Full steam ahead for Sir Edmund Hillary Explorer

The Ab608 Passchendaele built in 1915 will carry the first part of Hillary Explorer. Photo: Supplied
The Ab608 Passchendaele built in 1915 will carry the first part of Hillary Explorer. Photo: Supplied
A classic train expedition named for New Zealand's most famous explorer is set to carry visitors the length of the South Island.

In March next year, the scarlet-pained carriages of Sir Edmund Hillary Explorer will be setting off on a 13-day adventure. Travelling the distance from Picton to Invercargill and back to Christchurch, visitors will be treated to the grand views and the landscapes that informed the explorer's story.

With stops in Marlborough, Kaikōura, Christchurch, Mt Cook/Aoraki and Dunedin - it could be considered the 'Mount Everest' of classic train tours.

For the first part of the journey the Sir Ed Express will be pulled by a memorial locomotive, the Ab608 Passchendaele built in 1915.

In spite of being over 106 years old, the sturdy steam engine has taken several high-profile guests around New Zealand, including the a couple of Royal tours.

The two DA locomotives went into service as Hillary was on Everest. Photo: Supplied
The two DA locomotives went into service as Hillary was on Everest. Photo: Supplied
The magnificent WW1 Memorial train will rest-up after Kaikōura, where the carriages will be picked up by not one but two 1950s DA locomotives. These two engines came into service in 1953 - the same year as the historic Tenzing / Hillary expedition - and will be hauling the train all the way to Invercargill.

Peter Hillary, son of the explorer, said he was "excited to be involved with this incredible rail tour of the South Island."

The route holds particular significance for his family as a place where the family of mountaineers have always gone for adventure.

Beginning in Marlborough where Edmund Hillary trained with the RAF NZ - there will be chance to stop off in Christchurch, to learn more about his father's expedition to the south pole "crossing Antarctica using converted farm tractors".

Guests will have chance to ride the restored 1870s Kingston Flyer. Photo: Supplied
Guests will have chance to ride the restored 1870s Kingston Flyer. Photo: Supplied
From Southland guests will visit the 1870s Kingston Flyer, which is back on the rails after an almost decade-long restoration, before finally heading to Franz Josef for a ride back to Christchurch on the famous TranzAlpine express.

"The Sir Edmund Hillary Explorer really is the way to see the south," says Peter Hillary. "Trains, stunning scenery and experiences and the spirit of the man."

"Sir Edmund Hillary was the inspiration for us when planning this experience of a lifetime in Ed's own backyard, Te Waipounamu, the South Island of New Zealand," said managing director of Pounamu Tourism group, Paul Jackson.

- For more information on booking and tickets go to https://www.journeys.odt.nz/

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