New Zealand Trains

Best Train Trips in New Zealand

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The best way to see New Zealand is by riding the rails. There is no other way you can traverse into untouched country, see wild animals in their natural habitat and immerse yourself in all the biomes that New Zealand boasts. New Zealand is one of the most arresting and breathtaking places on Earth. Pick from one of these exciting train trips and build an itinerary for a trip that will be as fantastic as the views you will be witnessing.

The Northern Explorer

The Northern Explorer train trip is a full, one-day journey that is 423 miles and will take nearly 12 hours to complete. Leave bright and early from either Auckland or Wellington and arrive just before dinner time, ready to explore a fabulous city and its surroundings.

Northern Explorer Train


The Northern Explorer will show you the best of the North Island as it travels South through the heart of the island, negating the need to make the ocean trek down the coast from Auckland to Wellington as was the case before the route was completed in 1908.

A four to six day treacherous journey fraught with hazards used to be the only way to get to these two populous cities so long ago. Thanks to the vision on Julius Vogel, a thirty-year, $8.5 million endeavor brought superhuman engineering feats and modern technology together to build one of the most astounding transportation projects of its time.


The Northern Explorer winds through volcanic lands both extinct and active, riparian environments, gorges that caused huge viaducts and bridges to be built, grass and farmlands, lush rainforests and small towns of every shape, size and charm. Taking this train will introduce you to the beauty of New Zealand and all the biomes that represent such a dynamic country.

Train Amenities

Until 2012, the Northern Explorer used the old style 1930’s carriages that weren’t quite as comfortable. Today, You will travel in style in a modern, panoramic sightseeing carriage that makes the most of your spectacular view.

Seats are aligned in groups of two or four with some seating around a table. Remember, if you would like to request a certain seating arrangement for a group of four, you must contact KiwiRail to request your reservation preference. It is not guaranteed, but you may have a greater chance of getting the assigned seat you are desiring by this request. The legroom at your seat is more than ample and you have plenty of room for your unchecked, lightweight, carry-on luggage.

When you are not tucked away, enjoying the view from your seat, you can take a walk to the open-air carriage that is perfect for photography and getting close to the sights, sounds and feeling of nature. There is nothing like gazing out at the stunning countryside that surrounds you and feeling the rush of wind flowing passed you.

The TranzAlpine

Imagine exploring the Southern Alps of New Zealand as you travel in style, sipping on your glass of Sauvignon Blanc. With the TranzAlpine train, all of these dreams can come true as you traverse the width of the country in style and comfort. You know an excursion that is on every Kiwi’s list has got to be good. Bring your binoculars, your good camera and a sense of adventure as you take one of the best train trips on the planet.

This 139-mile, 5 hour trip starts in Christchurch or Greymouth or vice versa. Depending on what city you choose to disembark from, you can explore and enjoy all that the city has to offer before you get on the train. When you get to your destination, make sure you add time to your itinerary to get to know your hosting city and the entertaining things the are to do.

Tranzalpine Train


The TranzAlpine train was introduced in 1987 and used refurbished rolling stock for its tourist oriented passenger service. The route became so popular that the train service was voted as one of the top 10 “short” train journeys in the world. Therefore, in the 1990’s, an overhaul occur and eight air-conditioned carriages were introduced and panorama windows were added, enhancing the scenery passing you by.


After leaving Christchurch, you will cross open fields and plains that will then abruptly show your first glimpses of the snow-capped Southern Alps. Just passed the farmland and the town of Springfield, you will start to climb into the mountains. Gorges and ice blue rivers will greet you as you glide over a series of bridges and the view gets better and better. The famous “Staircase” reveals a transcending view that is unlike any other.

You will then be at the summit having climbed to 2,400 feet above sea level as the train stops at Arthur’s Station. This is the place to walk around and savor your surroundings. You are in one of New Zealand’s most beautiful national parks and you will want your camera for this experience.

