Rail tourism

Page 3 – Holidaymakers

As well as day excursions, from the mid-1890s New Zealand Railways (NZR) offered special deals for travellers taking longer rail journeys during the Christmas, Easter and school holidays. NZR also teamed up with the country’s two largest private tourist operators, the Union Steam Ship Company and Thomas Cook and Sons. Together, they promoted combined rail/steamer and rail/coach tours of the North Island’s Hot Lakes District and the South Island’s Cold Lakes and Glacial District.

In January 1901 the Liberal government’s minister of railways, Joseph Ward, established a Tourist Office within the Railways Department. Soon after, this evolved into an independent Department of Tourist and Health Resorts – the first dedicated government tourist department in the world.

But tourism would not prove to be a gold mine for New Zealand – not yet anyway. The country was located 'at the wrong end of the world' and the number of overseas visitors stagnated. As the Tourist Department dithered in the 1920s, the Railways Department took the lead in promoting this so-called 'Cinderella industry' both here and overseas.

The time was ripe for an expansion of domestic tourism. A leisure and beach culture had begun to emerge in the late 19th century and by the 1920s it was flourishing. Day trips remained popular, but more New Zealanders could now afford longer holidays of a week or more, particularly over the Christmas–New Year period.

Wages were rising, especially for clerical and skilled workers, and working hours were falling. Most urban employees now worked five days a week rather than six. Many enjoyed paid annual holidays of a week or more. Declining family sizes also made longer holidays a cheaper and more manageable option.

Tourist operators were aided by the emerging advertising industry. Together, they promoted the family holiday as an aspiration, an essential ingredient of a healthy lifestyle and a symbol of social status. With car ownership still beyond the reach of most working people, NZR was well placed to cash in on the inter-war holiday boom.

How to cite this page

'Holidaymakers', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/rail-tourism/holiday-makers, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012