Seeing New Zealand by train is one certain way to make sure that everyone travelling can make the most of the incredible scenery New Zealand has to offer.
The problem with driving by car around New Zealand, practical and popular though it is, is that someone’s always going to have to be the driver, and there’s nothing worse than trying to keep your eyes on the road when your passenger keeps exclaiming, pointing and oohing and ahhing at the lanscapes you’re passing through!
Sure, the roads are usually quiet enough that you can make lots of swift, impromptu stops, and the most scenic routes have lots of viewing points on the roadside where you can pull in, but still, you do tend to miss a fair bit when you’re concentrating on watching out for wayward sheep crossing in front of you and not able to fully take in the beauty of the landscapes you’re driving through.
We always recommend that our travellers try to incorporate a few different modes of travel during their time in New Zealand, lets face it, there are plenty to choose from – whether its by car, ferry, bicycle, horseback, or, today’s blog post topic, by train.
Seeing New Zealand by train is a real treat, It gives you a chance to see parts of the country that aren’t accessible by road, and you get a whole new perspective when your standing out on the viewing carriage as the train races through some of New Zealand’s most iconic and simply superb scenery.
All the trains are fitted with headphones that offer commentary as you travel, plus information displays and overhead videos. The Café carriage serves drinks and snacks and the viewing platforms at the back of the trains offer great photo opportunities.
There are three main Kiwirail scenic journeys that connect various parts of both the North and South Island, but also worth investigating are the Taeiri Gorge railway in Dunedin and the fun Driving Creek Railway in The Coromandel, but they’re for another day’s blog post!
The most popular train journey to take in New Zealand is the trip from one side of the South Island to the other on the TranzAlpine Railway.
The crossing takes 4 ½ hours, and you can either opt for a return journey, or do what most of our travellers do and disembark in Greymouth, pick up a car and continue to explore South Island along the wild West Coast and on to Fiordland.
The TranzAlpine begins its journey in Christchurch and heads east through the expansive Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps, travelling alongside the Waimakiririr River, before climbing up through the Alps and on to Arthurs Pass National Park, where we guarantee you’ll be making the most of the viewing platform at the back of the train to take in the breathtaking scenery of the majestic Alps that surround you.
From here the train passes through the Otira tunnel and begins its descent. The landscape for the final part of your journey couldn’t be more different from the start, as you head down towards the Tasman Sea through the lush alpine Rainforests of the West Coast and into Greymouth which is a great place to base yourself for visits to Punakaiki and the Blowholes and the Glacier country of Franz Josef and Fox.
The Northern Explorer
This 12 hour journey from Auckland to Wellington takes you along the main trunk line as you cross viaducts and gorges across the Whanganui and Rangitikei Rivers. You’ll travel through 14 tunnels and over 352 bridges en route passing through rugged farmland and up the famous Raurimu spiral to the Volcanic Plateau where the peaks of Mounts Ruapehu, Mgaruhoe and Tongariro loom above you. Keen walkers might want to stop here for a few days to undertake one of New Zealands Great Walks, The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, before picking up the train to complete the journey.
As you approach the end of the crossing you’ll have views out to the Tasman Sea and nearby Kapiti Island, before you arrive in The Coolest Little Capital in the World, Wellington.
The journey isn’t the best loved of the three main routes through the country, and although the scenery isn’t as jaw dropping as you’ll see on the TranzAlpine, it’s still a super way to travel from one end of the country to another. Besides it takes a good eight hours to make the journey by car so adding an extra four on, wont make too much difference to your travelling time!
The Coastal Pacific
The Coastal Pacific train connects the small port town of Picton – the gateway to the fabulous Marlborough Sounds – to Christchurch, New Zealand’s most English city. Along the way you’ll pass through the wine growing region of Blenheim, and on through Kaikoura, where marine enthusiasts will want to make a stop for some Whale Watching or the opportunity to swim with dolphins.
From Kaikoura you continue to travel between the mountains and the sea until you reach the farmlands of the Canterbury Plains heading into Christchurch.
All of the trains run between October and March, and of course, you are more than welcome to get in touch if you’d like some more information about any of the routes, or about how to add a train journey to your Tailor made self drive adventure.