Great New Zealand Rail Journeys

For an experience that is hard to repeat, the chance to travel on one of the scenic New Zealand rail journeys is an opportunity not to be missed.

Since the 1860s the phenomenon of the railway has dominated the attention of the public in New Zealand. In the nineteenth century there was no other form of reliable land transport except horses, horse-drawn carts or stage-coaches and the road network was limited. Every settlement wanted a railway as a link to the outside world for the transport of livestock, fruit, vegetables, dried goods, raw products such as coal and other local economic necessities. Not only was a railway important for local prosperity particularly in isolated locations, the opportunity to access New Zealand rail journeys were critical to be able to connect with friends and family.

In later years, the countries comprehensive rail network was drastically trimmed as it lost the fight to road transport, leaving only a small number of key New Zealand rail journeys remaining, each with an emphasis on scenic discovery.

The key premise for New Zealand rail journeys remains; you’ll see so much more of New Zealand if you travel by train. You can sit back in comfort and enjoy friendly on-board hospitality while watching the scenery glide past.

There’s an amazing variety of scenery waiting for you – rugged coastlines and rolling hills, winding rivers, towering mountains, virgin bush and untouched landscapes – much of which you’d never get to see from the road.

A classic image of the Otira Tunnel on the TranzAlpine line

Memorable New Zealand Rail Journeys

New Zealand rail journeys are unique and a must-do on many travellers tourism experiences. Here’s a few of our favourites;

Northern Explorer

Travelling the length of New Zealand’s north island, from Auckland to Wellington, the Northern Explorer travels through the heart of the country delivering a quite diverse selection of scenery. Sandwiched between harbour-city settings for your departure and arrival, you will traverse lush verdant green farmland, small Kiwi settlements, majestic volcanic mountains, native New Zealand forest, and cross river ravines on slender railway viaducts.

With the journey taking a full day to travel one-way, the Northern Explorer is a train trip of epic proportions and encapsulates the perfect scenic rail itinerary for any train travelling aficionado.

Kapati Coast Northern Explorer
Kapiti Island from the Northern Explorer

Coastal Pacific

Travelling from Picton to Christchurch this half-day scenic New Zealand rail journey sits comfortably in the bracket of must do South Island train trips. Travelling for much of it’s length along a thin strip of land with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the rugged Kaikoura ranges on the other, the word spectacular doesn’t do this journey justice.

One of the great options for this South Island train is to take a stop in Kaikoura for a night or two and enjoy the delights of this coastal town. Situated alongside a deep sea trench means whales, dolphins and a whole variety of sea-life are regular visitors. Enjoy some wonderful eco-tourism experiences such as swim with the dolphins and whale watching when you stay..

Kaikoura Coastline
Kaikoura Coast


New Zealand’s preeminent scenic rail journey has been operating between Christchurch and Greymouth dissecting the Southern Alps since 1987. The popularity of this south island train trip has not waned and rightly so, offering a spectacular journey all year round. The TranzAlpine should be at the top of every travellers itinerary.

New Zealand Rail Journeys
The TranzAlpine in a wonderful winterland.

Wairarapa Line

Not typically considered a scenic rail journey, this predominantly commuter service does, however, access some beautiful countryside and capture some very enjoyable scenery. Heading north from the capital city skirting Wellington Harbour, the line heads north via the 9km Rimutaka tunnel, the line will deliver you into the Wairarap region, famous for enjoyable destinations such as Greytown or Martinborough, a famous lower north island wine region.

rail holidays new zealand
The popular Martinborough Hotel, Wairarapa.

Dunedin Railways

Prior to the Covid pandemic, a visit to Dunedin was an absolute must for every rail travel fan. Not only were two outstanding South Island train trips available to ride into the marvelous Otago scenery, but they departed from the quite magnificent Dunedin railway station – often claimed to be the most photographed building in the country.

The famous Taieri Gorge Railway with distinctive rake of yellow coaches, would operate a daily round trip, enabling thousands of people annually to enjoy the scenery of the most spectacular part of the former Otago Central Railway through to Middlemarch. It formed a one-way link to cycle adventures on the Otago Central Rail Trail or an option to carry on by road to Queenstown and the mountainous Lakes District where no South Island train ever quite reached.

Taieri Gorge Railway

Also leaving from Dunedin Railway Station on a more restricted timetable was The Seasider, travelling north to Waitati, skirting the fringes of the Otago Harbour and then delivering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. A shorter trip The Seaside was also considered one of the must do South Island train trips.

LOCO Journeys is hopeful that Dunedin Railways will be back open and operating as soon as the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic passes.

LOCO Journeys is a specialist rail travel operator and agent and our specialist team would enjoy hearing from you if there is one or more New Zealand rail journeys you wish to enjoy.

Simply contact us here and we can put together an memorable adventure including train trip, accommodation, activities and more for you and your travelling companions.


Back to: LOCO Journeys Blog Tags: , , ,