The 5 Best Train Journeys in New Zealand

railway journeys new zealand

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Outside the greater Auckland and Wellington regions, train travel is not an everyday way of getting around in New Zealand. However, a small number of mostly long-distance routes provide a scenic and relaxed alternative to driving around New Zealand . One of these spans most of the length of the North Island, while the others traverse different regions of the South Island.

As well as connecting places of interest travelers, train travel has the benefit of allowing you to relax. Driving in New Zealand can be challenging because of the mountainous terrain and lack of highways, so including a train journey as part of your itinerary can allow you to relax and soak in the beautiful landscapes.

Here's what you need to know about the scenic train journeys of New Zealand.

Northern Explorer: Auckland to Wellington

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The Northern Explorer starts in Auckland and ends in Wellington, or vice versa. The route cuts through the center of the North Island and takes about 11 hours to complete, which is a comparable time to driving this same distance (400 miles). Scenic highlights include the farmland of Waikato, the dramatic hillocks and forests of the King Country, Tongariro National Park and its three volcanoes (Tongariro, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe), and the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington.

The Northern Explorer is a comfortable train with seats clustered around tables. There's an open-air viewing platform, onboard toilets (which are more spacious than airplane toilets), and a dining cart serving food and drinks. The food served on the train tends to be overpriced and underwhelming, so it's a good idea to bring a picnic (BYO alcohol is not allowed, however).

Travelers on the Northern Explorer can get off at stations en route, such as at Otorohanga for the Waitomo Caves or Ohakune for the Tongariro National Park, and continue on another train a few days later, or pick up a car and continue the journey from there. The train runs in either direction a few times per week, year-round.

Marlborough Flyer: Picton to Blenheim

 Elen Turner

The Marlborough Flyer is the shortest (and the most charming) of the journeys on this list, as it travels a mere 18 miles between Picton and Blenheim , in the Marlborough region at the top of the South Island. By car this trip takes less than 30 minutes, but the train ride takes about an hour.

While the train travels a short distance, riding it is an experience in and of itself. As as it's a steam train from 1915, the carriages look appropriately vintage. Each carriage is sponsored by a local winery (Marlborough is the largest producer of wine in New Zealand ) and samples are given on board.

Starting in the beautiful port town of Picton in the Marlborough Sounds , the Marlborough Flyer travels past the practically endless fields of vineyards outside Blenheim before stopping at Blenheim Station, which conveniently houses The Wine Station . This innovative wine-tasting bar offers dozens of local wines in self-serve machines.

The Marlborough Flyer can be traveled as a return trip from Picton after arriving in the South Island on the Interislander Ferry, or one-way in either direction.

Coastal Pacific: Picton to Christchurch

 naumoid / Getty Images

The Coastal Pacific travels along the east coast of the upper South Island, covering the 208 miles between Picton and Christchurch, stopping roughly halfway in Kaikoura . Kaikoura is a popular whale-watching destination so many travelers take the opportunity to stop there for a couple of days before continuing the train journey.

Like the Northern Explorer, the Coastal Pacific is comfortable and comes with onboard amenities. Scenic Plus Class provides freshly prepared food and commentary in an upgraded carriage.

The Coastal Explorer is seasonal and runs from early spring (September) until mid-autumn (April). It runs three times a week.

TranzAlpine: Christchurch to Greymouth

The TranzAlpine cuts through the mountainous center of the South Island, from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west. The 139-mile journey takes five hours to complete and starts in the flat expanses of the Canterbury Plains before traveling up over the Southern Alps and ending on the wild and rugged West Coast.

The TranzAlpine is a handy way of traveling from coast to coast, which can be a challenging route to drive. Greymouth is a handy jumping-off point for exploring the West Coast, where the Hokitika Gorge, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers , Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, and the Paparoa National Park are highlights.

Like the other long-distance trains, amenities and comforts are available onboard. Scenic Plus Class offers an upgraded service.

Taieri Gorge Railway: Dunedin to Middlemarch

m-kojot / Getty Images

The Taieri Gorge Railway is another journey that's less about getting from point A to B and more about enjoying the ride. The route travels through some classic big-sky Central Otago landscape, as well as the Taieri Gorge itself. Starting in Dunedin, at the famous neo-gothic Dunedin Railway Station, the Taieri Gorge Railway travels 47 miles to the small town of Middlemarch, locally famous for its annual Singles Ball. The highlight of the trip is the dramatic Taieri Gorge, carved by the Taieri River, between the Taieri Plains and the high Maniototo Plateau, and the high railbridge.

Most passengers on the Taieri Gorge Railway return to Dunedin on the same day, as Middlemarch isn't very conveniently located for traveling elsewhere in Otago.

The Taieri Gorge Railway is run by Dunedin Railways, which also offers a couple of other day-trip train rides from Dunedin: the Inlander (between Dunedin and Hindon) and the Seasider (between Dunedin and Waitati).

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Whether you're an overseas visitor or a born-and-bred New Zealander, trains are the best way to travel between New Zealand's three main cities, Auckland, Wellington and (with a little help from the Interislander ferry) Christchurch.  Trains are also the way to reach the North Island's Tongariro National Park, the South Island's west coast at Greymouth, the whale-watching and dolphin-swimming centre at Kaikoura or the Marlborough vineyards at Blenheim.  See the route map opposite.

Unlike domestic flights, the trains take you at ground level past superb scenery that can't be seen by road, in civilised comfort that cramped and uncivilised long-distance buses can't match.  So ditch that short-haul flight and actually see New Zealand!

New Zealand's long-distance trains are operated by Kiwi Rail's passenger division, originally called Tranz Scenic but returned to public ownership in 2008 as KiwiRail Scenic and in 2017 rebranded yet again as Great Journeys of New Zealand .  Who knows what it will be called next year?  This page explains routes, train times, fares, the best way to buy tickets, and what there is to see on the journey.

Train times, fares, tickets

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Other useful information

Interactive route map.

Click a route for info.

Useful country information

Auckland to wellington by train.

The train ride from Auckland to Wellington over the North Island Main Trunk Railway is an amazing experience and one of my favourite journeys.  So ditch that domestic flight or nightmare bus journey and ride the Northern Explorer from downtown Auckland to central Wellington, in comfort at ground level.  Stop off if you like at the Tongariro National Park.  This is an epic 681 kilometre (423 mile) journey right across the interior of the North Island, taking you in a single day past every kind of scenery there is, from coastline to volcanoes to mountains, from lush green farmland to thick New Zealand rainforest.  The historic North Island Main Trunk Railway was completed in 1908 and includes such feats of engineering at the Raurimu Spiral , Turangarere Horseshoe & Makatote Viaduct.

For times, fares, information & photos, see the Northern Explorer page .

Wellington to Picton by ferry

New Zealand's Interislander is one of the most scenic ferry crossings in the world, easily the best way between the North & South Islands - a genuine experience, not a mere flight.  There are up to 5 daily sailings across the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton, crossing time 3½ hours.  The 08:45 sailing from Wellington and 14:15 sailing from Picton connect with the Coastal Pacific train to/from Christchurch, see the Wellington-Christchurch timetable below .  The Cook Strait has a reputation for choppy seas, but in reality only a third of the crossing is actually in the Strait itself, most of it is in very sheltered waters, and in my experience it was rock steady on the big, modern and stabilised ferry Kaitaki .

Interislander sailings from Wellington:  06:15*, 08:45, 13:00, 15:45, 20:30**.

Interislander sailings from picton:  07:30*, 11:00*, 14:15, 18:30, 20:35..

Crossing time 3½ hours.  * Not Mondays.  ** Not Saturdays.

Times vary by season, so check ferry fares & times at www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz/interislander . 

In Wellington , the Interislander terminal is a long walk north of the railway station, but a free shuttle bus clearly marked Interislander leaves from platform 9 at the railway station 50 minutes before each sailing.  The journey time is 5 minutes.  Foot passengers must check in at the terminal at least 30 minutes before sailing time.  All heavy baggage is checked in so only hand luggage is carried on board.  Passengers connecting with the train to Christchurch can check in bags in Wellington all the way through to Christchurch.

In Picton , the Interislander terminal is 200 metres from the station.  All heavy baggage is checked in so only hand luggage needs to be carried on board.

The 08:25 sailing from Wellington & 13:15 sailing from Picton connect with the Coastal Pacific train to/from Christchurch.  You can book combined Wellington-Christchurch ferry & train tickets  online at www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz , but see the advice bee below to get the cheaper tickets.  Both these sailings are normally operated by the Kaitaki , the largest ferry in New Zealand waters.

The Kaitaki may look familiar to ferry travellers from Ireland or the UK.  She started life in 1995 as the Isle of Innisfree on the Irish Ferries Holyhead-Dublin and Pembroke-Rosslare routes, and later the P&O's Pride of Cherbourg on the Portsmouth-Cherbourg route.  The Interislander ferry company was started in 1962 by New Zealand Railways, hence its close connections with the train service to Christchurch.  Another ferry company also operates several daily ferries between Wellington and Picton, www.bluebridge.co.nz , but these ferries don't connect with the train to Christchurch.

Kaitaki Plus first class lounge:   For an extra NZ$80 paid on board, you can access the Kaitaki Plus lounge with quiet seating, power sockets, free WiFi, complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and a free light hot meal.  Over-18s only.  On the down side, the views from the lounge are slightly obstructed, and you may spend much of the crossing on deck, gazing at the scenery!

A voyage on the Interislander

The ship sails out of the Interislander terminal at Wellington and heads out of the harbour in a wide arc with views of Wellington's seafront.

It passes the suburb of Seatoun on the right and exits the harbour into the Cook strait separating the North and South Islands.  Also on the right are some wicked-looking rocks, including the Barrett Reef where the Lyttelton-Wellington overnight ferry m/v Wahine came to grief in a storm in 1968.

The crossing of the Cook Strait itself only lasts an hour, and at the other side the ferry passes between narrow headlands into the Tory Channel.  Named after the "Tory", a migrant ship which passed through the channel in 1840, the Tory Channel is one of the Marlborough Sounds, a narrow channel between Arapawa Island on the right and a strip of mainland on the left.

The ship slowly follows this channel, through an 's' bend, entering the larger Queen Charlotte Sound and finally arriving at Picton, a small town and the railhead for the South island.

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Picton to Christchurch by train

The most comfortable and scenic way to travel from Wellington to Christchurch is to take the famous Interislander ferry and the connecting Coastal Pacific train.  Named TranzCoastal until 2011, the train has now regained its original name Coastal Pacific .

* Runs from late September until late April.  Runs every day in summer, February-April.  For exact dates see www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz .  The Coast Pacific used to run daily all year but was reduced to running in New Zealand's summer season only.  It was planned to restore all-year-round running in 2019, but this didn't happen.

One class of seating, cafe-bar, open-air viewing platform.

There are other Wellington-Picton Interislander ferry sailings, see www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz/interislander , only the rail-connected sailing is shown here.  It leaves Wellington at 08:45 on some dates, and northbound times vary too, so always check for your date of travel.

Children aged 2-14 travel at reduced fare.  Infants under 2 travel free.

How to buy tickets

Option 1, you can buy Wellington-Christchurch combined train+ferry tickets (or tickets between any other two stations on this route) at KiwiRail's official passenger train website www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz with print-your-own tickets.

Option 2, you can buy tickets for the train and tickets for the ferry at 12go.com , a reliable agency.  The process is easy, but you need to book the Wellington-Picton ferry and Picton-Christchurch train separately.  Tickets are usually confirmed within 24h and sent by email.

What's the train like?

The Coastal Pacific uses new AK panoramic sightseeing coaches built in KiwiRail's Dunedin workshops in New Zealand in 2011-2012.  These replace the old rebuilt 1930s & 1940s carriages used until 2012. Photos courtesy of James Chuang

Comfortable seats , most facing direction of travel, some in bays of 4 around a table, all lining up with huge panoramic windows (note the roof skylights too!), with loads of legroom even if you're over six feet tall.  Seats are not always allocated at booking, but by the train manager before departure.  However, if you book by phone (or book online and then call KiwiRail's freephone number when you get to NZ and quote your booking reference) you can make a seating request.  For example, four friends or family travelling together could request one of the few bays of 4 seats facing each other around a table, keen photographers could request a seat close to the viewing platform.  Requests can't be guaranteed, of course, but it doesn't hurt to ask!  All your heavy baggage is checked in to the baggage van, only hand luggage may be taken into the seating coaches.  All seats in the new 'AK' cars have power sockets for mobiles, laptops or cameras (New Zealand voltage and plug, of course).  Larger photo .

New Premium class:   From October 2020, a new Premium class carriage was added to the Coastal Pacific, with extra-legroom extra-width reclining seats arranged 2+1 across the car width (the usual cars have seats 2+2 across the car) and included food & wine, served at your seat.

Cafe-bar:   In the centre of the train is a counter selling tea, coffee, wine, beer, spirits, snacks & light microwaveable meals at reasonable prices.  I can recommend a cream tea in the afternoon, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc!  You can buy at the counter and take your food & drink back to your seat, but staff also come through the train taking orders for delivery to your seat.  Bring cash, as cards are sometimes not accepted if the credit card machine is out of cellphone range.  Larger photo .

Open-air viewing platform:   At the Wellington end of the train (rear going north, behind the locomotive going south) is a large open-air viewing platform, ideal for seeing and photographing the scenery, with no glass in between you and it.  Children must be accompanied.  The viewing cars now have additional rails to prevent you leaning out.

What's the journey like?

Travel tips, about the journey, christchurch to greymouth by train.

The TranzAlpine is the most scenic train journey in New Zealand, and one of the most scenic train trips in the world.  Not surprisingly, it's become the most successful of all the Kiwi Rail Great Journeys passenger train services, very popular with tour groups because of the spectacular crossing of the Southern Alps between Christchurch and the South Island's west coast at Greymouth.  It's a fantastic trip, though in my opinion neither as epic or as historically-significant as the Auckland-Wellington Northern Explore r .

See the TranzAlpine page for times, fares & details .

Christchurch to Dunedin & Invercargill

Once important cities, Dunedin and Invercargill have declined in importance and apparently no longer justify a proper train service to the rest of New Zealand.  The last Christchurch-Dunedin-Invercargill train service, the daily "Southerner" over the South island's Main South Line, was withdrawn in 2004.  Nowadays, anyone wishing to reach these towns must endure a long bus journey from Christchurch.  Here are the main bus services, although an additional bus may run on Fridays and Sundays.  Please check times before travelling at the bus operator websites,   www.intercity.co.nz .

