most enjoyable experience for the 150 travellers. Each day a staff member would bring a large card showing times and places for the following day. Nothing was too much trouble. The heritage rail personnel were all volunteers and really love what they do.

Congratulations to the Cruise Express team for a job well done!

Enjoy more of our spectacular photos from this history-making journey here.

Griffith Foodie Haven!

Riverina Tourism Boom

Thanks to ‘foodies’ travelling from afar to the unsuspecting food mecca of Griffith, the Riverina region of NSW has seen significant growth in tourism and revenue over recent years. Many young chefs have even headed or returned home to take Griffith’s food and wine culture to the next level.


Griffith has always been proudly abundant with Italian heritage and culture, showcasing good food and wine. 

The focus on the outstanding quality of local produce and high-end restaurants dedicated to getting back to the roots of Italian cuisine are behind this boom, with several hundred visitors flocking to Griffith every day.

Located in Griffith’s old Rural Bank is Zecca Handmade Italian, dedicated to nourishing the community with the highest quality locally sourced produce. Working closely with local farmers and producers, the food must be seasonal and authentic to regional Italy, showcasing the best of what Griffith and the surrounding area has to offer.

We asked Daniel of Zecca what his thoughts are on the increase in ‘Foodie Tourism’ to the region – “People’s thoughts are changing on what’s a tourist attraction, and we’re finding that people are interested in getting back to more authentic experiences. They also now see eating and drinking as a leisure activity.

People have busier lives in general now, so relaxing over good food and wine while on holidays is very appealing. Consumers also now have more interest than before in what they’re eating. There’s more awareness of where the food comes from and the story behind how it’s grown and prepared. People are no longer willing to accept just anything – they want a fresh product and love finding out more about it.”

“Griffith’s multiculturalism and agricultural diversity have offered people from all over the world, especially Italians post-WWII, an opportunity thrive. At the time that many immigrants arrived, the area was prosperous. Even if they arrived in Griffith with nothing, if they had a good work ethic, they could build something. And Griffith is still a great place for new migrants. We are always welcoming new people to our town and they’re able to get ahead. You can see the cultural diversity right throughout the town,” said Daniel D’Aquina of Zecca.


Limone is an intimate dining experience of pure artistry and is run by local Chef Luke Piccolo. Luke returned to Griffith after training at restaurants in Sydney and Michelin starred restaurants in Italy. Much of his quality produce is picked daily from his local family farm.

There are many outstanding wineries and cellar doors not to be missed in Griffith, many of them family-run including De Bortoli Wines, McWilliams Hanwood Estate, Calabria Family Wines and many more.

The main street of Griffith is lined with thriving Italian cafes, restaurants and delis, bakeries, bars and shopping galore. There really is something to do for everyone, every palate is sure to be satisfied!


Since 2012, this month-long series of events runs annually throughout October – beautiful Springtime! Taste Riverina is a collaboration of the region’s finest food producers, showcasing much of the local agricultural produce and food, wine, beer and most importantly, local experiences throughout the Riverina.

Ultimately, the event is designed to inspire visitors to eat healthy fresher food, effectively becoming ambassadors to experience, understand and celebrate locally produced food.

Some of the produce The Riverina is known for includes rice, citrus, lamb, beef, wheat, canola oil, olive oil, grapes, potatoes and pistachios.

2018 events throughout the region will include agricultural tours, cooking classes, food treks, dinners, cafe specials, recipe competitions, local festivals, degustation menus, picnics, and live music.

For more information on how you can immerse yourself in this year’s Riverina food and wine extravaganza click here or call one of Cruise Express’ Travel Specialists on 1300 766 537.

Heritage Rail Travel

The Ins and Outs!

Since November 2016, Cruise Express has successfully run heritage rail journeys throughout the eastern seaboard of Australia. The demand for these trips has increased as passengers experience not only the destination but the joy of travel itself!

Why do our clients love heritage trains journeys?

There is a nostalgic romanticism about heritage trains, a step back in time to a bygone era like no other. Many of our passengers remember trains like the ones Cruise Express charter and in many cases have actually travelled on them in the past. Another thing we hear time and time again is that there is a wonderful camaraderie onboard and people make lasting friendships on these journeys.

A journey on a heritage train is a step back to a time of glamour, buffets and restaurant cars, first-class lounges, railway restaurants as well as ‘fastests’ and ‘firsts’ that helped these national treasures be sealed in our psyche.  

Who runs the show? 

