Spectacular sights on the Northern Explorer

The North Island is a lush stretch of sleeping volcanoes, towering viaducts and deep serpentine gorges. And the Northern Explorer is the best way to see it all. From Auckland all the way to Wellington and return, you can hop on the train at any starting point you choose. Once aboard you’ll be treated to a journey of panoramic views and fabulous service.

Northern Explorer Leaving National Park Feature

If you’re planning your holiday in New Zealand, there’s no better way of seeing the untamed natural beauty our country is known for, than travelling by train. The Northern Explorer ticks all the boxes for comfort and entertainment, with a built-in audio commentary to tune into if you want to learn about the majestic sites along the way. Between the snowcapped peaks of Mt Ruapehu, right through to the wild shores of the Kapiti Coast – you’ll have your face pressed to the window, eyes wide, camera in hand for the entire journey.

Looking out the windows of the Northern Explorer train

Settle in and enjoy the ride

Check out our fares from Auckland to Wellington and get ready for a journey that will stay with you long after you get off at the other end. And to make sure you’re prepared for the best parts, we’ve narrowed down our top sights to see along the way. Once onboard, you’ll travel across the Waikato Plains, before chugging along the rolling hills of King Country. From here, the sights get more and more beautiful. Take a look at our route map before you go to see what you’re in for.

Raurimu spiral

In the early afternoon, you’ll begin the ascent into the Central Plateau. Here you’ll come across the Raurimu Spiral, which was known as the “engineering masterpiece” of its time. It was designed in 1898 to make the 139-metre ascent onto the plateau possible, without needing to divert way off course. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you see the end carriages wrap around the horseshoe, like a snake.

Northern Explorer Raurimu Spiral Aerial View

Tongariro National Park

Traversing along the tracks at approximately 800m above sea level is surprisingly smooth despite the hilly terrain. That’s thanks to the well-constructed viaducts that bridge the deep twisting gorges. The biggest (and most photo-worthy) of these viaducts are the Makatote, Manganui-o-te-Ao and Hapuawhenua. From the wide windows, passengers can see the rushing Manganui o te Ao River river below, where many streams connect from the might Mt Ruapehu to the West.

It’s these viaducts that make travelling between Auckland and Wellington possible. At the Manganui-o-te-Ao, look out for an obelisk on the western bank just north of the viaduct. This marks the spot where the opening ceremony took place back in 1908.

But on a clear Winter day, the real highlight of this leg of the journey is when you see Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe in the distance, their peaks often dusted with snow.

Aerial View of the Northern Explorer beneath Mount Ruapehu

Hapuawhenua Viaduct

Jutting out of the vibrant native bush, is the Hapuawhenua Viaduct. Here you’ll witness an endless sea of ponga trees beneath the train, as you glide across the mighty overpass. The viaduct is 284 metres long, 45 metres above the stream and has an incredible view of the Ohakune Old Coach Road, towering above the river. Now converted into a cycleway, this is the spot where AJ Hackett ran New Zealand's first bungy jump in 1987. If you aren’t afraid of heights, then take a moment to look down. You’ll feel like you’re flying above the lush expanse of green native bush below.

Northern Explorer train crossing the Hapiawhenua Viaduct

Rangitikei Gorge

Known as the Grand Canyon of Rangitikei, this stunning gorge is like a narrow serpent, turning sharply with the pressure from the dynamic Rangitikei River. Here the famous World War II artist, Peter Mcintyre, spent long days writing and painting. He expressed: “The river is so deep between high papa cliffs that at the bottom where the river runs it is merely twilight even on a sunny day.”

And it’s this majesty you can try capture with your camera too. The soft sandstone papa cliffs rise steeply from the blue water below, standing starkly against the green ferns that cover the gorge — making for the perfect photo opportunity, showcasing New Zealand’s raw natural beauty.   

Taking photos of the Rangitikei Gorge from the Northern Explorer train

Kapiti Coast

Finally, before you reach Wellington, the final stop on the journey, you’ll see the iconic Kapiti Coast stretch past your window. This part of the track is a non-stop treat for the eyes. Between the rugged cliffs, the wicked sea, and the glowing sunset behind Kapiti Island, there are few views more sublime than those seen on the Kapiti Coast. As you gaze out at the scenery, you won’t be able to help yourself from taking photo after photo of this famous stretch of the wild Westcoast.

View from the Northern Explorer train of Kapiti Coastline

The perfect ending to the journey is reaching Wellington’s twinkling harbour of lights, just in time for our Capital city to come to life for the night.

See the sights in total comfort

A trip onboard the Northern Explorer is your chance to enjoy a stunning and cosy journey through the heart of the North Island. You’ll feel like you’re gliding through the winding terrain, as you see the remarkable sights through the gigantic panoramic windows and Open-air carriage. So make your train booking today, and get ready to see the beautiful ever-changing scenery New Zealand is famed for, in complete comfort.

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