See the best of New Zealand by train
Whether you’re a Kiwi finally getting around to exploring the country, or flying in from overseas, a scenic train journey is one of the best ways to take in everything New Zealand has to offer.
The journey takes a minimum of three days, but you can extend it as long as you want. And with a number of incredible places to check out along the way, we’d recommend putting aside a few more. After all, it’s less about the destination and more about the journey, right?
Auckland to Wellington on the Northern Explorer
The Northern Explorer is New Zealand’s longest-running passenger service. And it’s not hard to see why. Setting off from Auckland, the Northern Explorer Train takes you south to Wellington, where you’ll experience the extremes of New Zealand’s scenery along the way. Lush farmlands, volcanoes, glimmering coastlines – you name it – all while breathing in the fresh air New Zealand is famous for. You really couldn’t ask for a better backdrop to enjoy the state-of-the-art service on the Northern Explorer.
It runs from Auckland to the capital three times a week, setting off from Auckland on Monday, Thursday and Saturday and returning the following day on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Travelling non-stop from Auckland to Wellington will take you a little less than twelve hours. But if you want to break it up, then you’ll want to hop off at Ohakune station and spend some time in Tongariro National Park.
Nestled in the heart of the North Island, Tongariro is both our oldest national park and a dual world heritage area. Home to two giant volcanoes, it’s one of the North Island’s most popular spots for outdoor enthusiasts, with plenty of hikes and ski fields to explore. Stop in for a day or find a place to stay and make it three – you won’t regret it.
Your next stop is Wellington, where you’ll arrive in the capital just after 6 pm. And at that time of day, there’s only one thing on your mind – dinner. Luckily for you, that’s something Wellington does better than most. The city is packed with excellent eateries, from cosy bistros to world-class restaurants and everything in between.
There’s also lots to see and do in the city if you want to take a few more days before boarding the Cook Strait ferry to continue your NZ train journey.
Ferry from Wellington to Picton on the Interislander
From Wellington, the Interislander ferry will sail you across the Cook Strait and into Picton. You can then choose to catch the Coastal Pacific train at 2:15 pm or spend a few days exploring the area before moving on.
There are plenty of hotels, motels and holiday parks for you to choose from, with so much to see and do. And just outside the township are some of the country’s great walks, not to mention shuttles and tours of our world-famous Marlborough wine country.
Picton to Christchurch on the Coastal Pacific
Again, you can travel all the way through to Christchurch, taking in the sights and enjoying the luxury. No judgement here. But why not take it slow and enjoy a few stops along the way? Especially with the Flexi/Flexi-plus ticket options, which let you hop on and off at any stop along the way. And the best spot? Kaikoura gets our vote.
Kaikoura is a popular place to spend the night, with activities starting bright and early the next morning. If you’re an ocean lover, you can’t pass up the world-famous whale watching tours. Or you can wander through the seaside town with some good food and gain an appreciation for how it’s changed since the 2016 earthquake. A new museum and a new alpine lake are just two of the things worth checking out.
Then at 5.10 pm, hop back on the Coastal Pacific and enjoy some delicious dinner options on board before you arrive in Christchurch.
Christchurch is another great city that’s changed significantly in the last few years. You can still ride the historic trams and go punting on the Avon River. But you can also take tours through the city and old residential areas, seeing first-hand how the city is rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake.
Christchurch to Greymouth on the TranzAlpine
Here we are – the final leg of the journey. Make sure you have the camera ready. This stretch is all about the scenery, running alongside the ice-fed Waimakariri river, crossing the majestic Southern Alps and winding through miles of native beech forest. It really is spectacular.
You’ll also stop in at the stunning Arthur’s Pass, where you have a choice: take five minutes to stretch your legs, or spend the night and hop back on the train the next day. Being high up in the mountains, the latter gives you the chance to explore one of the country’s truly sublime spots. Plus, you don’t need to be a mountaineer to enjoy it, as there are walking tracks of all grades available. And if you’re lucky, you might even meet a Kea – one of the cheeky local parrots up found there.
Pulling up in Greymouth often brings with it a deflated feeling, as you realise this epic adventure is coming to an end. But it doesn’t have to just yet. Greymouth is a destination in itself, with gold panning, glaciers and wildlife to explore, plus an abundance of great eateries and breweries to refuel at. The TranzAlpine train has links with the Intercity bus, or look up one of the local tour providers and book yourself a magical tour around the West Coast.
Get your New Zealand holiday on track
Complete the journey in three days or spread it out over a week and explore some of the best places New Zealand has to offer. It’s your call. Whichever way you play it, adventure, luxury and stunning scenery are all on the menu. Train trips in NZ are the perfect way to customise your itinerary.
Ready to see New Zealand by train? Book your journey today.