FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Driving up the devil’s staircase

Posted in Gibbston, Milford Sound, New Zealand by folkestonejack on December 30, 2015

The 186 mile journey from Milford Sound took us back through the Homer Tunnel and onto the state highway towards Gibbston via Te Anau and Kingston. It is a long and somewhat awkward drive that takes you considerably further away from your destination (as the crow flies) at first but it’s not without points of interest. The winding stretch up the side of Lake Wakatipu, known as the Devil’s Staircase, was particularly memorable with its rises and falls.

The Devil's Staircase

The Devil’s Staircase

The traffic flow on the first part of the route tends to be tidal, with very little traffic out of Milford Sound in the morning and plenty coming in, leaving us with a largely empty road. In contrast, the last part of the journey was the most painful, skirting Queenstown at a crawl before making it into Gibbston in late afternoon.

Our route took us past what remains of the Kingston Flyer, one of the most high profile steam railways in New Zealand but sadly out of action for a few years now. We stopped off at the Kingston terminus and could see the locomotives fenced off in a compound and the station building looking rather forlorn.

The line originally ran from Invercargill to Kingston, where passengers could embark on a steamship for the crossing to Queenstown. A small monument on the waterfront reminds us that the Wakatipu steamers Mountaineer and Earnshaw were assembled in this vicinity on 11th February 1879 and 24th February 1912 respectively.

The Kingston Flyer compound

The Kingston Flyer compound

In its preservation days the line that the Kingston Flyer travelled was considerably shorter, with its final incarnation seeing trains on the eight and a half mile line between Fairlight and Kingston. Neither location seems to have offered passengers much in the way of attractions besides a ride on the train which perhaps limited its appeal. Nevertheless, the railway has a gorgeous setting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu with the mountains as a backdrop so it is a shame that it hasn’t proved to be more successful.