Fares & how to buy tickets

 Christchurch-Dunedin costs NZ$33-$46.  Christchurch-Invercargill costs NZ$35-$67.  You can check fares and book bus tickets online at www.intercity.co.nz .

Christchurch to Queenstown & Milford Sound

There were never any train services to Queenstown, although historically you might have taken a slow train from Invercargill to Kingston (the preserved Kingston Flyer train uses part of this route), then a steamer across Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown, a route on which Queenstown's famous 100-year old working steamship Earnslaw would have worked.  Today, there are bus services operated by national operator Intercity.  You need to change buses and overnight in Queenstown if you are travelling to/from Milford Sound.

 You can check times, fares and book bus tickets online at www.intercity.co.nz .

Dunedin - Queenstown by train

The taieri gorge railway.

The most rewarding way to travel between Dunedin and Queenstown was via the Taieri Gorge Railway's Track & Trail train/bus link, but sadly they no longer offer this train-bus combo (perhaps you could arrange a private transfer between Pukerangi & Queenstown using a Queenstown taxi service?).  However, you can still ride the Taieri Gorge Railway ( www.dunedinrailways.co.nz ), a preserved railway running daily year-round tourist trains through spectacular scenery over part of the old Dunedin-Cromwell branch railway.  Leaving from the beautiful and much-photographed 1906 railway station in Dunedin's town centre, it travels a few kilometres south over the South Island Main Trunk Line (still well-used for freight but sadly with no passenger service) before branching off inland through the scenic gorge that gives the line its name.  The train terminates at Pukerangi, 58 km from Dunedin, extended to Middlemarch on summer Fridays & Sundays, 76 km from Dunedin.  Highly recommended!  The Taieri Gorge Railway now also operates a tourist train called the Seasider along the main line between Dunedin and Palmerston.

U pdate:  The Taieri Gorge Railway ceased operating to Pukerangi, although now runs some seasonal trains on shorter runs, see www.dunedinrailways.co.nz

* = The railway no longer offers an integrated bus connection.

To check times, fares & buy tickets, contact the Taieri Gorge Railway on www.dunedinrailways.co.nz or call (03) 477 4449.

G uidebooks

Lonely Planet New Zealand - click to buy online

Click to buy online at Amazon.co.uk

Lonely Planet New Zealand     Rough Guide to New Zealand

Hotels in New Zealand

In Auckland , the Airedale Hotel or Mercure Auckland Hotel are both sound central choices, the latter right near the Britomart station and Devonport ferry terminal, though not the cheapest options. 

In Wellington , the Shepherds Arms Hotel is a cosy gastro pub just 15 minutes walk from Parliament and the city centre with friendly staff, great food and good beer.  A top choice!

Backpacker hostels

www.hostelworld.com :  If you're on a tight budget, don't forget about backpacker hostels.  Hostelworld offers online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in many places in New Zealand at rock-bottom prices.

Flights to New Zealand

Overland travel by train & bus around New Zealand is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But a long-haul flight might be unavoidable to reach New Zealand in the first place.

1)  Check flight prices at Opodo, www.opodo.com

2)  use skyscanner to compare flight prices & routes worldwide across 600 airlines....

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3)  Lounge passes

Make the airport experience a little more bearable with a VIP lounge pass, it's not as expensive as you think!  See www.loungepass.com

Travel insurance & other tips

Always take out travel insurance.

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy with Staysure.co.uk myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

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Get an eSIM with mobile data package

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a mobile data package for the country you're visiting and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM card so you don't need to buy a physical SIM, including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility list .  Maya.net is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data .

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month at time of writing.  The money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.

How it works:   1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android .  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than digging a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card , they'll give you £5 cashback through that link.

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  W hy you need a VPN

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explained .  ExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription.  I get a small commission to help support this site.

Carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, vaccination records and Interrail or Eurail passes are often held digitally on your mobile phone, so it's vital to keep it charged.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over if I can't get to a power outlet.  Buy from Amazon.co.uk or from Buy from Amazon.com .

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New Zealand

There are relatively few scenic rail journeys in New Zealand but wow, they deliver truly spectacular travel experiences!  The TranzAlpine, Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific can all be considered world-class rail journeys. Combine these iconic rail trips with unique accommodation and activities, and our featured tours will take you to the destinations you want to see, with some stunning vistas along the way.

View our tour selection below or contact us to find out more about pricing and departures.

Jump to section:

NZ Rail Tours Off the Beaten Track by Train Short Rail Breaks Day Trips by Train

New Zealand Rail Tours

Choose from our unrivalled choice of New Zealand's finest Escorted Tours or fully flexible Independent Rail Holidays.

20 Day New Zealand Rail Journey

This 20 day New Zealand rail journey will deliver you many of the countries best scenic attractions and each of NZ’s three scenic rail experiences.

3 Great Journeys by LOCO Journeys

If your ambition is to travel on each of NZ’s scenic trains, our Three Great Journeys will achieve your dream. A fully flexible independent tour, it will match your time, budget and expectations.

Auckland to Christchurch; Cities & Coastal Highlights

This 10-day city and coastal highlights tour will take you on a journey through the North and South Island’s from Auckland to Christchurch.

Captivating Coast; Wellington to Christchurch

Join us on this guided captivating Wellington to Christchurch train tour. Glide across the magnificent Cook Strait, along coastal beaches and through mountain valleys.

Christchurch to Queenstown; Alpine Highlights

Join us on this week long guided scenic train tour, through the mighty Southern Alps, to the wild West Coast and on to Queenstown.

Cities and Sea; Auckland to Christchurch Rail Tour

Explore New Zealand’s cities and sea journey via its remote regions, travelling on this Auckland to Christchurch rail tour.

Forgotten World Adventure from Wellington Return

Take the ultimate scenic rail journey through New Zealand to the historic location of Taumarunui and enjoy a forgotten world…

Inspirational Alps; Christchurch to Queenstown

Join us on an unforgettable journey through the South Island on a Christchurch to Queenstown train adventure.

Inspiring North Island Train Tour

Join us on this signature rail journey from Auckland to Wellington exploring volcanic peaks, and NZ’s idyllic natural landscapes.

New Zealand Rail Highlights

Join us on this fabulous scenic guided New Zealand rail highlights tour through the heart and soul of New Zealand, featuring all three Great Rail Journeys.

New Zealand Rail Tour – Up Close

Discover off the beaten track destinations and bustling urban centres by three world-famous scenic rail trips from Auckland to Queenstown.

North Island Rail Highlights

This 5 day independent rail holiday offers the best North Island rail highlights featuring New Zealand’s epic Northern Explorer.

Northern Rail Highlights Tour

Journey between Auckland and Wellington aboard the Northern Explorer train on a six day escorted adventure.

NZ Rail Adventure

Enjoy a taste of each of New Zealand’s scenic rail experiences on this NZ rail adventure, including a distinctive ride on the Glenbrook Vintage Steam Railway.

NZ Rail and Cruise Discovery

Join us on this comprehensive 19 day land, New Zealand rail and cruise journey from Christchurch to Wellington. Discover New Zealand on this wonderful tour.

Sir Edmund Hillary Explorer

Inspired by one of the most iconic adventurers of our time, this is an epic journey by heritage steam train and luxury coach. FREE 1-Day Christchurch Tram Pass when you book with LOCO Journeys.

Southern Alps in Winter Glory

Traversing the Alps bedecked in its winter cloak delivers a very special magic. This trip offers the opportunity to experience it two-fold, once by road and again by TranzAlpine train.

Southern Rail Highlights from Wellington

Join us on tour across Cook Strait, past the mighty Southern Alps and through the Wild West Coast to beautiful Queenstown. This journey features the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine.

Spectacular South; Wellington to Queenstown

Explore the Spectacular South on this signature rail tour. Glide through the mighty Southern Alps and along the Pacific coastline to Queenstown and Milford Sound

Top of the South Island Train Tour

Enjoy the Top of the South Island train tour on this succinct 7 day independent journey that includes TranzAlpine and Coastal Explorer rail journeys.

TranzAlpine Train, Glaciers & Fiords

The combination of TranzAlpine Train, Glaciers and Fiords offers one of the greatest lure’s of travelling in the South Island of New Zealand. The spectacular and diverse scenery catches your breathe at every turn.

TranzAlpine Winter Wonderland

Winter is a magical time to experience the South Island, and there is something romantic and dreamy about the TranzApine Winter Wonderland rail journey set against a backdrop of snow.

Twin Rail Journeys of New Zealand

Enjoy the premier twin rail journeys of New Zealand on each island on this succinct, independent 13 day countrywide tour from Queenstown to Auckland

Ultimate New Zealand Train Journey

Join us for a rail tour that can easily boast to be the Ultimate New Zealand Train Journey. Including all of NZ’s scenic rail trips and a private charter, it doesn’t get better than this. Travel overland from Auckland to Christchurch through deepest reaches of NZ.

Wellington to Christchurch; Coastal Highlights

Join us on this guided scenic Wellington to Christchurch rail tour across the Cook Strait, past coastal beaches and through mountain valleys.

Off the Beaten Track by Train

Let the train take you beyond the well-trodden tourist path and deliver you to some truly stunning experiences.

Forgotten World Escape from Auckland to Wellington

Enjoy the Forgotten World Escape from Auckland on the way to Wellington. Explore the rural heart of New Zealand’s North Island with the Northern Explorer train including a half-day rail cart tour.

Forgotten World Escape from Wellington to Auckland

Explore the rural heart of New Zealand’s North Island with the Northern Explorer train and enjoy the Forgotten World Escape on the way to Auckland.

Martinborough Getaway by Train – Two night package

This relaxing short break is the perfect weekend away for wine lovers. Enjoy a luxury 2 course wine matching lunch, chauffeur and more.

TranzAlpine Moana Magic Escape

Amidst a stunning backdrop of mountains and ancient forest, take our escape to Moana and Lake Brunner. This is a magical getaway that you won’t regret.

TranzAlpine West Coast Cycle Trail Escape

The TranzAlpine West Coast Cycle Trail Escape offers a unique off the beaten track getaway featuring some of New Zealand’s iconic highlights.

TranzAlpine Wilderness Lodge Escape

The Wilderness Lodge Escape is designed to let you relax, unwind, and enjoy a very special off the beaten track experience.

Short Rail Breaks

A couple of nights away by train without having to drive is as good as any holiday. Enjoy your destination and the journey.

Best of Wellington by Northern Explorer

If you are looking to experience the incredible Northern Explorer train journey from Auckland to Wellington and then enjoy the magical capital without any hassle, then this is the break for you.

Blenheim Rail Break; Wine & Wings

Departing from Christchurch, this delightful journey takes you along remote beaches, between mountains and sea to the Marlborough wine region.

Coastal Pacific Train Wildlife Encounter

See the majestic seabirds or get up close to dolphins or whales and discover the spectacular wildlife of Kaikōura on the Coastal Pacific Train.

Coromandel Family Getaway

Take a short break and discover New Zealand’s Coromandel with this 5-day family getaway. With a mountainous interior and golden beaches, this is a perfect getaway,

Kaikoura Experience from Wellington

Travel by ferry and scenic train from Wellington to Christchurch, and enjoy a wonderous Kaikoura experience including the natural wonders of this marine paradise.

Martinborough Overnight by Train – One night package

Enjoy a change of scenery with this overnight vineyard package that takes you from the city lights of Wellington.

Northern Explorer & The Tongariro Crossing

Explore Te Ika-a-Māui on our memorable Northern Explorer tour and walk one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Premium TranzAlpine Glacier Experience

Enjoy a heavenly escape into a world filled with fascination and grandeur on this premium TranzAlpine Glacier Experience including 5-star accommodation.

TranzAlpine – Explore Hokitika

Jump aboard the TranzAlpine scenic train and explore Hokitika in style. Travel via rail through the Southern Alps to Greymouth enjoying the views from your window.

TranzAlpine – Taste of the West Coast

The TranzAlpine is a scenic rail trip running from the East Coast to the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

TranzAlpine & West Coast Glaciers to Queenstown

Ride New Zealand’s premier rail journey on this two-day train tour from Christchurch to the West Coast. Discover the Glaciers and then head further south to the stunning lakes district and finally Queenstown.

TranzAlpine Glacier Experience

Be amazed at this exploration of the West Coast on the stunning TranzAlpine Glacier Experience. Discover the ancient world of Glacier Country and its natural wonders, where ice rivers carve through mountains and rainforests thrive.

TranzAlpine Overnight

Journey to Greymouth on this TranzAlpine overnight adventure. Escape the city and travel to New Zealand’s famous West Coast. This rail break will take you through the heart of the Southern Alps to a land of timeless beauty.

TranzAlpine West Coast Explorer

The 4 day TranzAlpine West Coast Explorer is a timeless and enjoyable escape to Lake Brunner, Punakaiki, & Hokitika. Break free from the ordinary and visit some great West Coast destinations.

Day Trips by Train

Book yourself a day to remember and experience one or more of New Zealand's world-class rail journeys.

Martinborough Wine Tour by Train

Our Martinborough wine tour by rail is a wonderful getaway that takes you from Wellington to Martinborough in the heart…

The Coastal Pacific

Join the Coastal Pacific and explore the stunning Kaikōura coastline, through the idyllic Canterbury Plains to the Garden City of Christchurch.

The Northern Explorer

The Northern Explorer, New Zealand’s longest running passenger rail service, is waiting for your booking. Explore New Zealand’s North Island.

The TranzAlpine Train

Take in the South Island’s stunning mountains and the vast Canterbury Plains aboard the TranzAlpine. NZ’s finest inland rail journey.

Discover New Zealand

  • How to visit the Glaciers in New Zealand
  • Fabulous fall: New Zealand’s autumn colours and where to find them
  • 7 Reasons you need to take The TranzAlpine Train

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A comprehensive guide to New Zealand’s Train Journeys

New Zealand train journeys are a unique and relaxing way to see another side of this spectacular country.

Many of New Zealand's most stunning views remain inaccessible by road. This is where rail travel comes into scenic play. Clever engineering has resulted in a small (but comprehensive) railway network offering the opportunity to enjoy some of those views - and there are many incredible train journeys available. Complete with food and drink, panoramic windows and reclining seats, these journeys allow you to sit back and enjoy the view as you traverse snowy alpine passes, remote national parks, volcanic fields and windswept coastlines.

North Island

The North Island has one key scenic railway, The Northern Explorer and two (notable) smaller ones - Driving Creek Railway and The Forgotten World adventures.

