Train going across river

Your Guide to Rail Travel in New Zealand

Rail travel in New Zealand takes you through some beautifully scenic landscapes. Travelling between the country’s biggest cities – Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch (with a helping hand from the ferry) – is a truly enjoyable way to discover the country. 

One of the main reasons why train travel is so popular in New Zealand is the gorgeous scenery. It is a leisurely and comfortable way to witness some of the country’s loveliest features, like lakes, mountains, forests and coastline. Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known rail routes and how you can explore them.

Can you travel New Zealand by train?

You cannot travel the length and breadth of New Zealand by train without a little help from some other forms of transport, like ferries, buses or car. The Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine lines on the South Island can be connected together, however you can’t travel the whole island by train. These scenic rail journeys feature in escorted tours such as New Zealand Rail, Cruise and Coach or can be incorporated into a tailor made itinerary.


How long does it take to get from Picton to Christchurch?

The Coastal Pacific train journey from Christchurch to Picton and vice versa takes just over five hours and departs once a day. The journey itself is among the most spectacular in the country, with an endless sea reaching towards the horizon to the east and the stunning Kaikoura mountains creating an imposing backdrop to the west. 

This route is also a good way to reach other places, as you can board the Interislander ferry at Picton to take you to Wellington, then take the Northern Explorer to Auckland to explore the North Island.

Railway by the ocean

Is there a train from Christchurch to Queenstown?

There isn’t a train that will take you directly from Christchurch to Queenstown, but you can make your way there by taking the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth, then travelling down the West Coast by road to Queenstown.

Greymouth is a great spot to visit on your journey as well. A history of jade hunting and gold mining make Greymouth the heart of New Zealand’s west coast. There is a replica Shantytown that showcases how the pioneers of the 1900s would have lived. There is also a fantastic two-hour Point Elizabeth Walk that takes visitors past some historical gold mining sites.


How long is the TranzAlpine trip?

The TranzAlpine journey is a 223km train trip between Christchurch and Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass, which takes around 5 hours. There are some truly epic scenes to witness from the comfort of the train, including the Waimakariri River and the Southern Alps. 


How much is the TranzAlpine?

The price for the TranzAlpine is around 200NZD, approximately £96, though there are different options including a full day tour to/from Christchurch, which includes the TranzAlpine to Arthur’s Pass.

Where does the Northern Explorer depart from in Auckland?

The Northern Explorer departs from Auckland Strand Station and is the longest running passenger service in New Zealand. Journeying between Auckland and Wellington, you can witness the stunning farmlands of Waikato, the jagged volcanic peaks that make up the Central Plateau, and the glittering diamond sea of the Kapiti coast. Although the Northern Explorer is used mainly by New Zealanders, rather than tourists, it still covers some incredible vistas, including Tongariro National Park.


Where does the Northern Explorer stop?

Leaving from Auckland the Northern Explorer stops at Papakura, Hamilton, Otorohanga, National Park, Ohakune, Palmerston North, Paraparaumu, and Wellington.

Railway by the mountains

Where should I stop between Wellington and Auckland?

There are many wonderful places to enjoy between Wellington and Auckland with something for everyone. You can enjoy the beautiful town of Ohakune which sits at the foot of Mount Ruapehu, where you will find restaurants, cosy hotels, and many outdoor activities. Being located by the mountain, you can bike, hike, or simply wander the scenic routes that make Ohakune so popular.

You can also use the Northern Explorer to reach National Park, which is your gateway to Tongariro National Park. The park is absolutely spectacular, with rich alpine flora and tons of activities to enjoy.

Another exciting stop for movie lovers has to be Hamilton from where you can hop on a tour to Matamata, which is home to the Hobbiton film set from Lord of the Rings trilogy,where you can step into the Shire and channel your inner fantasy-lover.

Is there a train from Dunedin to Queenstown?

There is not a direct route by train from Dunedin to Queenstown, but the Taieri Gorge Railway is one of the most popular day trips from Dunedin. This fascinating journey takes visitors through some of the most iconic scenery in New Zealand. 

Firstly, Dunedin Railway Station is absolutely breathtaking, designed by architect George Troup. With mosaic floors, terracotta shingles from Marseilles, and a 37-metre clocktower, it is a marvellous feat of architecture.

The journey aboard the train is also a magnificent feat, this time in engineering. Snaking round a winding gorge through tunnels and over bridges, including the well-known Wingatui Viaduct, the train has snacks and refreshments as well as open-air platforms from which you can see the gorgeous landscapes that pioneers called their home during the goldrush.


If you are looking for your next adventure, why not visit stunning New Zealand? Visit our holidays page to discover more, or call our Travel Specialists today on 01737 214 250.