There’s no more romantic way of travelling than by train. And while you can’t cross the length and breadth of New Zealand by rail, you can still see a fair bit of the country, and some of the world’s best scenery, from a train carriage.
Here’s a rundown of the main train trips run by Kiwirail Scenic Journeys, plus some vintage train trips run by rail enthusiasts who dedicate enormous amounts of time and energy to ensuring things like steam trains aren’t relegated to history.
The Northern Explorer
Auckland to Wellington
The Northern Explorer's ten and half hour trip takes you through the lovely mountain country of the Central Plateau, stopping at Ohakune and National Park. It also stops at Hamilton and Palmerston North.
Cross river gorges, journey through native forests and lush farmland, and experience the famous Raurimu Spiral. The Northern Explorer service operates an off peak and peak timetable to accommodate summer travellers and the New Zealand school holidays.
The new air-conditioned carriages feature oversized side windows combined with unique skylight roof windows and an outside viewing car where nothing gets between you and the great outdoors. Passengers can relax in seating around tables or in recliners that rotate in any direction and inside there is automated commentary via headphones and information on HD video screens. The café car is the place to sample unique and tasty local cuisine washed down with renowned New Zealand wines or boutique beers.
The Coastal Pacific
Christchurch to Picton
Ride the Coastal Pacific up the east coast of the South Island and you’ll be treated to views of the mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, at Kaikoura. The train stops at Kaikoura and Blenheim, and connects with the interisland ferries at Picton, for travel to the North Island.
The TranzAlpine Train
Christchurch to Greymouth
The TranzAlpine’s four-and-a-half hour trip travels through the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury Plains, follow the Waimakariri River via spectacular viaducts into the Southern Alps. Stop at Arthur’s Pass, then descend through rainforest past Lake Brunner, before arriving at Greymouth on the West Coast. It leaves from Christchurch and Greymouth daily.
Steam train rides
Leaves from Dunedin Railway Station daily and travels through the spectacular Taieri River Gorge over wrought iron viaducts and through tunnels carved by hand more than 100 years ago. With on-board commentary, refreshments and photographic stops.
Where to stay: Holiday homes in Dunedin
Bay of Islands Vintage Railway
Runs from Kawakawa to Taumarere, but will eventually connect with Opua, when the line is complete. It runs four times a day on school and public holidays, and weekends. The round trip takes around an hour, and you can stop off at Taumarere and take a later train back to Kawakawa if you wish.
Gabriel the Steam Engine
Gabriel was given on loan to the Bay of Islands Scenic Railway in 1985 and was subsequently purchased by the Bay Of Islands Vintage Railway Trust. It was at this point that she was renamed Gabriel. Since then Gabriel has become a real icon of Kawakawa, one of the few towns in the world with a railway track running through the middle of the main street. Runs Friday to Monday in the school holidays and at weekends during the rest of the year.
Where to stay: Holiday Homes in the Bay of Islands
Glenbrook Vintage Railway
Trains operate from Glenbrook Station, south of Auckland, from late October to June. Travel by coach from downtown Auckland to the GVR for rides aboard a special chartered steam train plus dinner in Waiuku.
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