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Northern Explorer

All of the blog posts in 2019 so far are brought to you by my "mega break", 2 months off work which I'm now in my last week of 😢 (I guess "sabbatical" is the more technical term for these things). In previous years when I accumulated a lot of leave, I'd take maybe 2 weeks off, think I'd use it to get a lot done, then realize at the tail end of it that I never really accomplished anything. So I asked work if they'd be cool with me taking a much longer time off (they were), made sure I could afford it (I could), and then picked some start date that worked to everyone's advantage.

So what have I been doing with my time? The most noticeable thing to blog readers would be that I've managed a website migration to a variety of new cloud services, and what's invisible to people is that I've turned it into a legit blogging platform for my needs (eg: be able to create new posts or update existing ones from wherever I have an internet connection, including on my phone). Previously I could only write posts from my computer where I could fire up a database management tool and make edits using direct database access!

Other than coding: getting through saved reading/watching items like conference talks and YouTube short films, finally playing those video games I bought during seasonal/timed sales, working on all those other open source programming projects, catching up with friends... Oh yeah, I did manage a vacation-ish thing during my break: taking the Northern Explorer train across the country.

If you've driven up/down the country of New Zealand, you get glimpses of railway every now and then, so years of peeks at a cross-country rail had piqued my curiosity and had become one of the things I've always wanted to check out. My partner felt the same, so we booked some tickets before my break and last week we got to take the Northern Explorer train from Wellington to Auckland.

The journey will pretty much occupy your entire day. We had to wake up early enough to catch the 7:55am departure time from Wellington, scheduled to arrive in Auckland at 6:50pm (so an ~11 hour ride). There are a handful of stops along the way with a few where there's time to get out and stretch your legs, but we spent a majority of the time in our seats (we got a table seat!) and looking out the windows at the passing scenery.

Some seats come in this arrangement of 4 with a table between them

For an 11 hour trip, it sure didn't feel like it to me as watching the landscape go by made the time also go by surprisingly fast. Somehow watching farm animals and mountains pass by still holds some appeal to me, especially when compared with planes which, for international flights, is often many hours of looking out at just clouds. The large windows also help with this, removing any problem of having a "bad seat" as almost every way you turn you've got large glass windows letting you see out.

NZ got cliffs...

The train also had running audio commentary of many of the sights and spots that we encountered along the way to occupy your time. You can opt in to these by plugging in some wired earphones/headphones into a small panel by your seat. Basic headphones are provided, almost like the ones that you'll get on planes, so that was good for me who opted to bring my wireless earphones in an effort to pack light for the trip. Every now and then you'd hear a ding noise to warn people that some audio commentary was coming up, and at these sounds my partner and I would go full tourist and pop the headphones on, noting that there was something very Pavlovian about our situation.

I did find a lot of the commentary interesting, particularly the history lessons for names of towns or regions, and how the railway finally came together so long ago.


And because the ride will cross over lunch time, there is a dedicated cafe car which serves up hot drinks, Wishbone food, plus some meat pies and ice creams. Of course, I had a pie for lunch 😋

...and so many farms

I've had friends and family ask me if they think taking the Northern Explorer is worth it, and my response would be a big YES, but with a little think about what it is you're wanting out of it: there are faster options (plane), and cheaper ones (plane, bus, car), but if the goal is to take a relaxed tour of the sights through a less-travelled path across the North Island, then the Northern Explorer is something to consider.