  • The Northern Explorer: Cutting through the heart of the North Island, the Northern Explorer travels between Auckland - New Zealand's largest metro area - and Wellington - New Zealand’s political and cultural capital. The 12 hour trip is truly remarkable, crossing lush farmland and the volcanic plateau. See Tongariro National Park - home to Mordor, the fictional stronghold of Sauron in Lord of the Rings - through wide panoramic windows and open air viewing decks. The park’s three active volcanoes - Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe - can be spotted along with ancient lava flows, native beech forest and deep river gorges. You'll also go through the renowned Raurimu Spiral - an astounding feat of engineering. Passengers can choose to sit around tables, or in recliners that can be rotated to face whichever direction the train is traveling. The carriage windows are non-tinted, non-reflective glass - optimal for taking pictures as you travel. Overhead HD screens keep track of your journey while an automated commentary is available via headphones at your seat.
  • Driving Creek Railway: This one hour narrow gorge railway trip is located in the Coromandel and provides a thrilling insight into the history of the area. Acclaimed potter Barry Brickell originally developed this railway as a means of transporting clay to his kiln. The innovatively designed train carriages journey through regenerating kauri forest and native bush before ending with soaring views over the Hauraki Gulf and surrounding islands. Unique pottery sculptures and outdoor art line the tracks while the neighbouring predator free wildlife sanctuary is a must see.
  • The Forgotten World Railway Adventures: This railway adventure is like no other. Travelling through the heart of Taranaki, you’ll take  specially adapted golf carts along decommissioned railway lines go over bridges and through tunnels to faded townships of the past. Venture into the Republic of Whangamomona, once a thriving pre-war community, now a ‘ghost town’ of 40 people. Learn about the hardy pioneers who built this line - an essential link to the outside world.  Livelihoods such as coal mining and farming were only viable because of this rail connection. Abandoned stations along the line are visible, but decay is evident - and this only adds to the experience. Choose from between one and four day tours.  

South Island

There are many more scenic rail journeys in the South due to the dramatic landscape. The most well known is the TranzAlpine Scenic Train but other notable journeys include  The Oamaru Seasider, The Coastal Pacific and the Taieri Gorge Railway.  

  • The TranzAlpine: The TranzAlpine tracks a route from Christchurch to Greymouth - from one coast of the South Island to another - and is considered one of the world's greatest scenic railway journeys. You'll cross the Canterbury Plains before weaving your way through the gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri. Ascending the Southern Alps, you'll be awestruck by the sheer grandeur of these mountains, before descending into native beech rainforest to arrive in the seaside town of Greymouth. With huge panoramic windows and an open air viewing car to better enable photography, passengers can choose to sit one way or around a table. As with the Northern Explorer, HD screens track the journey while at-seat audio commentary is available throughout.
  • The Coastal Pacific: The Coastal Pacific follows the coast from port town Picton to Christchurch. You’ll pass through Marlborough wine country, the Kaikoura Ranges and the patchwork Canterbury Plains - traversing over 98 kilometres of rugged coastline. On this journey the sky seems endless - dissolving into the blue of the pacific ocean horizon. Watch the seabirds and seals from open air carriages or view the mountains from inside through huge panoramic windows and reclining seats.

We recommend that people add at least one of these experiences to their New Zealand visit because a train is a great platform for taking in New Zealand scenery. Contact one of our experienced trip planners for more help and information on how to include some spectacular New Zealand train journeys in a visit to New Zealand.

   

Categories: - Scenic Trains, Flights & Tours

We have lots more information to share with you if you need it. Our team lives and works within New Zealand. We have travelled to every region and experienced the best (and worst) of what there is to offer.  If you have any questions about tours, locations or just want some friendly advice please reach out to us by chat, email , or phone . There is no penalty for getting in touch, we do NOT charge any consultant fees so you can take the hassle out of your travels for free!

If you are interested in planning a trip then please leave your details in the simple form below and we can provide you with support customising a tour just for you. 

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TranzAlpine Train Itinerary

Waimakariri Bridge

Waimakariri Bridge, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Great Journeys NZ / Kiwirail

Lake Sarah

Lake Sarah, Christchurch - Canterbury

Springfield

Springfield , Christchurch - Canterbury

christchurch-canterbury

Scenic train journey between Christchurch and Greymouth

  • Vibrant Christchurch

Arthur’s Pass National Park

  • Historic Greymouth

Explore the TranzAlpine train itinerary

The TranzAlpine is regarded as one of the world’s great train journeys as it traverses the majestic Southern Alps mountain range on its route across the South Island between Christchurch and Greymouth.  

The scenic New Zealand train journey on board the TranzAlpine is just under five hours, but is a showcase of sweeping farmland, snow-capped mountains, narrow gorges, braided rivers, lakes and dense native forest.  

It offers easy access to Arthurs’ Pass National Park, with the chance to spend time exploring this unique area, well as vibrant Christchurch and historic West Coast towns.     

*Note: Check the TranzAlpine website for the latest schedules when booking stops, accommodation and activities.   

Explore Christchurch

Christchurch tram

Christchurch tram, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Welcome Aboard

Discover the best of Christchurch

  • Punting on the Avon
  • Christchurch Gondola

Find out more about Christchurch

Christchurch combines beautiful scenery and rich heritage with a revitalised city centre, providing plenty to do over a couple of days.   

The Christchurch Tram is an easy and fun way to get around the inner city, or hire a bike and ride the city cycle paths. For panoramic views, ride the Christchurch Gondola high into the Port Hills.  

You’ll find great shopping in boutiques and major stores in the CBD. Stroll along the Avon River, which runs through the city. Delight in the gourmet goodies at the Riverside Market and then enjoy a trip on the water with the famous Punting on the Avon .  

Christchurch is a gateway to Antarctica and you can learn about life on the ice with a visit to the International Antarctic Centre – travel in a Hägglund snow mobile and feel the chill of an Antarctic storm.   

Take a day tour to the French settlement of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, just 90 minutes from Christchurch. Browse Akaroa’s galleries and boutique stores and stop for lunch at one of the French-inspired eateries. The Giants House is an unmissable garden of international significance with incredible sculptures and mosaics.   

Akaroa Harbour is famous for its marine life, with penguins, fur seals and the endangered Hector’s dolphin. Take an Akaroa Harbour Nature Tour with Black Cat Cruises , or go sea kayaking to see these creatures up close.  

Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass National Park

Springfield

Canterbury Plains and alpine scenery

  • Canterbury Plains
  • Engineering marvels
  • Arthur’s Pass Village

Learn more about Canterbury Plains

Head to the centrally located Christchurch Railway Station for your morning departure on board the TranzAlpine. Enjoy breakfast and coffee with a view in the Scenic Café as you leave the Garden City behind and head towards Springfield on the South Island Main Trunk Line.  

You’ll roll across the wide patchwork expanse of the Canterbury Plains, which is New Zealand’s largest area of flat land. At Rolleston, the train turns inland, joining the Midland Line and heading towards the distinctive braids of the Waimakariri River and on to Springfield.  

You’ll see the towering Torlesse mountains at the edge of the plains as you come into Springfield.    

This little town is the last stop before entering the mountains on the route known as Arthur’s Pass. Originally an ancient track used by Māori for trading pounamu greenstone, it was named for Arthur Dobson, who first mapped it in 1864.   

It is the next section of railway, between Springfield and Arthur’s Pass National Park, that is considered a masterpiece of engineering. It follows the winding Waimakariri River gorge, tracking along cliffs and steep banks through 15 short tunnels and four towering viaducts.   

At Cass, head to the Open-Air Viewing Carriage for spectacular views of Mount Binser rising above the Waimakariri River.  

The TranzAlpine will arrive mid-morning at New Zealand’s highest operational railway station. It’s a great opportunity to explore one of New Zealand’s beautiful National Parks . There’s a range of accommodation at Arthur’s Pass Village as well as hikers’ huts (opens in new window) linked by tracks throughout Arthur’s Pass National Park .   

Arthurs Pass

Arthurs Pass, Christchurch - Canterbury

west-coast

Natural wonders in Arthur’s Pass National Park  

  • Alpine scenery
  • Waterfalls and native bush

Find out more about Arthur's Pass National Park

There’s a wide variety of walks in the National Park, ranging from family-friendly strolls with waterfalls, forest and alpine views, through to multi-day hikes. Stop in at the Visitor Information Centre for details on all of these.   

Some of the highlights in Arthur’s Pass National Park include natural attractions like The Devil's Punchbowl Falls , Bridal Veil Track and Historic Village Walk.   

Whatever trail you choose, look out for kea, as this New Zealand alpine parrot is famous for its cheeky antics.   

In winter, the Temple Basin Ski Area is popular with skiers and snowboarders, and mountaineers enjoy the park’s climbing routes.   

Arthur’s Pass National Park to Greymouth

Moana

Moana, West Coast

Lakes and lush forest on the West Coast

  • Otira Tunnel
  • Lake Brunner

Find out more about the West Coast

From Arthur’s Pass Village it’s just a couple of hours to Greymouth with spectacular scenery on the way.   

You’ll travel through the Otira Tunnel, which is carved through 8.5 kilometres of rock and marks the transition from Canterbury to the West Coast.   

As you descend towards Greymouth through river valleys and ancient forest, keep an eye out for beautiful Lake Brunner , the largest lake on the West Coast and a popular spot for trout fishing.  

The TranzAlpine arrives in Greymouth just after lunch. This town is considered the heart of the West Coast and there’s lots to see and do, so take a couple of days to explore.   

West Coast adventure

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, West Coast

By Fraser Clements

Natural wonders on the West Coast  

  • Pancake rocks
  • Paparoa Track

Greymouth has a rich mining heritage and you can step back in time at Shanty Town , a replica 1900s pioneer town with gold panning and heritage train rides. Then pop into Monteiths , part of New Zealand’s brewing history, for a brewery tour and tasting.   

Just 40 minutes north of Greymouth is Punakaiki and Paparoa National Park , where you’ll find amazing coastal rock formations like the famous Pancake Rocks and spectacular blowholes, as well as cave rafting . The walks range from the short Truman Track (30 minutes return) to the Pororari River Track and Fox River Caves Track (both three hours return), or the  Paparoa track , one of New Zealand’s Great Walks , which is a 2-3 day hiking and mountain biking track.   

From Greymouth, it’s an hour north-east to Reefton , another town with a gold-mining past and home to the award-winning Reefton Distilling Co. Tour the distillery and discover how they use locally foraged ingredients from the West Coast rainforests in their spirits.   

Keen to see more of New Zealand’s Great Journeys ? You could return to Christchurch on the TranzAlpine and take the Coastal Explorer north to Picton, along the South Island’s beautiful east coast.   

Then cross Cook Strait on the Interislander ferry and catch the Northern Explorer from Wellington to Auckland for a trip through the volcanic heart of the North Island.  

View the TranzAlpine route below

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Travel New Zealand by train: cities, mountains and coasts

Dec 9, 2019 • 5 min read

railway journeys new zealand

From its beautiful coastline to its spectacular mountains, New Zealand is a place you visit for its scenery – and there’s no better way to gorge on its good looks than by train. Travelling at surface level, you can take in every detail of Aotearoa, stopping off along the way to see more. Here’s how.

TranzAlpine train cutting through Arthur's Pass in New Zealand on a sunny day. There are green trees to the left of the train and snowy mountains in the far distance

Auckland to Wellington

The lengthiest of three long-distance rail journeys in New Zealand, this route takes in diverse landscapes on its ten-hour, 680 kilometre course across the North Island .

Before hitting the rails, make time to learn a little about the culture and attractions of Auckland . A good introduction to the nation’s first people, the Māori, is the Home Fires of Tāmaki Ōrākei tour, led by a tribe which has lived in the area for centuries. Or take a ferry to enjoy the city’s waterside setting and local produce on the Wine on Waiheke tour.

The yellow, black and red Northern Explorer train at Hamilton station, New Zealand.

Then it’s time to catch the Northern Explorer train from the unassuming  Strand Station .

The train, however, is impressive, with a comfortable 2+2 seating layout which has plenty of leg room. Carriages are the same on all three long-distance rail routes, incorporating a good onboard café, as well as an open-sided observation car. The recorded commentary, delivered via headphones, is excellent (though it does include occasional colourful descriptions of historic rail accidents).

Observation car in Northern Explorer train, New Zealand looking out on lush greenery. One passenger is standing near the railings.

Given the length of this journey, it can be a good idea to break it up along the way. Hamilton is the first stop outside Auckland and from here it’s easy to visit the popular Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata. On the outskirts of Hamilton are two other genteel attractions: the lovely Hamilton Gardens , with multiple gardens from different civilisations; and Zealong , New Zealand’s only tea farm, which offers high tea, a tour and a tea ceremony.

Back on the rails, hilly green farming country eventually gives way to the more dramatic terrain of the Central Plateau, which the train reaches by squealing its way up the curving Raurimu Spiral , an 1898 engineering marvel. Another potential break on the journey is National Park Station, where travellers can access Tongariro National Park and its mighty volcanic peaks.

The Northern Explorer ends its long journey by easing along the Kapiti Coast to Wellington , arriving at the most impressive railway station of the trip: a grand 1937 edifice from the golden age of rail travel.

Wellington to Christchurch

The capital has plenty to offer. In addition to an excellent dining scene – typified by Ortega Fish Shack on the edge of the lively Te Aro district – there are many cultural drawcards. Admire the new art gallery within the absorbing Te Papa national museum, or feed your Hobbit fixation by taking a tour of Weta Workshop , the design company heavily involved with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies.

Interislander ferry crossing Cook Strait, New Zealand on a clear day. The photo shows the stern of the boat, churning a white trail through the blue sea.

Before you can catch your next train, there’s water to cross via the Interislander . This 3.5 hour ferry service navigates the Cook Strait from the North to South Island , finishing with a leisurely sail through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds to Picton. The ferries are sizeable vessels with food and entertainment on board.

From the ferry landing, it's a short walk to Picton Station and the Coastal Pacific . This train has only recently returned to service after its rails were damaged by the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake. Running from September to April, it’s arguably the most scenic of the three rail routes, passing between mountains and ocean as it snakes southward for six hours and 348 kilometres to Christchurch .

Ocean view from Coastal Pacific train, New Zealand.

