Skip the Campervan in New Zealand, and Catch One of These Trains Instead

Coastal Pacific Train Great Journeys

At the start of every year, the New York Times publishes its ‘52 best places to experience’, rounding up what its editors consider to be the best travel destinations and experiences for the coming year. This year, New Zealand made the list. Though not just the country – specifically, the experience of seeing it and getting around by train.

“Road tripping across New Zealand via camper van is a free-spirited travellers’ dream,” reads the accompanying blurb, written by journalist Stephanie Pearson. “But a simpler and more sustainable way to go is by train.”

Pearson then goes on to call out the three most popular and scenic train journeys in the country: Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine, all offered by Great Journeys, a tourism division of New Zealand’s national rail operator, KiwiRail.

If you’ve never considered travelling by train in New Zealand before, it’s time you should. Travellers around the world are seeing the appeal in arriving often right into the city centre, getting to see stunning scenery along the way and not having to queue up at an airport.

Ahead, we’re sharing more about the three train trips the NYT mentioned, along with a few taster rail stints that’ll let you dip your toes in it should you not be ready to dive all in.

Northern Explorer Train

Northern Explorer Train lets you explore rural areas of the country’s North Island. It runs 648km between Auckland and North Island’s capital city, Wellington, and takes 12 hours. The trip sees you soaring over mountains in Ruapehu and running along the cliffs of Rangitikei and Kapiti Coast.

Northern Explorer Train
Image: Great Journeys

Coastal Pacific Train

The 348 km-long Coastal Pacific Train runs between Picton and Christchurch and takes six hours to complete. You’ll voyage through the vineyards of Blenheim, travel through the Kaikoura ranges and ride along the Kaikoura Coastline, spotting dolphins, seals or humpback whales, if you’re lucky.

TranzAlpine Train

Operating between Christchurch and Greymouth, the TranzAlpine Train covers 223km and takes just under five hours to complete. The trip travels coast-to-coast through the Great Divide, passing snow-covered peaks, waterfalls and winding rivers. A special part of the journey is a passage through the narrow Otira viaduct cut through rock, an engineering marvel.

Goldfields Heritage Railway

Once part of the East Coast Main Trunk Line, Goldfields Heritage Railway is a heritage railway running between Waihi and Waikino at the eastern end of the Karangahake Gorge. The area is rich in gold mining history, an industry that shaped much of its greater area. The train trip takes 30 minutes each way, with a 15-minute stopover at Waikino.

New Zealand train travel
Image: Goldfields Heritage Railway

Steam Incorporated

Steam Incorporated is a heritage rail operator providing day excursions and tours in its steam and diesel locomotives. Choose from trips like River City Express or The Spiral Spectacular, or charter your own train and map out its journey.

Marlborough Flyer

The Malborough Flyer is a heritage steam train travelling between Picton or Blenheim and Christchurch. UK publication The Telegraph once voted it in its top 10 ‘best train journeys in Australasia’.

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