New Zealand’s Railway Services
Are you a bit of a train fiend like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory? Aren’t we all. 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.
Why Take the Train in New Zealand?
With so many other transport options like flying, bus, car and camper van, what are the advantages of taking the train?
- Take photos on the move on the long scenic journeys with KiwiRail the non-tinted and non-refection oversized windows are easy to take photos through. There are also sky view windows. Plus, there’s an open-air carriage
- See different scenery to what you get on the roads and the sky
- Get food from the cafe on board although this means you have a limited choice of food and drinks, at least you can easily get emergency supplies
- Get commentary triggered by GPS with KiwiRail journeys
- Quicker than a bus
- You can stretch your legs on a train.
The Northern Explorer (Auckland – 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:
- National Park
- Palmerston North
Trains operate from Auckland to Wellington on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. From Wellington to Auckland on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sunday. Prices start from NZ$99 – book your railway journey on the Northern Explorer here.
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.
Prices start from NZ$79 – Book your Coastal Pacific trip here.
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:
- Arthurs Pass
Prices start from NZ$55 – book your TranzAlpine trip here.
The Dunedin Railways
[Update: The Dunedin Railways has closed down]
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
For real trail buffs, check out the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway based in Kawakawa. 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 on 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.
Check at the Gisborne i-SITE for times and dates for train departures.
Suburban Commuter Trains
In the larger cities of New Zealand, there are commuter trains taking passengers to the outer suburbs.
Run by Auckland Transport, 5 train lines go to the outer suburbs of Auckland. The lines are Western, Southern, Eastern, Onehunga and Manukau. If you are using these lines regularly, it is worth getting an AT HOP card, where you load money onto the card in advance and save 20% on fares. Find out more at Public Transport in Auckland.
Metlink controls the train services onWellington’s train lines: Johnsonville, Melling, Kapiti, Hutt and Wairarapa. Keep the train in mind when travelling to Masterson, which is on the Wairarapa line. It is cheaper (and more pleasant) than getting the bus. Find out more at Public Transport in Wellington.
Other Transport Methods for Travelling in New Zealand
There are many other great ways to see New Zealand.