One of its early stops is Blenheim , the hub of the Marlborough wine region. You can spot vineyards from the train, before it travels alongside the Pacific Ocean for a long stretch. Here nature takes centre stage – including a colony of fur seals lounging on craggy rocks just offshore. Near the town of Kaikoura there’s another impressive natural wonder: the Seaward Kaikoura Range, snow-topped inland mountains which run parallel to the tracks.

Finally, after returning to farming country, the train makes its way into Christchurch Station – a shiny new structure which replaced the station damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes which devastated the city.

Christchurch to Greymouth

Christchurch is a fascinating city, still in a process of change as it rebuilds from that geological double-punch. You can learn about that pivotal event at the excellent Quake City exhibition, or meet New Zealand’s unique wildlife at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve (which also hosts the Māori cultural show Ko Tane ). Or maybe just graze on treats bought at the brand-new Riverside food market.

Rugged landscape seen from the TranzAlpine train, New Zealand

This final long-distance rail trip is different from the others – instead of mountains providing a backdrop, they’re the heart of the experience. The TranzAlpine train takes five hours to cross the Southern Alps as it heads 223 kilometres from Christchurch across the South Island to the western port of Greymouth .

The first stretch of the journey cuts through the Canterbury Plains… then suddenly you’re within the mountains. For a while the TranzAlpine follows the Waimakariri River, a distinctive ‘braided’ watercourse which is fed by melting ice. High steel viaducts help the train through this craggy environment.

At 740 metres above sea level and surrounded by beech forest, Arthur’s Pass is a popular destination for hikers in summer and snow sports enthusiasts in winter. After this high point, the train eases out of the mountains to the lakeside town of Moana before terminating at Greymouth.

The TranzAlpine heads back to Christchurch an hour later, but it’s worth staying over in Greymouth to sample some of its sights: the quirky museum village of Shantytown ; the impressive coastal rock formations at Punakaiki; and the good food and beer served at the brewhouse of popular local-born brewer, Monteith’s . From North Island to South Island, a rail journey of that epic length deserves a toast.

Make it happen

Bookings for the above train and ferry services can be made via the Great Journeys of New Zealand website.

Tim Richards travelled with the assistance of Tourism New Zealand . Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

This article was first published December 2019 and updated December 2019

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Train in New Zealand

New Zealand railway journeys

There can be few better countries in the world than New Zealand to take a scenic train journey in — and luckily it has two of the best.

The TranzAlpine rail journey traverses the South Island's Southern Alps of New Zealand, from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Tasman Sea in the west, past varied and breathtaking scenery.

The Coastal Pacific train runs from Picton to Blenheim and Kaikoura before arriving in Christchurch. New Zealand's stunning coastal scenery makes this a photographer's dream.

The TranzAlpine, South Island

Distance: 224 km (139 miles) journey time: four and a half hours route: christchurch to greymouth return, daily.

Joe on the TranzAlpine

The grand doyen of New Zealand’s scenic rail journeys, the TranzAlpine splices across South Island from east to west (or west to east, if you embark in Greymouth). It follows a route laid down in the 1860s by hardy stagecoaches carrying provisions to west-coast gold prospectors.

Most voyagers begin in Christchurch , a city steadily piecing itself together post-earthquake. The first few minutes of the journey take you through placid suburbs of wooden bungalows. But, before long, the train is streaking out across the low-lying Canterbury Plains.

After an hour or so of patchworked farmland dotted with sheep and cattle (and red deer, which are commercial livestock in New Zealand), the foothills of the Southern Alps start to smudge the horizon.

A silvery braided river, the Waimakariri, opens out in a gorge. The train traverses steel-girder bridges and viaducts over more gorges to climb into the snowy shanks of the Southern Alps proper.

You’ll catch sight of alpine lakes, deep V-shaped valleys, beech forests, and mist-wreathed mountains before the train plateaus onto a high, grassy plain of tussock and gorse.

You then have the opportunity to disembark briefly and stretch your legs on the platform of Arthur’s Pass, once a village of railway tunnel builders and now an outpost for the surrounding Arthur's Pass National Park . Here, you might spot a kea or two — fiercely intelligent (and famously pugnacious) native alpine parrots. Guard your lunch closely.

From Arthur’s Pass, you plunge into the Otira Tunnel, one of New Zealand’s longest, before emerging into the railway town of the same name.

Another river, the Taramakau, comes into view, and the train crosses this waterway several times on its final leg into Greymouth. Look out for waterfalls lacing more mountainsides, and the scars of long-disused mines.

What I like most about this journey (scenery aside) is how the train curls around several long bends, meaning you can look back from the open-air observation car and take a photograph of the carriages unspooling behind you, framed by mountains.

That said, some of the best moments for me have been spent at my seat, camera switched off and coffee in hand (there’s a great buffet car), simply taking it all in.

Once in Greymouth, you’re at the gateway to the west-coast glaciers (which you can explore via heli-hike ). From here, you can also embark on one of New Zealand’s greatest drives , the route from Haast to Queenstown, by way of more waterfalls, estuaries, podocarp rainforest, lakes and viewpoints over the Tasman Sea.

The Coastal Pacific, South Island

Distance: 347 km (216 miles) journey time: five and a half hours route: picton to christchurch via blenheim and kaikoura, daily.

Picton to Christchurch line

This is a great option if you like the idea of stepping right off the Interislander Ferry from Wellington and being immediately whisked off to see two of the standout highlights of South Island from the comfort of a railway carriage. Even your luggage can be automatically transferred from the ferry to the train.

You leave Picton’s  secluded wooded inlet, passing through a valley, and before you know it you’re zipping through a flat landscape of primped and polished vineyards.

The main delight of this train is the ability for you to hop on and off, breaking your journey for a night or more. I’d recommend spending a day or so touring the wineries around Blenheim , the heart of New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc country.

Back on board, you’re greeted by grassy hills, distant snow-capped mountains, and a saline lake, Grassmere, which often glows pink from a type of algae.

Then you reach the ocean. The tracks run along the shoreline, and they’ve been extensively rebuilt among the landslides caused by earthquakes. At times you’re sandwiched between waves and mountains. Look closely at the rocks along the shore, which are often littered with recumbent seals.

Break your journey again at Kaikoura, the country’s premier whale-watching spot. You can even admire them from the air, as we highlight in our guide to observing New Zealand’s wildlife .

Shortly after leaving Kaikoura , the train sweeps inland and travels through lustrously green hills and valleys before reaching its terminus, Christchurch. The train station is housed on a modest industrial estate, but around it lie the remains of Addington Railway Workshops, where many of New Zealand’s locomotives were built.

From Christchurch, you can easily link up with the TranzAlpine, as described above.

The Northern Explorer, North Island

Distance: 680 km (423 miles) journey time: ten and a half hours route: auckland to wellington, three times a week.

Makatote Viaduct

The Northern Explorer doesn’t seem to get as much international press as the TranzAlpine, but I think it’s just as rewarding. That is, if you’re interested in seeing a landscape punctuated by chargrilled-looking volcanoes as opposed to alpine vistas.

This train cuts through the volcanic heartland of North Island on its route from city to city, taking in both coastline and rainforest. As you near Wellington , you can look out over to the densely forested lump of Kapiti Island, a predator-free haven for native birdlife.

The engineering feats that made such a journey possible are, for me, just as impressive as the scenery.

The route takes you on the North Island Main Trunk Railway, completed in 1908. Its chef d’oeuvre is the Raurimu Spiral (constructed 1905-1908), which makes light work of an otherwise unbreachable incline. On board, you can see how the track loops back on itself.

You’ll also cross the heritage-listed Makatote Viaduct, once one of the world’s highest, before reaching your journey’s end.

You start off in gently pastoral farming country around Hamilton. The drama comes when you enter Tongariro National Park . You can gaze through the train’s large panoramic windows at a trio of volcanoes — Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro — their slopes the shade of burnt toffee. Sometimes they’re topped with snow.

You have the option to stop here for a night or two to explore Mount Ruapehu on two wheels . More traditionally, you can go hiking. I recommend a guided walk on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing , where fumaroles, neon-green sulfur lakes and lava formations await.

Life on board is comfortable: carriages are well-appointed and the ride itself is incredibly smooth (due to a very advanced suspension system). The food is excellent, too, and there’s a choice of salads, platters and wraps.

One note on this journey: the Northern Explorer complements, rather than replaces, exploring the North Island by car for first-time visitors (otherwise, you’d miss too much).

It works particularly well in a North-Island-focused itinerary , as you can wend your way south on the train and then pick up a rental car to head back to Auckland. This lets you go back and explore North Island big hitters, such as Rotorua and Napier, at your own pace.

Start planning your New Zealand railway journey

New Zealand fur seals, Kaikoura

Highlights of New Zealand

13 days from $6,555pp

Pohutu geyser, Rotorua

Highlights of New Zealand (non-driving)

16 days from $11,050pp

Wanaka, Wanaka

Classic New Zealand self-drive tour

29 days from $15,080pp

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

Further reading

  • Driving vacations in New Zealand: 3 great routes
  • Exploring New Zealand by campervan: an all-you-need-to-know guide
  • Where to go cycling in New Zealand (and why you’d want to)
  • Observing New Zealand’s wildlife by land, sea and starlight
  • Cruising in New Zealand

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New Zealand Rail Journeys

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19 Days Auckland to Christchurch

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Discover Must Do Experiences and Highlights

The Glenbrook Vintage Railway

The Glenbrook Vintage Railway

The Glenbrook Vintage Railway is a short trip from Auckland and offers passengers a nostalgic rail experience. Enjoy a ride on the beautifully restored steam train as you take in the picturesque countryside of the North Island.

The Northern Explorer Train

The Northern Explorer Train

Board the Northern Explorer Scenic Train and cross the Central Plateau of Tongariro National Park with its three volcanic cones. From icy streams to coastal cliffs, sit back and soak up the breathtaking landscapes between Auckland and Wellington.

The Coastal Pacific Train

The Coastal Pacific Train

The Coastal Pacific offers a captivating rail journey between Picton and Christchurch. Witness the breathtaking beauty of Kaikoura's mountain ranges, and the Pacific's serene coastline. Keep a close watch for breaching whales and sunbaking seals.

Tranz Alpine Rail Journey

Tranz Alpine Rail Journey

Traverse the Southern Alps aboard the Tranz Alpine! The carriage's domed windows offer panoramic vistas of the Canterbury Plains with its intricately braided rivers. Or, step onto the open-air carriage in chilly Arthur's Pass before descending to the lush West Coast at Greymouth.

Arthur's Pass National Park

Arthur's Pass National Park

With shingle-filled riverbeds and lush beech forests to the east and deep gorges and dense rainforests to the west, Arthur's Pass National Park serves as an iconic gateway between the east and west coasts of the South Island.

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The 5 Most Beautiful Train Journeys in New Zealand

The scenic route

New Zealand is consistently voted as one of the most beautiful, varied and dramatic places in the world when it comes to scenery and landscapes. This accounts for the numerous camper-vans you’ll see zipping through scenic roads, pulling up every now and again to take in some spectacular vista. However, there’s another great way to see the country and that is by rail. Here is our guide to the five most beautiful train journeys in Aotearoa.

The marlborough flyer.

Convenience-wise you’re going to find it hard to beat the Marlborough Flyer for pure ease of transport. This train starts off in Picton at the top of the South Island, the port of which is connected to Wellington by the Interislander ferry service. So if you’re tripping through New Zealand from top to bottom, this train is the easy and logical next step if you want to cruise in comfort. It actually leaves from the ferry terminal, meaning stress is kept to an absolute minimum. A new steam-hauled service began in December 2017 over the 19 miles (30km) to Blenheim – a lovely little city that is very much worth exploring. The train uses historic carriages and a 1915-built locomotive to reach Blenheim for wine tours and the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. This contains the collection of First World War aircraft set up by Lord of the Rings trilogy director Sir Peter Jackson as well as a Second World War collection with the only flyable Avro Anson and a Griffon-powered Spitfire.

The Flyer on the tracks

TranzAlpine, New Zealand

railway journeys new zealand

Taieri Gorge Railway, Dunedin

This is just the rail journey that anyone who counts themselves as a keen photographer needs to take. The Twenties carriages have open balconies so photographers can take unobstructed pictures of the landscape, and there is a buffet car and shop on board for when you need a rest from clicking away on that shutter button. And you will be doing a lot of that because this train runs through some pretty awe-inspiring country. For most of its length it twists and turns through a spectacularly deep gorge, leaping across vertiginous defiles on lattice viaducts and clinging to ledges in the hillsides. Most trains run as far as Pukerangi, but on certain days they reach Middlemarch, the eastern end of the Rail Trail. The northern end of the Rail Trail is also one of New Zealand ‘s most popular long-distance cycle routes.

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railway journeys new zealand

The Northern Explorer

This is probably the most modern and comfortable rail journey in New Zealand. The Northern Explorer carriages have an advanced air bag suspension system for quieter and smoother travel as well as un-tinted, non-reflective, panoramic side and roof windows to capture the dramatic coastal and mountain views of the magnificent North Island. It also features GPS-triggered journey commentary in five languages at your seat via headphones, information displays and overhead HD video, plus central heating and air conditioning for passenger comfort. This is scenic rail travel for the 21st century. This 10-hour ride between Auckland and Wellington will see you take in the sights of New Zealand farmland and rugged bush landscapes. You’ll then ascend up the world famous Raurimu Spiral to the volcanic plateau, passing the majestic volcanoes of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, and Mt Ruapehu – home of the North Island ski fields – then descend again through stunning river gorges to the farming landscapes and rocky seascapes of the lower North Island.

Heading down the rails

The Coastal Pacific

However, it will be back, so if you’re a railway nut or like the idea of seeing a bit of the South Island by rail, then don’t despair and consider this journey as it’s a thumping good one. The Coastal Pacific train operates between the delightful port of Picton, the gateway to the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, and Kaikoura , the home of whale watching, as well as onto Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city. This means that, if you’re feeling like life on the rails is for you, you can hop straight on the train at Christchurch and catch the TranzAlpine as described above. The Coastal Pacific takes you through the wine growing region of Blenheim and through to the rugged Kaikoura mountain ranges on one side of your train. The Pacific Ocean coastline is on the other side with views of marine wildlife such as seals and penguins. You’ll also get to see some of New Zealand’s finest horticultural and farmland areas of the Canterbury Plains – all from the comfort of your carriage.

Stop off in Kaikoura

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Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

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New Zealand: World’s Most Scenic Rail Journey

Oct 14, 2020 | New Zealand , New Zealand Scenic Pass , Oceania , Routes

New Zealand: World's Best Scenic Rail Journey

New Zealand is often on every traveler’s bucket list, with so many different sights to see across the two remarkable islands. This New Zealand itinerary brings you from Auckland down to the southern tip of the northern island, you will wind through small and forgotten towns, pass fields filled with cows, sheep, and deer.

