King Country tourist operator Forgotten World Adventures has put Taumarunui on the map with its iconic rail cart travel venture clocking up its five-thousandth customer in just its second season.
Forgotten World Adventures, which runs unique 150km rail cart tourism tours between Stratford and Taumarunui, celebrated the milestone on Friday, with a plaque and ceremony at Tokirima.
The business is in such high demand the number of petrol-driven rail cart tours have doubled to cater for increasing numbers.
Its spiralling popularity has prompted owner operator Ian Balme to buy the technology for state of the art rail bikes from Tasmania, which are expected to be in use on the scenic rural route, towards either the end of the 2014 season, or the 2015 season.
The company is making significant design changes to the two-seater rail bikes, to better suit local conditions.
Ian Balme says the expansion has been so fast "we've got a tiger by the tail, and we have to deal with that".
The company targetted 3800 for the current season, which opened last October, and has already passed that number by 400. He describes the tourism adventure as "a staggering success", a reflection of the business growing far more quickly than anticipated.
"We've doubled the number of tours this season to accommodate the increasing capacity by providing piggy-back tours 20 minutes after the first." Despite the high demand, visitors can get on a tour most days, but do need to book ahead.
Money is being reinvested into the business, with double the number of rail carts recently purchased, along with a large mini-bus to take tourists to the start of the rail tracks at Okahukura.
"The next season is going to be really exciting. We're already being paid back in spades for the investments we are making," he says. The business, which first opened in October 2012, offers tourists the chance to pass through historic sites, through 28 hand-dug tunnels, two viaducts and dozens of bridges. The self-driving, petrol-driven rail carts are either two or four seats, can carry bicycles and have a maximum speed of 20km/h.
Its success has been quickly recognised, in its first year of operation scooping the 2013 Ruapehu Tourism Awards: winner Best New Business winner and winner Best Use of Social Media winner. Forgotten World Adventures, took out the competitive South Taranaki District Council Best New Business category against five other finalists. It was also Highly Commended in the ITL Business Innovation & Entrepre-neurship Excellence Award, Highly Commended in the Air New Zealand Visitor Industry Excellence Award, and Commended in the Programmed Integrated Workforce Employer of Choice Excellence Award.