The Journey

The Northern Explorer rumbles through the heart of the North Island on an epic journey that covers 680km of New Zealand's finest scenery, as it travels between Auckland and Wellington.

Journeying through the heart of the North Island on the Northern Explorer

Settle down for the journey of a lifetime

Setting off from Auckland, our cosmopolitan City of Sails, the first chapter of the Northern Explorer's epic journey is across the mighty Waikato Plains to Hamilton, famous for its gardens and the Hobbiton film set. The Northern Explorer then begins is journey into the rolling hills of King Country, stopping at Otorohanga in late morning.

the Northern Explorer train journeys across the Hapuawhenua Viaduct

In the early afternoon, the Northern Explorer begins its ascent onto the Central Plateau, where the snow-capped volcano of Ruapehu dominates the skyline. En-route you will find yourself winding tightly around the historic Raurimu Spiral that was designed in 1898 to make the 139 metre ascent onto the plateau possible, without a lengthy diversion.

As you travel through National Park, the eastern skyline will feature the distinctive volcanic cone of Nguarahoe, which starred as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movie. Further south, the massive peak of Ruapehu will dominate the horizon as the Northern Explorer skirts around its foothills and over the dramatic Hapuawhenua Viaduct before stopping at Ohakune and heading out to Palmerston North.

Northern Explorer running along the Kapiti Coastline

The final stretch of this marathon scenic journey sees you clinging to rugged cliffs of the Kapiti Coast before easing into our twinkling harbourside capital city, Wellington. Your arrival is perfectly timed with the descent of early evening, when the city's boutique bars and worldly restaurants come to life.

Explore beyond the tracks

The most popular stops on the Northern Explorer are Otorohanga, for the magical Waitomo Caves, and National Park, for the Tongariro Crossing. Ohakune is renowned for its winter skiing, but it is rapidly becoming a popular stop for its off road cycle trails and, in particular, the Old Coach Road.

For detailed information on what you can see beyond the tracks, see our Northern Explorer destinations section.

Connect with our scenic network

Wellington is the gateway to the South Island and no trip to New Zealand would be complete without taking the iconic three-and-a-half hour Interislander cruise through the Marlborough Sounds. The Interislander brings you to Picton, where the Coastal Pacific train will take you on to Christchurch.

For detailed tips on connecting with the North Island and South Island, see our Northern Explorer connections section.

Explore our trains

To find out more about the on-board experience, including the seating, panoramic windows, café and open air viewing carriage, please visit our On Board Our Trains page.