Hop back on the train and enter the Otira Tunnel, which has made traversing the country possible. With its 5.3 mile long passageway tunneling through the mountains, it will then give way to another grand view of the mountains. After crossing over the river several times and finding waterfalls and cascades, you will see a series of coal mining towns that have interesting history that you will hear about on your earphones or from a knowledgeable staff member.

Five hours after you leave Christchurch on the West Coast, you will enter the beautiful town of Greymouth on the East Coast and the Tasman Sea. Take a week and explore this wonderful town, or after a spell, get back on the train and enjoy your ride back to Christchurch. The choice is yours.

Train Amenities

The TrazAlpine train has a First Class experience for those that choose it. The Scenic Plus experience will feature carriages with extra legroom, extra wide seats and a two seats on one side and one on the other side configuration. Hosts trained in all there is to know about the route are there to serve your every whim as well as answer questions about the history, geology and topography of the route.

The perks don’t stop there as the menu is top-notch. With regionally inspired gourmet food such as grass-fed roasts of lamb, cheese platters, locally sourced wine and farewell canapés, you will want for nothing. All of this is served at your seat. You can also choose to visit the Café Car and to satisfy any other culinary needs you may have.

The Coastal Pacific

The Coastal Pacific will introduce you to the spectacular oceanic views of the Northeastern edges of the South Island in New Zealand. By way of the coast, the Coastal Pacific train skirts the wildlife laden beaches and touches the edges of the snow-capped mountains that spill into the sea. On your way from Picton to Christchurch, look for whales, dolphins and the sun bathing sea lions that call the ocean their home.

This five-hour, 216-mile journey will take you through some of the most arresting scenery that exists. Glide through the wineries and farmland of the fertile valleys of the countryside. Look for small towns along the way that exude that beautiful Kiwi charm that we hunger for on holiday as we have the adventure of a lifetime.

Christchurch New Zealand


With the success of the TranzAlpine train, a route from Picton to Christchurch was devised in order to serve travelers on the South Island coast. In 1988, the train was launched with huge success and continues to be a favorite among travelers to New Zealand and locals, alike.


It’s all about the mountains, the ocean and the fabulous scenery you will experience on this trek down the coast. From Picton to Christchurch you will see snow-capped mountains spilling into the sea, pink lakes against the backdrop of the inviting, lush hills and rich and fertile views of crops that will bring the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world.

Five hours after your journey began, you can choose to stay in your host city of either Christchurch or Picton and explore, or hop back on the train and do the scenic tour all over. However, this time the view is different in a slightly contrasting way as you make the trek back to where you started.

Train Amenities

There is a First Class service called the Scenic Plus Class Experience. The Scenic Plus Class Experience will pamper you with all the finer things in life. Enjoy locally inspired chef’s meals served by an attentive and knowledgeable staff right at your seat. There are specialist hosts and storytellers selected for their keen awareness of the route and its history. Panoramic windows will keep the eye-popping scenery coming for hours. If you find you want some crisp mountain air, visit the open air carriage and make sure you take your camera. Enjoy wines brought from local wineries to introduce you to the pride of New Zealand in the form of a perfectly fermented grape.

These three train trips can be taken separately or as one amazing trip that will top all of your trips previously taken. You will start in Auckland on the North Island and subsequently take all three trains until you make it to the south end of the South Island in Milford Sound. Experience all the grandeur of all three routes and traverse the entirety of the country. This 15-day journey will spoil you with the best food and drink available as well as impeccable service.

Whatever trip you choose or how you arrange your itinerary, a train trip exploring the incredible country of New Zealand will be one of your top excursions ever experienced.

Wendy Edwards
Wendy is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. But for the past seven years she has traveled by RV to many National Parks, monuments and everywhere in between. She and her family of five, a furry canine friend and a bearded dragon have crossed the United States thirty one times. She never tires of hiking, biking, camping and photographing this beautiful country.