New Zealand is not the most connected country when it comes to railways. However, it has three unforgettable scenic journeys connecting you from Auckland to Christchurch and Greymouth in the South Island. These routes are operated by Kiwi Rail, where you can book stopovers along the way if you want to hop off the train for a few days.
On top of that, there are also shorter scenic journeys available in Dunedin, the Bay of Islands and Gisborne. As for the rest of railway services, trains are limited to commuting in the Auckland and Wellington regions.
With so many other transport options like flying, bus, car and camper van, what are the advantages of taking the train?
The Northern Explorer (Auckland-Wellington)
This scenic rail journey goes through the heart of the North Island. The journey is between Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and the capital city Wellington.The train goes through volcanic lands and ascends up the Raurimu Spiral, a feat of engineering overcoming steep hills. It also takes you through farmland and forest areas.
The stops along the way are:
Trains operate from Auckland to Wellington on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. From Wellington to Auckland on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sunday.
The Coastal Pacific (Picton – Christchurch)
The Coastal Pacific train runs from Picton, where the ferries get in from the North Island and close to the Marlborough Sounds. It passes through the wine-growing fields to stop at Blenheim, then down the coast filled with wildlife to Kaikoura. The final destination is Christchurch, a regrowing city. Unfortunately, this train service only runs through the peak season from September – May.
The TranzAlpine (Christchurch – Greymouth)
One of the most scenic train journeys in the world, the TranzAlpine train goes through the magnificent Arthur’s Pass. See the river gorges and vast valleys of the Southern Alps. Going towards the coastal town of Greymouth, the TranzAlpine captures views of lush rain forests.
Stops along the way are:
The Dunedin Railways
New Zealand’s most photographed building, Dunedin Railway Station, is the beginning of two scenic railway journeys.
Taieri Gorge Railway
Travel through the Taieri Gorge on the Taieri Gorge Railway with some spectacular river gorge scenery complete with plenty of tunnels and bridges. The railway terminates in Middlemarch which is the start of the Otago Rail Trail biking trail, or take the train back to Dunedin.
For a trip along the Otago coastline, take The Seasider from Dunedin. There are three coastal journeys to choose from between Dunedin and Oamaru.
Bay of Islands Vintage Railway
Enthusiastic volunteers run this railway based in the small Bay of Island town of Kawakawa. This historic railway was the first built in the North Island. Experience riding in a steam train every weekend. However, you might be lucky enough to catch one of the railway workers who are usually happy to show visitors around their train restoration yard.
Gisborne City Vintage Railway
Jump aboard a Wa165 locomotive, built in 1897, and travel through Gisborne on this heritage train. There are several features that make this railway in New Zealand unique, such as the fact that the railway line passing right over an airport runway. Then the steam train chugs along the 329m-long Waipaoa River Bridge. The train turns around at Muriwai with views looking out to the white cliffs of Nick’s Head.