Rail journeys

The Northern Explorer | Photo: KiwiRail

Rail journeys

Train tracks traversing braided river valleys and volcanic fields, tunnels cutting through majestic mountains, and 19th Century viaducts spanning landscapes inaccessible by road – welcome aboard New Zealand railways.

Imagine sitting back in a purpose-built observation or open-air carriage taking in magnificent views of steep mountains on one side and the never-ending Pacific Ocean on the other. Our rail journeys are not only romantic and relaxing, they also showcase parts of New Zealand that simply aren’t visible by road.

The Great Journeys of New Zealand manages three of our country’s scenic rail trips.

The Northern Explorer, connecting Auckland and Wellington, is an 11-hour ride through the heart of the North Island. At the Raurimu Spiral, the train climbs 132 metres in under 7 kilometres, an amazing feat of railway engineering.

The TranzAlpine traverses the South Island from Christchurch to Greymouth in 4½ hours, and you’ll encounter dramatic horseshoe bends where the trainline clings to the cliffs above the ice-blue Waimakariri River to weave its way through the Torlesse mountains. You’ll cross the iconic Waimakariri River, cruise through Arthur’s Pass Village and crest the Southern Alps into Otira Valley, where lush vegetation and cascading waterfalls immediately signal your entrance into Westland.

The Coastal Pacific service travels from Picton past Kaikōura to Christchurch – a trip that takes just over six hours and carries you past the vineyards of Marlborough and the pink waters of Lake Grassmere. The trainline squeezes between the seaward Kaikōura range and the sea, crossing some of the youngest land in the world, which was thrust out of the sea by the 2017 Kaikōura earthquake.

There are plenty of other options for discovering New Zealand rail history. The Taieri Gorge Railway takes you from Dunedin into Central Otago’s narrow and exhilarating Taieri Gorge through tunnels and across viaducts dating back to 1879.

The Driving Creek Railway in The Coromandel is another highlight – this is New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway.

In Waipara’s Weka Pass in Canterbury, you can board a train pulled by an authentic 1909 Pacific class locomotive and steam your way through the spectacular rock formations of the pass.



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