Once you cross the ocean and make it down to the southern island and head even further south, you will cross through mountain ranges, climb up hills and winding roads, travel past large lakes and sights like no other.

Where To Buy Tickets: Great Journeys Of NZ , Intercity

Countries Visited: New Zealand

Rail Passes:  New Zealand Scenic Rail Pass

Price Range: $$$$

Recommended Days: 3-4 Weeks

Riding Hours: Approx. 27 hrs

Distance: 472 km

Transportation: Train, Bus, Ferry

Auckland ➝ Hamilton ➝  Otorohanga  ➝ National Park  ➝ Wellington ➝ Picton/Blenheim ➝ Kaikoura ➝ Christchurch ➝ Lake Tekapo ➝ Queenstown

Auckland: The City Of Sails

Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand  often confused as the capital of the country, is a bustling city and home to a variety of attractions. Often it’s the first port of call before exploring the rest of the country. But don’t skip town before visiting one or a couple of the surrounding islands which are great for hiking or for a delicious wine tour.

Within Auckland city center itself be sure to visit the famed Giapo for a surprise scoop of ice cream and make your way to Britomart for some shopping. Delve into the country’s history by making a trip to the Auckland War Memorial Museum or learn more about the country’s developments at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) .

Enjoy a little hike to the top of Mt. Eden , or try some local foods from the Matakana Farmers Market before heading off to the next destination.

Auckland Station (Northern Explorer)  → Hamilton Station | Duration: 2:29 h | Transfers: 0

train-icon

The Northern Explorer operates three times throughout the week: Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. So you will need to plan your departure accordingly. If for some reason the train connection does not work with your intended date of departure from Auckland, there are also two bus connections per day. However, we recommend the train.

Recommended Accommodations:

YHA Auckland International Haka Hotel Suites – Auckland City Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour

Day Trip: Island Hopping

Rangitoto Island is iconic to the city of Auckland due to the dormant volcanic cone that is just off of the city. You can go to the Auckland ferry terminal and there catch a ferry to where you can enjoy a relaxed hike or go on a guided tour up to the summit for some of the most spectacular views that you will ever see. With views over the city, including the sky tower , plus views over the island and the bright blue waters. 

Now if you fancy a wine tour from some of the best vineyards in the region, take a ferry from the Auckland ferry terminal to Waiheke Island . After arriving on the island, they have a great local bus service that will make stops at some of the best vineyards with great views over the island and the vines. Where the vineyards on the island are isn’t incredibly large and can also be walked to, giving you astounding views over the ocean and lush green that covers the island. Make sure to check all of the ferry schedules to make sure you can get back to Auckland. 

Hamilton: Hot Springs And Hobbits

The fourth-largest city in the country and is often overlooked by travelers, mainly used as a way to get to some of the more famous attractions like Hobbiton and Rotorua . The city is very unique with its rolling green hills, caves and the various surf beaches to be enjoyed.

Before heading out on day trips, don’t forget to visit the intriguing Hamilton Gardens . The gardens were created to embrace the different cultures and civilizations that created the history of the country. There are several attractions to visit in the garden, the Victorian Flower Garden , the Italian Renaissance Garden , and the Indian Char Bagh Garden to name but a few.

Hamilton Station → Otorohanga Station | Duration: 0:39 h | Transfers: 0

The Northern Explorer operates three times throughout the week: Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. So you will need to plan your departure from Hamilton accordingly. 

Hamilton Hamilton Homestay Ventura Inn & Suites Hamilton

Rotorua Funky Green Voyager Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort

Day Trip: Hobbiton

New Zealand became famous to many fantasy lovers due to the Lord of the Rings being filmed there. Hobbiton is a huge attraction for visitors as you are able to visit Middle Earth , discover Bagend , enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon and even see the Party Tree . The best way to get to Hobbiton from Hamiliton is with a private tour, or there are also options to go on your own which are bit more pricy first by bus (0:34h) to Karapiro and then a private taxi (0:26h) to the Hobbiton movie set.

Day Trip: Rotorua

An easy bus ride (1:30-2:00h) from Hamilton is Rotorua , famous for its thermal springs and odd eggy smell that lingers in the air. The Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland is home to colorful hot springs, geysers, pools, and mud pits. Head to a spa where the thermal waters and mud will be the perfect New Zealand treatment. Don’t miss a visit to the Maori Cultural village for an insight into the Maori traditions, cuisine, and dances. You’ll be sure to learn the Haka after this!

Make your way to the Whakarewarewa’s Redwoods which are loved by locals and visitors alike for its hiking and cycling trails, but in addition, check out the famous Redwoods Treewalk . Here you can stroll along a raised walkway amongst the trees on suspension bridges and during the evening you will see the walkway lit up with a colorful light display and beautifully-designed lanterns.

To ensure yourself a great way to see some of the important sights of Rotorua and to visit the three lakes in the area, head out on a duck tour. You will ride through Rotorua on an amphibious WWII landing craft experiencing an exciting and hilarious tour before heading out onto the lakes. Return by bus to Hamilton or stay over night in Rotorua before heading back.

Otorohanga: Glowing Caves

Next, on our New Zealand itinerary is Otorohanga . Often just used as a gateway for visiting the famous Waitomo caves , you will have the chance to see glowworms, street murals, and displays of the country’s significant icons, such as the kiwi bird . Grab a map and see if you can find as many of the ‘ Kiwiana ’ displays throughout the town, with displays for the All Blacks team, Aunt Daisy, and even farm dogs.

Probably the most famous attraction for this region is the Waitomo caves that are home to mystic glowworms. You can enjoy several different tour options available, but take the time to tour three different caves within the area. The Aranui Cave has a hidden entrance within a forest and is home to impressive formations of limestone with large stalactites. The Ruakuri Cave walks you through the breeding ground of the famous glow worms, and have the chance to see some more impressive formations, then lastly enjoy the Waitomo Glowworm Caves where you will be taken on a boat deep into the cave and be surrounded by the magnificent glow worms as they light up around you.

If you fancy a bit more of a thrill, head underground in raft tubes through the rapids, down waterfalls, and float below the glow worms whilst black water rafting . You can either head down the Black Labyrinth route or the Black Abyss route ; either way, you will be in for a thrilling time.

Otorohanga Station → National Park | Duration: 2:19 h | Transfers: 0

The Northern Explorer operates three times throughout the week: Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. So you will need to plan your departure accordingly. 

Junohall YHA Hostel Waitomo Waitomo Orchard Estate B&B Abseil Inn

National Park: One Of The Best Day Hikes In The World

The perfect place to give you access to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the little town known as National Park , and also is the perfect spot for many other outdoor activities.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a world heritage site and also has views of the famous Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Besides these notable points, the crossing allows you to see some of the most spectacular sights in all of the country. There are several routes that you can take along the track, be it for a one-day trek or head out on several-day treks.

If you want just a day trek, you can walk along the 19 km route via a boardwalk, steps, dirt paths, and clearly laid out route where you will be able to climb the side of the dormant volcano. You will see colorful volcanic pools , and soak up views over the national park. It’s truly stunning and well worth the 19 km worth of exertion.

National Park →  Wellington Station | Duration: 5:10 h | Transfers: 0

Howards Mountain Lodge Plateau Lodge Chateau Tongariro Hotel

Wellington: Windy Welly

The capital of the country, set at the southern tip of the northern island, Wellington is an artsy and eclectic city with a variety of attractions and delicious food to be enjoyed. Explore the interactive museums and tour the parliament buildings where decisions for the country are made.

Considered to be an unusual attraction is the famous Te Papa Museum , which is home to the colossal squid. You will find a variety of different collections to see and learn about the culture and history of the country in an intriguing, interactive way. An integral part of the country is the Maori culture and tattoos are part of the traditions. To learn more about the Maori and Pacific tattoo traditions, head to the National Tattoo Museum , especially for the techniques and styles that are often depicted. Known well in the creative industry, visit the Weta Workshop to be amazed whilst up close to world-class movie costumes, props, and weapons, chances are you’ve seen their work before.

Wellington is known to be a foodie town, and especially for its seafood but also with plenty of other styles of food to be enjoyed. From Mexican food to a new take on the Kiwi classic fish and chips to no-frills Malaysian meals, stroll around Cuba Street and the alleyways off of it and you’ll be sure to find some great food!

Wellington Port → Picton Ferry Port | Duration: 3:10h | Transfers: 0

ship-icon

There is one service everyday at 4pm from Wellington to Picton. Catch the ferry to the south island from the Wellington Ferry terminal and then upon arriving you can stay in Picton or head 20 minutes south to Blenheim. If you want to take the ferry and go to Blenheim on the same day, you will have to take a bus to Blenheim from Picton city center, as the ferry arrives too late to be able to catch the train. However if you stay one day in Picton, you can easily catch the afternoon train (0:26h) (only Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) to Blenheim with the Coastal Pacific train.

The Dwellington Bolton Hotel Sofitel Wellington

Picton: At The Gates Of Marlborough

Often just a stopgap for venturing into the joys of the south island, Picton is a great seaside town along this New Zealand itinerary to relax before continuing with your adventure. From Picton, you can enjoy activities like relaxing by the beach, enjoying the Edwin Fox Museum, or even trekking part of the Queen Charlotte Track. You can then head down to Blenheim in the Marlborough region and enjoy wine tours and trails, and learn about the winemaking process.

The Edwin Fox Museum shows some of New Zealand’s maritime history is the oldest surviving merchant ship and the last surviving ‘convict ship’ to take prisoners to Australia . You will step aboard into the hull of the ship and learn about the many voyages that this ship had. Hike part of the coastal Queen Charlotte track where you will have the chance to see a glimpse of the beauty that the south island has to offer.

Blenheim is in the heart of the wine country in New Zealand and is the perfect spot for wine tours, cycling from vineyard to vineyard, and maybe even learning about winemaking. New Zealand is known for Sauvignon Blanc so pick up the Marlborough Wine Trail map and head to the many cellar doors that offer free tastings and maybe enjoy a spot of lunch with cheese and charcuterie boards that match with the wines.

Picton Station → Kaikoura Station | Duration: 2:55 h | Transfers: 0

The Coastal Pacific operates four times throughout the week: Monday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So you will need to plan your departure accordingly. 

Picton Piwaka Lodge & Backpackers Anchor Down Bed & Breakfast

Blenheim St Leonards Vineyard Cottages Chateau Marlborough

Kaikoura: Marine Wildlife Spotting

Another seaside town that has a variety of attractions to enjoy, especially for those who want to get up close with marine wildlife, Kaikoura offers activities such as whale watching, dolphin watching, and a search for albatross flying above and floating in the ocean.

You will have the chance to spot the massive sperm whales on the shores around Kaikoura. Your tour guide will take you to the many known spots for seeing these impressive creatures, but they will also use sonar systems to pinpoint exactly where they are. During the whale-watching trip , you may even have the chance to see dolphins and albatross out in the ocean. To learn more about the whales, visitors can make their way to Fyffe House , whose display comprises of the past of whaling. For some more history, visit the Kaikoura Museum which exhibits the natural history of New Zealand , Maori history, and maritime history of the area.

Just away from the town, an easy walk away you can head to the Point Kean seal colony . The car park is not far from the local fur seals and their pups’ home and then if you continue along the track you may even see penguins living amongst the seals.

Kaikoura Station → Christchurch Station | Duration: 3:10 h | Transfers: 0

The Coastal Pacific operates four times a week: Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Plan your journey accordingly to Christchurch.

Dusky Lodge & Backpackers Te Mahuru Retreat The Hamptons, Kaikoura

Christchurch: Shaky Grounds

The largest city on the south island, Christchurch has suffered several major earthquakes but has continued to show its beauty. The city takes its influences from English and American culture, especially in the design of its residential and park areas. There are a lot of places to visit, from botanical gardens and delicious places to eat, all just a few steps away.

Christchurch Botanic Gardens is in the center of the city and is home to flowering gardens, plant conservatories, and plenty of native trees. It was built and designed after the marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

In dedication for the soldiers of World War, the Bridge of Remembrance was erected and connects the Oxford and Cambridge Terraces over Cashel Street , a sight that stands out in the metropolitan city. Looking for a different point of interest? Check out the Cardboard Cathedral .

Christchurch Bus Station → Tekapo Bus Station | Duration: 3:30 h | Transfers: 0

bus-icon

The Intercity buses leave Christchurch in the morning four to six times a week. This depends on the high or low season. Make sure to check the bus schedules online beforehand and purchase your tickets from Intercity.

Jailhouse Accommodation Christchurch The Grange Motel Sudima Christchurch City

Lake Tekapo: Starry Nights

Lake Tekapo is often seen in the many photos of New Zealand , with a vibrant lake set within the view of mountains. Although more of a place to visit just to enjoy the lake, there are few things that can be enjoyed in the area such as soaking in heated pools, skating on the ice rink, and spending time at natural spas built near the lake.

Due to there being no light pollution in Tekapo , it is an amazing spot for stargazing. You will have the chance to see the stars like never before and with incredible clarity.

Tekapo’s surrounding areas also bloom with purple and pink lupin flowers throughout the summer season. Where these flowers bloom is a great place to enjoy a relaxed and calming walk with the lake and mountains surrounding you.

Tekapo Bus Station → Queenstown Bus Station | Duration: 3:50 h | Transfers: 0

The Intercity buses leave Tekapo in the afternoon five to six times a week. This depends on the high or low season. Make sure to check the bus schedules online beforehand and purchase your tickets from Intercity .

YHA Lake Tekapo Scott Street Apartments Lakeview Tekapo

Queenstown: Adventure Capital

Queenstown is the city for thrillseekers and has plenty of activities show for it. The adrenaline junkie haven offers mountain biking , jet boating , skydiving , paragliding , canyoning , ATVing , and bungy jumping . And in the winter, snow-based activities such as skiing and snowboarding are also popular in the many resorts near Queenstown during peak and off-peak seasons. There is so much to see and do within the city, and plenty of wine to drink and food to eat.

Fergburger is the most famous burger place in all of New Zealand , images online not only show the wide range of burgers to enjoy but also the large queues of people that flock to it. If you are looking for a bit of thrilling adventure, there are many different operators that allow you to enjoy paragliding over the city or head out to Nevis Valley which is home to the world’s biggest rope swing and the third-highest bungy platform in the world .