The organisations that manage the preservation, restoration and conservation of these heritage trains are mostly self-funded and run by a small but dedicated group of volunteers. The organisations heavily rely on revenue from their own tours, private donations and funding from charters.

Many of the volunteers are current or ex-railway workers and possess special skills such as boilermakers, drivers, engineers, carpenters/train outfitters and those with knowledge of rail safety operations. The volunteers are usually entirely unpaid for their time.

Some carriages date back to the middle of last century if not even older, and are often in much the same condition as when they left service decades ago, showing an amount of wear and tear as part of their long history. Many spare parts are no longer manufactured, so when something goes wrong, this is where the dedicated volunteer’s creative abilities come into play.

While 21st-century technology is evolving at a rapid pace, raising awareness and educating the public on the importance of preserving our history is paramount. Additionally, passing these skill sets on to younger generations is critical for the survival of the heritage train industry, and it can only be done with continued interest and funding.

What to expect

Heritage Rail Journeys are often confused to be part of current Government Railway operations or public transport. In fact, they are privately owned and operated vintage trains, meaning discounts and benefits often offered on public transport simply don’t apply.

Another misconception is that heritage trains are able to run and stop almost wherever – which is far from the case. Each train will have carefully allocated stops working around all other trains on the network including both passengers, freight and trackwork.

One charming aspect many don’t expect is that most rail motors and some carriages are from an era before air-conditioning became commonplace. This means the windows can open, providing a unique connection between the traveller and their surroundings.

For those that have mobility issues, it is important to keep in mind that heritage trains were designed and built long before mobility concerns were factored. Doorways and corridors are not wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or walking frames. Onboard lavatories and bathrooms are also small.

On a final note, please be super nice to all of the men and women working aboard your heritage rail journey. The volunteers do more work behind the scenes than you can possibly imagine, giving up their own time, and often their own money.

The trains truly are rare survivors of a long lost era, and we are lucky to have them.

To find out more about several of our magnificent heritage rail journeys, please visit our rail and sail page or call our Travel Specialists on 1300 766 537.

We look forward to welcoming you onboard!


Legendary Rail Nostalgia

The California Zephyr – Heritage Rail Journey of a Bygone Era

  1. a soft gentle breeze
  2. Zephyrus, the Greek god of the west wind

On 19 March, 1949, outside the Embarcadero in San Francisco, as Soprano Evelyn Corvello sang the Star Spangled Banner, San Francisco Mayor Leland Cutler gave a welcome address and actress Eleanor Parker, stepped up to Western Pacific locomotive 803, smashing a bottle of champagne to launch of the “California Zephyr”. Few attending realised they were witnessing a legend in passenger train history being born. 

California Zephyr

Departing on its inaugural run the following day, every woman on the train was given silver and orange orchids especially flown in from Hilo, Hawaii for the occasion. Soon dubbed “the most talked about train in America” with its glass-domed carriages, the California Zephyr (also known as the Silver Lady) operated along some of the most spectacular scenic routes in the USA.

Run by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) from Chicago to Denver, Colorado, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Western Pacific Railroad from Salt Lake City to Oakland, California.

The trains were carefully scheduled to enjoy the breathtaking grandeur of the Feather River and Rocky mountains during the day, while the Nevada deserts and plains states were crossed at night.

The trains were carefully scheduled so passengers could enjoy the breathtaking grandeur of scenery including the Feather River and Rocky mountains during the day, while the Nevada deserts and plains states were crossed at night.

As air travel had air-hostesses, so to did the Zephyr. Affectionately known as “Zephyrettes”, they debuted on the Denver Zephyr in 1936. They were trained to perform a wide variety of roles, including welcoming passengers, making announcements, sending telegrams, making dinner reservations, babysitting, and generally serving as a liaison between the train’s passengers and its crew.

Like many railways, by the mid to late 1960s The California Zephyr was experiencing rapidly falling numbers. Airlines and bus routes had begun to make serious cuts to rail travel by offering faster or cheaper transportation.

The last westbound California Zephyr to the west coast left Chicago on March 22, 1970, and arrived in Oakland two days later. The California Zephyr had operated for 21 years and 2 days.

Although the original train ceased operation in 1970, it continued to operate as a passenger service, as the Rio Grande Zephyr, between Salt Lake City and Denver using the original equipment until 1983. Since 1983 the California Zephyr is used by Amtrak service, which operates daily and is a hybrid of the original route.

For more information on how you can embark on this historic rail experience, please call one of our Travel Specialists today on 1300 766 537 or click here!