New Zealand by Rail

New Zealand by Train
New Zealand by Rail

Travelling New Zealand by rail is a bit more than just an efficient way to get around; in fact, because of our challenging landscape we actually don’t have a vast stretch of rail. But thanks to the amazing feats of engineering achieved by some hardy early pioneers, we’ve got some impressive rail journeys that criss-cross the country. In one just one trip, you can traverse snow-dusted mountain ranges, glide around glistening coastlines and sweep lush farmland dotted with bouncing lambs.  Here’s the low-down on exploring New Zealand by rail.

New Zealand steam train tours

 Mixing some of the most romantic sceneries in the world with the nostalgia of a bygone era, touring New Zealand on a steam train is a captivating experience. You can comb the country on beautifully restored steam machines, whilst relaxing in modern comforts and admiring the un-spoilt landscapes through panoramic windows. There are a number of gorgeous trips aboard equally gorgeous vintage steam locomotives about New Zealand. One of the best, the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, is a leisurely 15km meander through rolling countryside, just south of Auckland. Staff in classic dress and a yummy morning tea at the adorable Glenbrook Railway Station adds to the allure. Glenbrook Vintage Railway  

Tranz Alpine rail journeys

As one of the world’s great rail journeys, the Tranz Alpine railway crosses the breadth of New Zealand from Christchurch to Greymouth – and it’s one we highly recommend! From verdant Canterbury farmland to steep river valleys, through tunnels and over viaducts, the TranzAlpine climbs up into the Southern Alps then descends through Beech forests to the rugged West Coast. It’s a four-and-half journey from Christchurch to Greymouth, on the other side of the South Island. If you love train travel, this the one trip you absolutely have to do when you’re ‘down under’ on a NZ vacation.  TranzAlpine Rail Journey  

The best train tours in the North Island

 The Northern Explorer takes you from our biggest city, Auckland, to our capital, Wellington in just one day. The 12-hour train ride journeys via quaint country towns and quirky little cities but the highlight of the trip is seeing the central plateau. In our Dual World Heritage awarded Tongaririo National Park, you’ll see three volcanoes in one view enhanced by the flat, vast hinterland, as well as the infamous Raurimu Spiral, spiraling 195 meters - an engineering masterpiece. Northern Explorer   

Best train tours in the South Island

With forests and beaches and mountains and fiords covering the deep south of New Zealand, it’s no wonder our South Island rail routes are adventures in themselves. A couple of the best trips in the South Island include the Coastal Pacific, which hugs the coastlines between Picton and Christchurch. As the Kaikoura Ranges tower above and the sea laps below, you can often spot seals and penguins basking in the sun on the rocks. Taking you on a spectacular journey through ruggedly beautiful scenery only accessible by train, the breathtaking Taieri Gorge railway departs from Dunedin’s historic Edwardian Railway Station, displays outstanding examples of Victorian stonework on bridges and tunnels and even chugs over viaducts built in the 1880s! This off-the-beaten-path rail adventure is truly world-class. Of course, the Tranz Alpine has also got to be one of the best trail tours in the South Island as well. Taieri Gorge   Travelling New Zealand by rail is a scenic and romantic way of getting around, but not always practical on its own because of the diversity of our landscapes. By choosing to self-drive during your New Zealand holiday, it’s easy to take a rail journey here and there for a varied view of the country. Here at First Light Travel we are experts in New Zealand self-drive holidays. Actually, we are experts in all things New Zealand so give us a call for a friendly chat to see how we can include some magnificent rail routes into your dream New Zealand itinerary. Dunedin Railway Station


Anne Baumscheiper
Anne Baumscheiper
: 2 Jan 2017 (Last updated: 19 May 2021)

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