Venture to a bit out of Queenstown for a visit to Arrowtown , the picturesque mining town, or to Wanaka for the iconic Roy’s Peak Track and the largest waterfall via Ferrata in the world with Wildwire Wanaka .

We hope you enjoyed your big trip through New Zealand ! Are you not quite ready to be done yet? Take the Intercity bus to Milford Sound to experience the amazing fjords or head up the west coast by bus to Franz Josef Glacier. Maybe you’re itching to visit Australia too? You might as well when you’re on this side of the world! Fly to Sydney and take one of the many trains north or south or maybe it’s time to head back home. Book your flights online with Skyscanner .

Adventure Queenstown Hostel Scenic Suites Queenstown Kamana Lakehouse

Back to Auckland

*Disclaimer: Due to the fluidity of transportation schedules, the information seen on RailwayHero may not be up to date at the time of readíng. Always double-check with the operator for the latest information.

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Australia: Big City Breaks and Coastal Fun

Australia: Big City Breaks and Coastal Fun

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railway journeys new zealand

  • Train Services
  • The Northern Explorer
  • The Coastal Pacific
  • The Tranz Alpine
  • National Train Timetable
  • Major Railway Stations
  • Regional Train Services
  • Local Trains

New Zealand long distance passenger train services

Northern Explorer: Auckland-Wellington-Auckland train service The Northern Explorer train service is a scenic rail journey through the five unique geographical regions of the North Island - travelling between Auckland, New Zealand's largest city - home of the Sky Tower, through the central heartland of the North Island to Wellington - New Zealand's harbour capital and arts and culture centre. Read more

Coastal Pacific: Christchurch–Picton–Christchurch train service The Coastal Pacific train operates between the delightful port of Picton - the gateway to the beautiful Marlborough Sounds - to Kaikoura - the home of whale watching and onto Christchurch - the South Island's largest city. Read more

Tranz Alpine: Christchurch–Greymouth–Christchurch train service The Tranz Alpine train operates between Christchurch, Arthurs Pass and Greymouth - from the east coast to the west coast of New Zealand's South Island. Read more

railway journeys new zealand

Enjoy the   Scenic Class   experience onboard with a range of fresh food and beverages available from the café car. Seating is comfortable '2 Seat-Aisle-2 Seat' reclining seats with head rests or 'Table Group' (4 people around a table) seating - great for families, small groups or meeting new friends.

Regional passenger train services in New Zealand Alongside the three long distance passenger train services in New Zealand there are also two regional passenger train services.

  • The Capital Connection train operates between Wellington and Palmerston North Monday to Friday
  •  The Wairapapa Connection train operates between Wellington and Masterton seven days a week

There are no overnight regional or long distance passenger train services in New Zealand. Travel to other major tourist destinations in New Zealand is by scenic bus and coach services from either Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch or Greymouth.

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  • 10 Best Train Journeys In New Zealand That Will Change Your Perspective About Rail Rides!

30 Nov 2021

New Zealand is perhaps one of the most beautiful and dramatic places in the whole world. The country is filled with beautiful scenic views and mesmerizing landscapes. This is one of the places where you can find true peace of mind while breathing in the beauty of the place. The best way to explore the natural beauty of New Zealand is through rail journeys. At every turn, you will witness breathtaking views and sceneries that is going to have a relaxing effect on you. Steaming geysers, lush forests, snowy mountains, and bottomless fjords, witness all of it while taking a pleasurable train journey. Travel across the spectacular volcanic landscapes, through the beautiful national parks, over the river valleys, and along the coastlines while witnessing the mighty mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other side. Each of these great train journeys can be completed in just one day.

10 Best Train Journeys In New Zealand

If you want to explore New Zealand in the best way possible, then, there can be no greater way than opting for the train rides. You can travel through the whole country and while enjoying the beautiful views outside your train window. If you are planning your next trip to New Zealand, you need to make sure that you at least take one of the mentioned train journeys. We have listed 10 of the best train journeys in New Zealand that you can take in New Zealand. Here you go with the list.

1. The Marlborough Flyer

The Marlborough Flyer

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Marlborough Flyer is one of the most convenient modes of transportation in New Zealand. The train starts its a journey from Picton at the top of the South Island. For the ones who are planning to explore New Zealand from top to bottom, this train can be the ideal option for them. You can have a cruise like comfort while traveling by this train. The train is known to use historic carriages to reach Blenheim where you can enjoy the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and the mouth-watering wine tours. This train travel in New Zealand is totally worth it if you are to explore the true beauty of New Zealand.

Location: Picton Railway Station, Picton, 7220, New Zealand Timings: 2-3 hours Price: Rs 5648.42

Must Read: 15 Adventurous Spots For Camping In New Zealand On Your Next Trip In 2022!

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2. TranzAlpine

TranzAlpine

If you are travel from east to west, then this is perhaps the most logical option that you can go for. The train links the Christchurch in the east with Greymouth in the west. You should be informed that the train is going to travel through the Southern Alps. Thus, you can figure out the kind of scenic beauty you are going to witness during your journey. However, the highlight of the journey remains the Waimakariri Gorge. This is a 10-hour return trip and thus, it’s the best option to reach Greymouth in the West for a few days. For the ones who are bothered about sustenance on the trip should be informed that you can avail plenty of buffet car to keep your hunger and thirst at bay.

Location: South Island, New Zealand Timings: 4 hours 50 minutes Price: Rs 2588.86

3. Taieri Gorge Railway, Dunedin

Taieri Gorge Railway, Dunedin

This is the rail journey that you will remember for life. If you are keen about taking photographs then this could be an ideal train journey for you. The train has 20s carriages with open balconies, so if you want to take photos, you can do it unobstructed. Witness the beautiful landscapes while traveling and get mesmerized by the scenic beauty of the place. The train also serves you with a buffet car and a shop on board. The train is known to travel through some of the most spectacular countries. The northern end of the rail train is described as one of the most famous long-distance cycle routes of New Zealand.

Location: 22 Anzac Ave, Dunedin, 9016, New Zealand Timings: 3 hours Price: Rs 4942.37

Suggested Read: 10 Interesting Things To Do In Nelson That Make This Town In New Zealand A Must Visit

4. Northern Explorer

Northern Explorer

This is perhaps the most comfortable and modern train journey that you can go for in New Zealand. The carriages of the train come with an advanced air bag suspension system which is designed for smoother and quieter travel. The train is equipped with a non-reflective, un-tinted panoramic roof and side windows through which you can enjoy the spectacular views of the mountains and the coastlines of the Northern Island. The train has full modern features like GPS triggered journey commentary, information displays, central heating and air conditioning system to ensure the comfort of the travelers. It can be said that the train journey is one of the best and the most comfortable one that you can experience. It is guaranteed that you will not get disappointed by this 10-hour ride between Auckland and Wellington.

Location: Wellington Railway Station, Bunny Street, Wellington, New Zealand Timings: 3 hours Price: Rs 5295.39

5. The Coastal Pacific

The Coastal Pacific

This particular train is known to run between the port of Picton and Kaikoura. If you think that life on rails is the option for you then you can simply board this train and have the best travel experience of your life. You will travel through the wine growing region of Blenheim and through the rugged mountain ranges of Kaikoura on one side. On the other side, you can see the view of the Pacific Ocean coastline. You will also get to see some of the finest farmland and horticulture areas of the Canterbury Plains.

Location: Addington Railway Station, Troup Drive, Christchurch, New Zealand Timing: 3 hours Price: Rs 3589.10

Suggested Read: Top Five Airports In New Zealand For A Memorable NZ Beginning

6. Driving Creek Railway

Driving Creek Railway

Situated in the Coromandel, this rail ride is going to give you a thrilling experience of the history of the area. The train will take you through the kauri forest and native bush ending. On your way, you can witness the beautiful view of the Hauraki Gulf and the islands surrounding it. You will also get to see some fine outdoor art lining and pottery sculptures on the tracks as you move ahead. This is one of the best train travel in New Zealand south island.

Location: 380 Driving Creek RD, Coromandel 3506, New Zealand Timing: 1 to 2 hours Price: Rs 20,710.86

7. The Oamaru Seasider

The Oamaru Seasider

This train ride is going to provide you with the breath-taking views of the Otago coastline. On your way, you will get to witness the mesmerizing Blueskin Bay and the surrounding beaches, inlets, and hills. The train also gives a halt in Moeraki, before I travel through the coastal farmland.

Location: Anzac Square, Dunedin, New Zealand Timing: 90 minutes Price: Rs 2,965.40

Suggested Read: New Year Parties In New Zealand 2022: Explore The Nightlife Of The Country!

8. The Capital Connection

The Capital Connection

This is a long distance train ride that connects Palmerston North and Wellington on the North Island Main Trunk. The rail service was started in 1991 and is operated by Kiwirail. The train comes with luxury onboard service and thus, you can enjoy a pleasurable ride while viewing the scenic views outside your window. This journey of 2 hours is worth the experience.

Location: Palmerston North Timing: 2 hours

9. TranzCoastal

TranzCoastal

This is also a long distance train journey that covers the area between Picton and Christchurch. The train is operated by the Great Journeys of New Zealand. This is the first train that is known to use AK class carriages. If you want to witness the beautiful views of the mountains and the ocean on either side of the trail then this could be the option for you. this is one of the best train journeys in south island New Zealand.

Location: Picton, New Zealand Timing: 5 hours, 13 minutes

Suggested Read: Ski In New Zealand: 10 Places Every Adrenaline Junkie Must Visit At Least Once!

10. Wairarapa Connection

Wairarapa Connection

This train links the Masterton and Wellington. This diesel-hauled carriage service is one of the best train journeys that you can take in New Zealand. If you are planning for a train trip to New Zealand then this is one of the options that you can add in your list.

Location: Masterton, New Zealand Timing: 1 hour 40 minutes

Further Read: New Year Parties In New Zealand 2022: Explore The Nightlife Of The Country!

So these are the 10 of the best train journeys in New Zealand. These train rides are the perfect way to explore the beauty of New Zealand. So, plan a trip to New Zealand right away and enjoy these train rides!

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Tangiwai memorial service and train journey marks 70th anniversary

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A view of the rebuilt Tangiwai rail bridge over the Whangaehu River. Photo / Dean Purcell

On the 70th anniversary of New Zealand’s worst rail disaster, a new Herald podcast has recalled the tragedy and lessons of Tangiwai . Host Hamish Williams, who will accompany survivors to today’s memorial service by train as part of a bonus episode, explains why it promises to be a special occasion

Tangiwai survivors and their families hope today will remind New Zealanders why this piece of our history should never be forgotten.

After a train journey retracing the original route, a memorial service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Tangiwai tragedy will be held at the site of the disaster from midday today.

Tangiwai became the scene of New Zealand’s worst train disaster when 151 people died on Christmas Eve 1953 after a lahar from Mt Ruapehu damaged the bridge across the Whangaehu River, causing the train to plunge off the rails.

Although the event happened on Christmas Eve, the event was scheduled for today to include local iwi, Ruapehu Lions, dignitaries and representatives from the Defence Force and KiwiRail.

This anniversary may be the last one attended by survivors from the night. Among them is John Mahy, who was 15 when he and his sister were moved between carriages shortly before the train was derailed.

John will be accompanied by his son Calum Mahy, a skilled stonemason, who has been responsible for creating many of the memorials that occupy the sight.

“Being with Dad for this special day is very much about remembering those who lost their lives and honouring their memory. It’s a piece of New Zealand history that should never be forgotten.”

John and Calum will be travelling to the site on a memorial train organised for the event, which will pick up passengers from Paekākāriki, retracing the exact journey of the Wellington to Auckland express that never reached its destination.

Bob Norling, one of the organisers, recognises this as a last chance for many of the people who personally experienced the events of Tangiwai to come together.

“There’s been an immense amount of work gone into the 70th and we are looking forward to having survivors and first responders from that night in attendance.

“It’s an open invitation for people to come to the anniversary. We will never forget the people who lost their lives and they deserve recognition, especially the 20 bodies that were never found.”

The memorial service will be covered as part of a bonus episode of Tangiwai: A Forgotten History, which is available at iHeartRadio , Apple Podcasts , Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. The series was made with the support of NZ On Air. For video and photos, go to nzherald.co.nz/tangiwai

railway journeys new zealand

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World’s Most SCENIC Train Journeys That Don’t Cost the Earth

Posted: December 4, 2023 | Last updated: December 4, 2023

Slow and relaxing, train travel is one of the best ways of getting around if you have the time to spare. Some of the most breathtaking views in the world can be enjoyed from behind a train window and you don't necessarily have to shell out the big bucks for an epic journey. Here we take a look at the world's most scenic train journeys that you won't have to splash out on.

Christchurch to Greymouth, New Zealand

Taking in some of New Zealand's most dramatic landscapes, the TranzAlpine route from Christchurch to Greymouth travels through some of the most incredible sights on the South Island. The train crosses Canterbury Plains and travels alongside the Waimakariri River before ascending into the mountains where it crosses the Staircase Viaduct. One-way fares start from $117 and all the seats line up with the huge panoramic windows and roof skylights.

Perhaps one of the most stunning features along the TranzAlpine's route is traversing the snow-capped mountains of Arthur's Pass National Park. The scenery then quickly turns subtropical as the train continues its journey through the west coast's rainforests and one of the best experiences on the train is stepping out on the open-air viewing car.

Glasgow to Mallaig, Scotland, UK

Dubbed Britain's most scenic train route, the West Highland Line runs from the Scottish city of Glasgow to Fort William before continuing its journey towards the port of Mallaig. The journey traverses the Scottish Highlands' epic landscape and passes through the remote wilderness of Rannoch Moor. After a brief stop in Fort William, the train crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct – the same bridge the Hogwarts Express crosses in the Harry Potter films.

<p>For an even more authentic Harry Potter experience, there's the <a href="https://westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/steam-train-trip">The Jacobite</a> steam train – it's the one used in the movies. This year the train is scheduled to run Monday to Friday from early April to late October between Fort William and Mallaig. An adult return ticket costs $63. Otherwise, regular ScotRail trains run every day and one-way off-peak fare is around $38.</p>

For an even more authentic Harry Potter experience, there's The Jacobite steam train – it's the one used in the films. This year the train is scheduled to run Monday to Friday from early April to late October between Fort William and Mallaig. A standard adult return ticket costs $69. Otherwise, regular ScotRail trains between Glasgow and Mallaig run every day and a one-way off-peak fare is around $35.

