The Coastal Pacific is one of New Zealand’s premier rail journeys. Mountains, sea, vineyards, wildlife and more. If this is a trip you are wanting to enjoy, take a read for more insight as to what you can expect.
My most recent experience of the Coastal Pacific was way back in 2006 when it was called the TranzCoastal. The name traded on its status as the maritime cousin of the celebrated TranzAlpine rail journey but thankfully in the intervening years, the name has reverted back to the original and more distinctive Coastal Pacific. During the course of my journey, I was delighted to be reminded what a glorious New Zealand train trip it is, but not before enjoying some of the other Great Journeys of New Zealand.
I was due at a week long conference in Christchurch and the idea struck me some months before that I should travel overland to my destination from Auckland by train and Cook Strait ferry. I suspect I was unique amongst the conference delegates in my choice of transport – certainly their loss and my gain! So my weekend long trip began at Britomart Station early one Saturday morning waiting to board the Overlander (now the Northern Explorer) on platform 3. Sadly the Northern Explorer no longer departs from Britomart but the reasons for this and my tale of this journey can wait for another time. Safe to say I arrived in Wellington on Saturday evening, checked into my Wellington city hotel, ordered room service and promptly went to sleep.
The following morning I was greeted by a wonderful Wellington sunrise on a bluebird sky day, with a taxi ready and waiting to take me to the Interislander terminal. This lovely start to the morning completely camouflaged my overnight drama. I had been woken abruptly at 4 a.m. by a rather decent earthquake which at the time felt like the SAS was entering my room as a sharp bang was followed by the doors rattling in their frames. Records show a 4.7 magnitude earthquake, 46 kms deep was to blame, but the taxi driver assured me this was fairly normal. Nevertheless, my quake experience does serve as a reminder to all future visitors that New Zealand is sometimes referred to as the Shaky Isles.
“Whether you’re an overseas visitor or a born-and-bred New Zealander, trains are the best way to travel between New Zealand’s three main cities, Auckland, Wellington and (with a little help from the Interislander ferry) Christchurch” The Man in Seat 61
The journey across Cook Strait was pleasant and as we entered the Marlborough Sounds through the Tory Channel two-thirds of the way through the trip, the volume of scenic interest really increased. Despite the cold autumnal breeze it was fascinating standing on the top deck watching the large ferry navigate its way through the passage to Queen Charlotte Sound and then berth in Picton harbour. I alighted 3 hours later feeling like I had travelled on a genuine scenic experience – not just a mode of transport, transferring travellers from the North Island to the South Island.
Collecting my bags I walked from the Kaitiaki ferry to the conveniently close Picton railway station and succumbed to a Subway sandwich before waiting for the Coastal Pacific train to arrive and board to begin the third stage of my Kiwirail adventure.
The Coastal Pacific timetable allows for one train in each direction on operating days and right on time, the Christchurch to Picton train glided into Picton station. A wave of passengers alighted, hurrying back in the direction I had come in order to board the ferry and complete their onward connection to Wellington. The train was turned around quickly, I boarded and found my spot, grateful to be seated on the left side of the carriage. It is worth noting the left-side provides much better viewing when traveling south on the afternoon Picton to Christchurch train.
Before long, we we’re off, climbing out of delightful Picton and heading to our first stop Blenheim, just a short distance away. At that point I had not visited Blenheim but with the station so close to the middle of town and situated in the middle of vineyards for which the Marlborough region is so famous for, it was hard not to hop of and explore
The afternoon sun was shining brightly and I found myself exploring the train, spending a lot of time standing in open-air observation carriage. Such a unique way to travel. We passed Lake Grassmere and the mountains of salt that are produced here and then before long, after climbing through some lovely hills we once again matched up with State Highway 1 heading south, crossing the border into Canterbury and chased the Pacific coastline south.
The journey into Kaioura was terrific. Mountains on one side and the ocean stretching out in front of us. The railway criss-crossing with the main road to see which could get closer to the sea, diving into tunnels before being thrust back into the fresh sea air. I don’t recall any significant feature of the stop at Kaikoura ‘Whaleway’ station, possibly because my eyes were glued to the Pacific Ocean stretching out in front of me, desperately trying to spot some monster marine mammal. No such luck unfortunately and the whale and dolphin spotting would have to wait for another visit.
Onward we rode, further south heading toward Christchurch. Yet more coastal delights including spotting the odd seal until we swung inland travelling through the lovely countryside of North Canterbury. As daylight savings had ended we were losing light fast as we entered the Christchurch suburbs, finally arriving into the modern, single platform Christchurch at 7.30pm. My long journey was complete.
It had been an epic couple of days traversing three-quarters of New Zealand overland. It was a journey I could never tire of and I am still looking forward to one day undertaking this journey in reverse, travelling from Christchurch to Picton and enjoying an afternoon journey of discovery northbound.
Book your Coastal Pacific train trip with LOCO Journeys. We can reserve the train, plus offer accommodation and activities. There are also options to break your journey in Kaikoura along the way – just let us know. Enquire Here