New Zealand rail travel is an exercise in relaxation. The main reason to choose a train journey? Spectacular scenery you simply can't see from the road.
New Zealand’s challenging landscapes demanded some remarkable feats of early railway engineers. While our rail network isn’t vast, thanks to their skill and determination, there are some incredible train journeys on offer.
Our great train trips travel through remote national parks, across spectacular volcanic landscapes, over braided river valleys and alpine passes and along rugged coastlines with steep mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.
In the North Island, the Northern Explorer links Wellington and Auckland. A remarkable 12-hour journey through the volcanic heart of the North Island with highlights including Tongariro National Park and the famous Raurimu Spiral, a feat of railway engineering.
The Northern Explorer’s carriages all have large windows for panoramic views of the magnificent landscapes. At the rear of the train, an observation carriage includes lounge-style seating surrounded by glass on three sides. There are also open-air observation areas and a buffet car for meals, drinks and snacks.
In the South Island, Kiwirail runs two magnificent railways.
Between Picton and Christchurch you can catch the Coastal Pacific. This scenic train journey is remarkable, with the Kaikoura Ranges rising steeply on one side and the Pacific Ocean swells washing over a rocky coastline on the other. Seals and penguins can often be seen on the rocks.
If you have a rail travel pass, make a stopover at the town of Kaikoura for a whale-watching safari. The next stage of this journey chuffs across the Canterbury Plains, where vast braided rivers dissect a patchwork of horticultural and farming landscapes. In total, the Coastal Pacific carries you through 22 tunnels and across 175 bridges.
The other South Island Kiwirail route is the TranzAlpine. The fantastically scenic train trip on the TranzAlpine - one of the world’s greatest - crosses the Southern Alps on a journey that links the city of Christchurch to historic Greymouth, a river town on the rugged West Coast. Highlights include the 73-metre-high Staircase viaduct, Arthur’s Pass National Park and the Otira tunnel.
The TranzAlpine covers 223.8 kilometres in four and a half hours. There are 19 tunnels and four viaducts. An outdoor viewing carriage will get you close to the fresh alpine air and spectacular scenery.
Each of Kiwirail Scenic Journey's great train trips can be completed as a single journey in one day. Or, with a multi-day Scenic Rail Pass, you can hop on and off to explore attractions along the way. The pass is also a convenient way to combine several of New Zealand’s great train trips into the rail journey of a lifetime.
Our other rail experiences rely on the passion and dedication of enthusiasts. Southland has the Kingston Flyer, Dunedin has the Taieri Gorge Railway and Auckland is the launching point for amazing boutique steam train trips around the whole country.
While each of New Zealand’s great train trips has its own personality, they all offer warm hospitality and expert commentary as they carry you in comfort through the youngest country on earth.