<p>Stretching along the Pacific coastline, Amtrak's <a href="https://www.pacificsurfliner.com/">Pacific Surfliner</a> connects the southern Californian cities of San Luis Obispo and San Diego. It's a comfortable 351-mile (565km) journey taking in stunning ocean views, beaches, rocky coast and quaint towns along the way. The train stops in places like Santa Barbara, Anaheim and Los Angeles along the way so if you have time, you can hop off and explore.</p>

San Luis Obispo to San Diego, California, USA

Stretching along the Pacific coastline, Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner connects the southern Californian cities of San Luis Obispo and San Diego. It's a comfortable 351-mile (565km) journey taking in stunning ocean views, beaches, rocky coast and quaint towns along the way. The train stops in places like Santa Barbara, Anaheim and Los Angeles along the way so if you have time, you can hop off and explore.

<p>One-way fares start from $62 and the full journey takes just over eight hours. Normally, the route offers 13 daily round-trip services between San Diego and Los Angeles, five to Santa Barbara and two to San Luis Obispo so travelers can be flexible with their itinerary, however, Pacific Surfliner is currently operating a reduced service.</p>

One-way fares start from around $70 and the full journey takes just over eight hours. Normally, the route offers 13 daily round-trip services between San Diego and Los Angeles, five to Santa Barbara and two to San Luis Obispo so travelers can be flexible with their itinerary, but do check the website for the latest timetables and service updates.

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Built by the British in the late 1800s, Sri Lanka's rail system was originally used to transport tea and coffee for export so it's no surprise that this seven-hour trip takes passengers through stunning tea plantations, remote villages, lush green hills and tumbling waterfalls. If traveling from Kandy, know that the better views are from the seats on the right.

Kandy to Ella, Sri Lanka

One-way tickets from Colombo via Kandy cost $2.74 for a third-class reserved seat and $9.58 for a first-class ticket in an air-conditioned car. The train makes several stops along the way where locals sell fresh fruit and snacks right by the tracks.

Flåm to Myrdal, Norway

Often described as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, this journey is just under two hours and takes in some of the most beautiful scenery Norway has to offer. The Flåm Railway travels from sea level at the Sognefjord in Flåm to the Myrdal mountain station, 2,841 feet (866m) above sea level.

Passing deep ravines, cascading waterfalls and towering peaks, the journey is equally stunning in both summer and winter, when a blanket of snow turns the green landscape into a winter wonderland. The Flåm Railway connects with trains running between Oslo and Bergen, and round-trip fares start from $59.

Williams to Grand Canyon Village, Arizona, USA

The trip on the Grand Canyon Railway begins in Williams, a small town 30 miles (48km) west of Flagstaff. Meandering its way through ponderosa pine forests and open prairie, the train terminates in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park before heading back to Williams. On the way, passengers are encouraged to get into the spirit of the Old West and enjoy the musical entertainment, cowboy characters and other surprises.

<p>One-way fares start from $67 to $226 for a seat in the luxury dome car which has a private bar service and incredible views. Pick the luxury parlor and you'll be able to step out on the rear platform to see the changing landscape from a different perspective. If planning a trip, check any <a href="http://www.azcounties.org/265/COVID-19-Coronavirus-Resource-Center">state-specific travel advisories</a>.</p>

One-way fares start from $67 for a traditional Pullman Class seat up to $226 for a spot in the luxury dome car which has a private bar service and incredible views. Pick the luxury parlor and you'll be able to step out on the rear platform to see the changing landscape from a different perspective.

<p>The two-hour journey on the <a href="https://www.ksr.com.au/Pages/Default.aspx">Kuranda Scenic Railway</a> begins in Cairns and takes visitors through one of the world's oldest rainforests. The tropical scenery takes in waterfalls, mountains and ravines as well as one of Queensland's most popular national parks, Barron Gorge. In Kuranda, visitors can tour the historic train station which is more than 100 years-old, plus a reptile park and a butterfly sanctuary.</p>  <p><strong>Read more: <a href="https://www.loveexploring.com/galleries/82456/stunning-pictures-of-the-worlds-most-beautiful-train-stations">Stunning pictures of the world's most beautiful train stations</a></strong></p>

Cairns to Kuranda, Queensland, Australia

The two-hour journey on the Kuranda Scenic Railway begins in Cairns and takes visitors through one of the world's oldest rainforests. The tropical scenery takes in waterfalls, mountains and ravines as well as one of Queensland's most popular national parks, Barron Gorge. In Kuranda, visitors can tour the historic train station which is more than 100 years-old, plus a reptile park and a butterfly sanctuary.

In pictures: The world's most beautiful train stations

<p>Return fares start from $59 for adults and $29 for children. Many opt to take the railway to Kuranda and get the <a href="https://www.skyrail.com.au/">Skyrail Rainforest Cableway</a> back, to experience the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics of Queensland from a different angle. A combined rail and cableway ticket costs £65 $89 for adults and $45 for children. There are <a href="https://www.ksr.com.au/Pages/COVID-19-Health-and-Hygiene.aspx">special COVID-19-related measures</a> in place.</p>

Return fares start from $51 for adults and $25 for children. Many opt to take the railway to Kuranda and get the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway back, to experience the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics of Queensland from a different angle. A combined rail and cableway ticket costs $79 for adults and $42 for children.

<p>The <a href="https://www.tazarasite.com/">TAZARA</a> (Tanzania & Zambia Railway Authority) route is a great way of experiencing a safari without splashing out. The train travels from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi through the Selous game reserve, offering a chance to spot elephants, lions, giraffes and more. The journey covers 1,150 miles (1,852km) and takes just under 48 hours to complete.</p>

Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi, Tanzania and Zambia

The TAZARA (Tanzania & Zambia Railway Authority) route is a great way of experiencing a safari without splashing out. The train travels from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi through the Selous game reserve, offering a chance to spot elephants, lions, giraffes and more. The journey covers 1,150 miles (1,852km) and takes just under 48 hours to complete.

The trains, which have sleeping cars and a restaurant car, provide a safari experience on a budget. Prices start from $31 for a one-way, third-class seat while the first-class sleeper is $45.

Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, Vietnam

When traveling on The Reunification Express line (also known as the North-South Railway) you don't have to choose between seeing historic cities, charming towns and spectacular coastline – this journey has it all. Traversing more than a thousand miles between Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, the route is one of Asia's most popular train rides. The full journey takes over two days but you can hop on and off at destinations like Hue and Da Nang.

A trip on this train takes in breathtaking Vietnamese landscapes like Hải Vân Pass, Vân Phong Bay and the Annamite Range. Prices for the full, one-way journey between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City start from $40 for a soft seat while soft sleeper lower berths with air conditioning start from $62.

Creel to Los Mochis, Mexico

The Chepe Express , running from the coastal city of Los Mochis in northern Sinaloa to Creel in Chihuahua, is easily one of the most picturesque train journeys you could take without blowing the budget. Throughout the nine-hour trip, the train goes through 86 tunnels and crosses 37 bridges, and traverses the epic canyons of the Sierra Tarahumara, including the Copper Canyon.

It's a brilliant way to explore more of the country as travelers are allowed to make up to three different overnight stops at no extra cost if booking a ticket for the full length of the route. One-way ticket prices start from $109 in tourist class and $178 in first class, and there's a dining room on every train serving an à la carte menu.

Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Part of VIA Rail Canada's Adventure Routes, the Winnipeg to Churchill route (formerly known as the Hudson Bay and before that the Northern Spirits) is the only dry land connection to Churchill from the rest of Canada. The journey stretches 1,054 miles (1,697km) and takes more than two days to complete.

<p>As the train edges its way closer to Churchill, passengers have the chance to spot unparalleled northern landscapes and maybe even a polar bear or two. Travelers can choose between economy class or sleeper plus, which includes meals throughout the trip. One-way fares start from $168. If planning a trip, make sure it follows the government guidelines, including the curfew in place in Quebec.</p>

As the train edges its way closer to Churchill, passengers have the chance to spot unparalleled northern landscapes and maybe even a polar bear or two. Travelers can choose between economy class or sleeper plus, which includes meals throughout the trip. One-way fares start from around $181.

Peru is filled with exciting train journeys from the luxurious Belmond Andean Explorer to the much-loved tourist route between Cusco and Machu Picchu. For an unusual (and a more wallet-friendly) experience, travelers should choose the Ferrovías Central railway. Transporting passengers from Lima to Huancayo, the charming capital of Peru's central highlands, it's the second-highest passenger train in the world reaching a height of almost 16,000 feet (4,782m) as it travels through the Andes.

Lima to Huancayo, Peru

<p>The trip takes 12 hours to complete and travels through the Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve, one of Peru's most important protected areas with breathtaking landscapes. Those keen to travel should plan the trip carefully as the trains only run twice a month. One-way fares start from $67.</p>

The trip takes 14 hours to complete and travels through the Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve, one of Peru's most important protected areas with breathtaking landscapes. Those keen to travel should plan the trip carefully as the trains only run eight to nine times a year between April and November. One-way fares start around $132.

<p>The Blue Train running from Pretoria to Cape Town is one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world with an eye-watering price tag to match. However, there are two much cheaper alternatives. Starting from Johannesburg, passengers on this train enjoy the exact same views as those on the Blue Train – the Karoo desert, Hex River Pass, Cape wine region (pictured) and Table Mountain – for a fraction of the price.</p>

Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africa

The Blue Train running from Pretoria to Cape Town is one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world with an eye-watering price tag to match. However, there is a much cheaper alternative. Starting from Johannesburg, passengers on this train enjoy the exact same views as those on the Blue Train – the Karoo desert, Hex River Pass, Cape wine region (pictured) and Table Mountain – for a fraction of the price.

<p>The <a href="http://www.shosholozameyl.co.za/">Shosholoza Meyl</a> train, with sleeping cars and a restaurant, is the cheaper option with one-way fares starting from $44. The other option is on the train's <a href="https://www.southafricanrailways.co.za/premier_classe.html">Premier Classe</a> which has private sleepers, all meals included and a lounge-bar car. With prices starting from $251 for a one-way ticket, it's a lot more affordable than the Blue Train and offers a very similar experience.</p>  <p><strong>Read more: <a href="https://www.loveexploring.com/galleries/64341/the-worlds-most-luxurious-train-journeys-you-wont-want-to-get-off">The world’s most luxurious train journeys you won’t want to get off</a></strong></p>

The Shosholoza Meyl train, with sleeping cars and a restaurant, offers one-way fares starting at around $40. The other option is on the train's Premier Classe which has private sleepers, all meals included and a lounge-bar car. With prices at around $228 for a one-way ticket, it's still a lot more affordable than the Blue Train and offers a very similar experience.

These are the world’s most luxurious train journeys

<p>India's only rack railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway from Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam is part of the UNESCO-listed Mountain Railways of India but a one-way ride on it won't cost more than $1.05. The train climbs the mountain rather sharply – it has the steepest track in Asia with a maximum gradient of 8.33%. The route takes exactly 290 minutes to go uphill, yet the return journey is 75 minutes shorter.</p>

Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam, Tamil Nadu, India

India's only rack railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway from Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam is part of the UNESCO-listed Mountain Railways of India but a one-way ride in sleeper class won't cost you more than $2.40. The train climbs the mountain rather sharply – it has the steepest track in Asia with a maximum gradient of 8.33%. The route takes exactly 290 minutes to go uphill, yet the return journey is 75 minutes shorter.

<p>The route is 28.5 miles (46km) long and passes through many tunnels and over hundreds of bridges. The surrounding scenery includes rocky terrain, ravines, tea plantations and forested hills. The best views are between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, which is famous for its teas.</p>  <p><strong>Read more: <a href="https://www.loveexploring.com/galleries/80934/last-stop-stunning-photos-of-abandoned-train-stations-around-the-world">Last stop: stunning photos of abandoned train stations around the world</a></strong></p>

The route is 28.5 miles (46km) long and passes through many tunnels and over hundreds of bridges. The surrounding scenery includes rocky terrain, ravines, tea plantations and forested hills. The best views are between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, which is famous for its teas.

Take a look at these abandoned train stations around the world

<p>Connecting two of Switzerland's mountain resorts, the <a href="https://www.glacierexpress.ch/en/">Glacier Express</a> is a brilliant way of seeing some of the most beautiful views in the Swiss Alps. The scenic route takes in sights like Oberalp Pass, the highest point of the journey, and the Landwasser Viaduct (pictured) – a six-arch bridge which stands at 213 feet (65m) and plunges straight into a tunnel that leads through the mountain. The day-long trip covers 91 tunnels, 291 bridges and offers the chance to take in stunning alpine meadows, mountain lakes and chalets. </p>

Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland

Connecting two of Switzerland's mountain resorts, the Glacier Express is a brilliant way of seeing some of the most beautiful views in the Swiss Alps. The scenic route takes in sights like Oberalp Pass, the highest point of the journey, and the Landwasser Viaduct (pictured) – a six-arch bridge which stands at 213 feet (65m) and plunges straight into a tunnel that leads through the mountain. The day-long trip covers 91 tunnels, 291 bridges and offers the chance to take in stunning alpine meadows, mountain lakes and chalets. 

<p>Although you might expect to have to pay dearly for such a stunning train ride, the journey will only set you back around $171 for a one-way, second-class ticket. You can choose to pay a $53 supplement for a three-course lunch or you're free to bring your own food, drink and even a bottle of wine on board. There is a food service car and staff come down the train taking orders. The panoramic coaches were specially built for the service in 2006. For now, all journeys are temporarily canceled.</p>

Zermatt to St Moritz, Switzerland

Although you might expect to have to pay dearly for such a stunning train ride, the journey will only set you back around $166 for a one-way, second-class ticket. You can choose to pay a $53 supplement for a three-course lunch or you're free to bring your own food, drink and even a bottle of wine on board. There is a food service car and staff come down the train taking orders. The panoramic coaches were specially built for the service in 2006.

Now check out the best no-fly vacations in Europe

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The Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Car driving down a road with golden fields on either side, leading towards snow-capped mountains on the South Island of New Zealand

With its snow-capped mountains, ancient glaciers, rolling verdant hills, incredibly friendly locals, and abundant world-class wine, New Zealand is as wonderful as you’ve heard. In fact, take what you’ve heard and times it by ten. New Zealand will simply blow your mind when you visit.

People think because it’s a small country, you can do it all in two weeks. That’s not true. There’s a lot to do here. From the north island to the south island, you need a lot of time here to do it all. You can fill months with activities. New Zealand may be small but it punches above its weight with things to do.

