NZ’s 5 Best Destinations by Rail

New Zealand is blessed with countless great destinations open and ready for you to explore. In fact, there’s an overflowing bounty of places to stop and soak up the local vibe. Here’s our run down of 5 of the best that can be reached by train*

Arthur’s Pass

The notional halfway point on the TranzAlpine rail journey is named after Arthur Dobson who discovered the pass through the Southern Alps in 1864. Stopping off here offers the chance to access Arthur’s Pass National Park and tackle the terrific alpine terrain.

Arthur’s Pass is a tremendous destination for outdoor enthusiasts and the tramping and hiking in this region is highly rated. The Devil’s Punchbowl walk is one highlight – an uphill trek to a fabulous 131m waterfall.

You can easily spend a couple of nights here when alighting from the Trans Alpine train trip in either direction. There may be a small additional cost to hop-off and resume your journey, and LOCO Journeys can provide you a quote to include this cost along with local accommodation options.

Chateau Tongariro

Sitting majestically in Tongariro National Park against a backdrop of the Central Plateau, this hotel is a monument to the glorious days when travel first became fashionable.

Built in the 1920s, it offered everything a holiday required; a ballroom, a cinema, golf course, high tea, and large windows perfectly framing the surrounding mountains.

Time has not dimmed the grandeur and today the hotel continues to remain popular, as do the reasons to stay. Local walks suitable for all levels including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, will deliver you to breathtaking scenery. Using the hotel as a winter holiday base provides easy access to the Whakapapa ski area. A trip on the new Sky Waka Gondola at Whakapapa open in both the summer and winter is becoming a very popular attraction. Fishing, biking, golf round off the many relaxing options available to you.

Enjoy the timeless elegance and disembark the Northern Explorer train at National Park train station. Return transfers to the hotel can be pre-booked as required.

Hokitika

This self-proclaimed ‘Cool Little Town’, is a West Coast community located a short 30 minute drive from the Trans Alpine rail terminus at Greymouth.

Bursting full of arts and crafts stores including bone carving, glass blowing and pounamu carving, LOCO can arrange car hire and accommodation for your stay enabling you to also travel a little further to close at hand attractions such as the beautiful Hokitika Gorge or Lake Kaniere.

Make sure you finish the day with another Hokitika must-do and watch the day come to a close at sunset point.

Martinborough

If you are looking to take some time out of the city, just a short and pleasurable 90 minute rail journey from Wellington is the Wairarapa region, featuring some lovely countryside destinations such as Greytown and memorable Martinborough.

Wine is high on the list for visitors to Martinborough, with 20 local wineries ready to cater for every taste. Each winery is well within cycling distance or a relatively short walk from the charming village square.

This small colonial town offers more than just wineries with attractions including a walking, biking, golf, museums, art galleries, a local brewery, a gin distillery, olive groves, farm tours, lavender farm and more.

The annual Toast Martinborough festival is claimed to be New Zealand’s most popular food and wine festival and annually celebrates the town’s wineries, wine-makers and the highly regarded fresh-produce growers. It is an absolute treat if you can visit at this time as the place comes alive – but do be prepared to spend a little more on your accommodation during this time.

Trains run everyday from Wellington to Featherston, Greytown, Carterton and Masterton on the Wairapa line. LOCO Journeys will arrange transfers for you to Martinborough from whichever town you wish to leave the train, and tailor-make itineraries including accommodation and attractions according to your interests and available time.

Kaikoura

The devastating 2016 earthquake refocused New Zealand’s (and the world’s) attention on Kaikoura. Despite the havoc the earthquake created, including the infamous stranding of a KiwiRail freight train by a number of seriously significant landslides, the town has recovered, rebounded and is now in great health.

Not only does Kaikoura remain an attractive destination with respect to its coastal aspect bounded by the oft snow-capped Kaikoura Ranges, this scenic beauty is dramatically enhanced by the fabulous and bountiful sea-life found just 500 metres offshore inhabiting the Kaikoura Canyon.

For hundreds of thousands of years, whales have frequented the Hikurangi Trench and Kaikoura Canyon, following deep ocean channel systems chasing squid and other deep-sea creatures toward the surface. It is this eco-tourism attraction that brings countless tourists every year to marvel at these giant beasts of the sea, making Kaikoura the best sea-life destination in the country.

For this reason, and too many more to mention here, Kaikoura is an incredibly popular destination and perfectly suited to travellers and tourists arriving by rail from either Christchurch in the south or Picton and Blenheim in the north on the Coastal Pacific scenic train. Even the Whale Watch Kaikoura operation is based at the railway station, so convenience is close at hand to make the most of your visit.

So those are our best 5 New Zealand rail destinations. Do you agree? Whether you do or not, take your time, hop off, get off, layover, overnight. Rail travel and rail holidays are often termed ‘slow travel’, but only if you allow them to be.

*With most KiwiRail scenic trains not currently operating due to the affects of the Covid pandemic, LOCO Journeys recognises that for now, some of these destinations can only be planned for. That said, if any one of these destinations has caught your eye, do get in touch and we can plan the prefect future trip for you.

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