But what if you don’t have months? What do you do then? What route do you take? What island should you start with? Where do you go?

Or what if you do? Then what? Where do you begin planning that kind of trip?

I get these questions in my inbox all the time. Having traveled all over the country multiple times, I know the complexities of trying to figure out how to get to those remote towns and out-of-the-way parks and glaciers.

While buses and trains can take you most places, the best way to see the country is by taking a road trip. With your own set of wheels, you’ll be able to get deep into the natural landscapes that make this country so famous. New Zealand is a road trip country. It’s the best way to explore.

Below are my suggested itineraries that can help you plan your New Zealand road trip for maximum efficiency. Whether you have two weeks, one month, or even longer, these will ensure that you see the highlights and get off the beaten path.

Note: Two weeks is the minimum recommended time for a New Zealand road trip. There’s so much to see and do here, yet you still don’t want to be rushed or spend all your time in the car. If you only have two weeks, focus on one island.

If you want to learn more about Maori culture, see the Waitomo glow worms, spend time in New Zealand’s main cities, and enjoy relaxing activities like lying on the beach and sitting in hot springs, road trip the North Island.

If you want to spend your time hiking glaciers, doing adventure activities, and soaking up the epic landscapes of New Zealand, head to the South Island for your road trip.

With one month, you can combine the following two-week itineraries to really be able to enjoy all that both islands have to offer. More than a month? There’s nothing you can’t do!

Table of Contents

Choosing the Right Vehicle

  • Two-Week North Island Route
  • Two-Week South Island Route
  • One Month Itinerary
  • Things to Remember

A car, campervan, and Jeep on the road in the rainforests of New Zealand.

  • Travellers Autobarn
  • Wicked Campers

Prices vary a lot. Your daily rate will change depending on where you pick up the vehicle if you are dropping it off at a different place, how long you are renting it for, how far in advance you book, and when you book (in the high season, prices seem to double!).

If living out of a van for a few weeks doesn’t sound like your idea of a fun time, simply rent a normal car and book accommodation along the way. To book a car, check out Discover Cars , which searches rental agencies big and small to find the best deals.  

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: A Two-Week North Island Route

Days 1–2: auckland.

The skyline of Auckland, New Zealand at night

Spend some time hanging out on the Auckland Domain, go snorkel on Goat Island , and if you love wine like I do, take a wine tour on Waiheke Island .

For a list of more things to do in Auckland, check out my guide to the city!

Where to Stay : The Albion – This historic accommodation began as a “pub hotel” in the 19th century. Today there’s still a nice old tavern in the hotel. The rooms are comfortable and the place is quiet.

Days 3-4: Bay of Islands

Lighthouse on the coast in the Bay of Island, New Zealand

While you’re here you can visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (one of the most important historical sites in the country), explore Cape Reinga (the northernmost point of New Zealand), and see wild dolphins on a boat tour .

For a list of more things to do in Bay of Islands, check out my complete guide!

Where to Stay : Haka Lodge – Located in Paihia, Haka Lodge has a lot of common spaces, a large kitchen, and great views over the harbor. Everything is super clean and the beds are comfortable. It’s a good place to meet people.

Day 5: Hobbiton

A Hobbit home in Hobbiton, New Zealand from the Lord of the Rings set

To see Hobbiton, you’ll have to take a tour that starts with a drive through the owner’s 505-hectare (1,250-acre) sheep farm, offering epic views over the Kaimai Range. From here, you can explore Bag End, wander around the hobbit holes, and visit the Green Dragon Inn. Tours start at 89 NZD.

Where to Stay : Cosy Country Stay B&B – This is a cute bed-and-breakfast located in Matamata just a few miles from Hobbiton. The hosts are fantastic, there’s complimentary breakfast, and the property is quiet and tranquil, with roaming cats and goats for added atmosphere.

Days 6–7: Rotorua

Maori warriors doing a performance in New Zealand

The Maori were the original inhabitants of New Zealand, having arrived from Polynesia between 1320 and 1350. This is the best area to learn about Maori history and culture . Don’t miss seeing a Maori cultural show while you’re here (the Te Pa Tu Maori Cultural Experience is the one I attended).

The region is also known for its geothermal activity, and the dynamic landscape makes for exciting nature walks, trips to smelly sulfuric geysers, and soaks in luxury spas with water from the hot springs.

Where to Stay : Rock Solid Backpackers – This is a centrally located hostel with an expansive array of facilities, including a cinema, a bar, a communal kitchen, and even a rock-climbing wall.

Day 8: Waitomo

Silhouettes of people staring up at the starry blue lights of glowworms in the caves of Waitomo, New Zealand

For a complete list of things to do in Waitomo, check out my guide on the town.

Where to Stay : Juno Hall – Close to the glowworm caves, Juno Hall has a swimming pool and tennis court on-site. There’s a large kitchen as well as an outdoor grill for barbecuing.

Days 9-10: Taupo

Red sailboat in front of a Maori rock carving on Lake Taupo in New Zealand

It’s also one of the best places to go skydiving in New Zealand thanks to the views and clear skies (though I didn’t do this while I was there).

I loved the small-town feel of Taupo, sitting by the lake, and being able to do so many hikes. I could have stayed here for weeks.

For a list of more things to do in Taupo, check out my guide!

Where to Stay : Finlay Jack’s has a huge kitchen, a big common room, a spacious patio with BBQs, fun and welcoming staff, bike rentals, and a super friendly hostel dog. Everything in the hostel is updated, with new, modern pod-style beds so you can get a great night’s sleep. In short, everything a backpacker or budget traveler would want from a hostel.

Day 11: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The emerald green lakes against the stark volcanic landscape of Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a hike in New Zealand

As you wind your way through Tongariro National Park, you’ll walk through volcanic terrain (including where Mordor in Lord of the Rings was filmed), past high peaks and sulfur lakes, and end the day in a dense forest. It’s easy in parts (the beginning and end) and steep in others (especially the portion after “Mount Doom”), so you’ll get a good mix of difficulty levels.

Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, a hat, toilet paper, and a sweater or jacket (the weather can change rapidly). Expect to pay around 40 NZD per person for a round-trip shuttle to and from the trail or 280 NZD for a full-day guided hike .

Where to Stay : National Park Alpine Lodge – Located in National Park Village (the best place to stay if doing the trek), this lodge features budget-friendly private rooms, a communal kitchen and common area (with a cozy fireplace for cold nights!), and a helpful staff.

Otherwise, you can stay in Taupo, which is where people usually base themselves when they do this trek.

Days 12–14: Wellington

The red cable car ascending its track with the skyline of Wellington, New Zealand in the background

Be sure to visit Te Papa (New Zealand’s national museum), ride the cable car to the Cable Car Museum, and tour Weta Workshop (an Academy Award–winning props and special effects studio).

For a list of more things to do in Wellington, check out my detailed guide to the city.

Where to Stay : The Dwellington – More than half the Dwellington is common space, with a games room, a cinema room (with cushy seats!), living rooms, outdoor patios, and even tennis and squash courts. The staff also really goes out of their way to make sure you feel welcome.

If you’ve only got two weeks and are ending your road trip in Wellington, you can fly out of the airport here to wherever you need to go next. If you have more time, you’ll take the car ferry (around 3.5 hours) to Picton on the South Island to continue your trip (in which case, follow the following two-week South Island itinerary, but in reverse).  

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: A Two-Week South Island Route

If you choose the South Island for your two-week road trip, start in Queenstown. Even if your international flight lands in Auckland on the North Island, you can easily get a cheap flight to Queenstown. Queenstown also has direct flights to many major cities in Australia if your trip to New Zealand is part of a larger adventure in Oceania.

Days 1-3: Queenstown

Aerial view of Queenstown, New Zealand, showing the city on the water with mountains in the background

Known as “the adventure capital of New Zealand” (it’s the launching pad for every sort of adventure activity you can think of), Queenstown lives up to the hype. Even though it has become hugely popular, I cannot express my love of Queenstown enough. I love sitting by the lake, watching the sunset with a bottle of wine, and hiking the nearby trails.

Explore nearby vineyards, enjoy the waters of Lake Wakatipu, bungy jump, zipline, rafting, or skydiving . There’s a lot to do here.

For a list of more things to do in Queenstown, check out my detailed city guide.

Where to Stay : Nomads Queenstown – Most rooms have balconies, the showers have prodigious water pressure, and the pillows are thick. There are activities every night and a free dinner and quiz night on Sunday. Overall, this is a great place to stay.

Days 4-6: Fiordland

A  ship set against the sheer cliffs of Milford Sound in New Zealand

Milford Sound is an amazing fjord that’s best known for the towering Mitre Peak and its surrounding rainforest. You can walk the wooded trail along the sandy shore for perfect views of the peak, or take the Chasm Walk on the Cleddau River to get close to powerful waterfalls.

The fjord itself is home to seal and penguin colonies. You can often see pods of dolphins frolicking in the waters too. Explore by boat and check out the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory to see rare black coral and other underwater life. Southern Discoveries is the only company doing cruises that include the Underwater Observatory. Cruises start from 129 NZD .

While less well-known than Milford, Doubtful Sound is the deepest and second-largest fjord in the country. You can only get to Doubtful via boat. A wilderness cruise of Doubtful Sound costs 199 NZD.

Where to Stay : Milford Sound Lodge – This is quite literally the only place to stay within about 50 kilometers (31 miles). It’s not cheap, but the views are unmatched, the complimentary breakfast is delicious, and the contemporary rooms are cozy yet modern. Otherwise, if you have a car, you can stay in the closest town, Te Anau where you’ll find cheaper accommodation.

Days 7-8: Wanaka

Famous tree in the water of Lake Wanaka, with snow-capped mountains in the background in the town of Wanaka, New Zealand

For a list of more things to do in Wanaka, check out my detailed city guide.

Where to Stay : Mountain View Backpackers – This hostel has a huge outdoor space with a grill, space to lie in the sun, and a big table to congregate around (there were many enjoyable nights spent drinking wine outdoors).

Day 9: Franz Josef Glacier

People hiking on a glacier in Franz Josef, New Zealand

Hiking the glaciers here is an unforgettable experience. Sadly, because they have receded and are melting quickly due to climate change, the caves and walks have been shut down. Now, the only way to trek on the glaciers is via heli-hike ( an epic half-day or full-day helicopter/hiking experience ). These are expensive (500 NZD), but the helicopter ride, trekking, and experience as a whole are worth the price in my opinion.

Conversely, you can just hike to the glacier face and take photos from a distance. There are tons of viewing points (and you’ll see photos of just how far the glaciers have receded in over the years).

Where to Stay : Chateau Backpacker & Motels – Just a ten-minute drive from the glacier, this lodging offers free homemade soup every night, free breakfast (homemade waffles and pancakes!), two communal kitchens, and a hot tub.

Days 10–11: Abel Tasman National Park

Sandy beach and bright blue waters of Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand

The best way to see the park is by kayak, so you can explore the little coves and beaches that really make the area special. Full-day rentals start at around 85 NZD, or you can join a guided kayaking tour starting at 130 NZD. You can also take a scenic cruise around the park for 79 NZD.

Where to Stay : Marahau Beach Camp – Offers both dormitories and small private cottages, a communal kitchen, and a seasonal restaurant. There are also tent and campervan sites if you want to save money.

From here, pick your last stop: either drive onwards to Christchurch and end there or take the ferry over the Wellington (an adventure in and of itself!) and end there. Either way, you’ll be able to catch a cheap and quick flight back to Auckland for your international flight home.

If you’re heading to Christchurch, keep reading. If you’d like to visit Wellington, scroll back up and follow the tips in the North Island itinerary section.

Days 12-14: Christchurch

Gondolas set against a backdrop of lakes and mountains in Christchurch, New Zealand

While there’s not a lot “to do” per se, the vibe here is really relaxed, and it’s worth not rushing through if you aren’t short on time. Be sure to ride the gondola , visit the Canterbury Museum, and tour Quake City (a unique and interactive museum that recounts personal stories from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes).

For a list of more things to do in Christchurch, check out my city guide.

Where to Stay : Urbanz – This is an awesome hostel located in downtown Christchurch with friendly staff and a huge kitchen. There’s also a hostel bar, a pool table, fast Wi-Fi, laundry, movies, and comfy couches, as well as a parking lot.

If you need to get back to Queenstown, it’s a 6 hour drive from here. Alternatively, you can fly to Auckland. The flight is just over an hour and tickets can be found for as low as 65 NZD if you book in advance.  

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: One Month

Snow-capped mountains in the background of a green valley in New Zealand

Again, these are just recommended itineraries — I encourage you to adapt as needed!  

Things to Remember When Road-Tripping New Zealand

To help you make the most of your road trip, please remember the following rules:

  • Traffic flows on the left here (not the right, like in the US or Canada).
  • You must always park your car in the direction that traffic is going (or risk a fine).
  • There are plenty of pull-off points for taking photos — use them instead of stopping at a random spot along the side of the road, which can be quite dangerous given how tight the roads are here.
  • Roads here are winding, so remember that it might take longer than you expect to cover a particular distance.
  • As long as your current and valid driver’s license is in English, you don’t need an International Driver’s Permit.
  • If you’re traveling by campervan, use the CamperMate app to find nearby campsites, gas stations, and dump stations.

New Zealand is an unforgettable country, loaded with epic landscapes, friendly Kiwis, and a rich culture. Due to its remote location, visiting is usually a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most travelers. Taking a road trip is the best way to make the most of your time here, tailoring your itinerary to your own preferences and New Zealand bucket list.

Need a rental car for your epic adventure? use the widget below to find the best deals!

Book Your Trip to New Zealand: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned!

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

If you’re looking for specific places to stay, here is a complete list of my favorite hostels in New Zealand .

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • Safety Wing (best for everyone)
  • Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
  • Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

Want More Information on New Zealand? Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on New Zealand for even more planning tips!

Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.

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    Book Now Explore the Southern Alps aboard the TranzAlpine train - one of the world's great train journeys, covering 223 kilometres (139 miles) one-way and taking just under 5 hours. Our TranzAlpine train travels coast-to-coast through the 'Great Divide' and the indomitable spine of mountains that partitions New Zealand's South Island.

  24. New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: 2-4 Weeks (Updated 2024)

    The Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary. With its snow-capped mountains, ancient glaciers, rolling verdant hills, incredibly friendly locals, and abundant world-class wine, New Zealand is as wonderful as you've heard. In fact, take what you've heard and times it by ten. New Zealand will simply blow your mind when you visit.