The Northern Explorer

The Northern Explorer, New Zealand’s longest running passenger service, is back on the tracks! Explore the heart of the North Island on an epic journey that covers 680 km’s through a land of stunning changing landscapes from farmlands, river viaducts, the volcanic Central Plateau to the sparkling sea of the Kapiti coast.

Travelling between Auckland, our city of sails, and Wellington, a vibrant and cultural city nestled on the hills surrounding the harbour, the Northern Explorer takes you the length of the historic North Island Main Trunk Railway.

The railway was completed in 1908 and features great feats of engineering such as the Raurimu Spiral, Turangarere Horseshoe and Makatote Viaduct, the tallest of the viaducts at 79 metres and spanning 262 metres.

The journey passes through the Waikato Plains, the King Country, before ascending onto the Central Plateau. Tongariro National Park, with its three spectacular volcanic mountains – Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu – is a highlight, a place of extremes and surprises, where snow-blanketed fields, ancient lava flows and dense beech forests can be seen side by side. Here the train meets a series of steepling viaducts that bridge deep ravines carved by rivers forming on the slopes of Ruapehu. 

On the south-eastern edge of the Central Plateau the train crosses the dramatic barren landscape of the Rangipo Desert. The Desert Road is a notoriously dangerous stretch to travel by car, especially in winter, when travelling through the Central Plateau by train its a fascinating expanse of tussock land that gives magnificent unobstructed views of the imposing Mount Ruapehu.

Rumbling into the Rangitikei District and the view of the Rangitikei River carving a path through sandstone cliffs is another of the highlights of the Northern Explorer train trip.

As early evening approaches the train wends its way along the Kapiti Coast arriving into Wellington in time to explore the city’s nightlife and taste some gourmet delights at one of its many renowned eateries.

Contact LOCO for pre/post travel arrangements. Wellington is the gateway to the South Island so why not continue your journey by taking the iconic three-and-a-half hour Interislander cruise through the Marlborough Sounds. The Interislander brings you to Picton, where the equally enjoyable Coastal Pacific train will take you on to Christchurch.

Scenic Class Experience

Glide through the heart of New Zealand’s beautiful scenery in Scenic Class carriages, with epic landscape views filling your window while you relax in your seat.

In Scenic Class you’ll experience spacious reclined seats with generous amounts of legroom and comfort, panoramic windows, glass shelves and skylights. And to heighten your comfort, state-of-the-art airbag suspension has been used to guarantee a smooth ride across our rugged New Zealand terrain.

While onboard, you might like a stroll to the Scenic Cafe carriage where you’ll find a great selection of hot and cold snacks, drinks and ice creams. Indulge in a freshly brewed specialty tea or barista coffee married with a sumptuous cake? Or perhaps toast your special journey with a bottle of bubbles?

The Scenic Cafe opens for coffee and breakfast before the train departs and continues serving throughout the day. You can take a seat in the Scenic Cafe carriage and feast upon the views whilst eating. But you are also welcome to return to your seat to dine and drink if you would prefer. The day is yours to do as you choose! 

During the hot summer months, the Open-air Viewing Carriage is a great place to get some fresh air and enjoy the great outdoors while on the move. You can whittle away the hours chatting and gazing out upon spectacular scenery and wildlife. It is also that perfect place for capturing those magical views on camera.

Learn the stories of our land while you travel by plugging into the Scenic Class Audio Commentary at your seat. The commentary provides a seamless stream of stories, narratives and facts about the places outside your window and is available on all three Scenic Class services, including the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine.

Tour Options

New Zealand’s Northern Explorer will stop at Palmerston North, Ohakune, National Park, Otorohanga and Hamilton if you book in advance. This is great for anyone who wants to break their journey up and do some extra exploring. LOCO Journeys can tailor-make your holiday – just let us know!

Duration: 1 Day

Price: From $109 NZD One-Way

Departure From: Wellington or Auckland

Departure Date: Commencing 30 September to 31 March leaving Wellington on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and leaving Auckland on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Tour Type: Day Tour

Physical Grading: 1

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Departure Dates & Timetable

  • From 08 October 2020 to 31 March 2021
  • The Northern Explorer departs Auckland at 07.45 arriving into Wellington at 18.25 on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays
  • The Northern Explorer departs Wellington at 07.55 arriving in Auckland at 18.50 on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays
  • You must be at the station at least 30 minutes prior to departure.

Pricing Notes

  • The Northern Explorer for a one-way journey between Auckland and Wellington
  • Advertised Price is per person from $109 one-way
  • You can stop at selected stations and reboard at a later date free of charge, providing we are advised 3 days prior to travel.
  • All changes to departure date and route are free up to seven days before travel. Upgrade fees may apply
  • All changes to departure date and route within seven days of travel will incur a $25 change fee. Upgrade fees may apply.
  • All cancellations are free up to seven days before travel.
  • All cancellations within seven days of travel will incur a $25 change fee. This includes partial cancellations, such as removing passengers from a booking.
  • Travel is in Scenic Class
  • Child fare is available for 2-17 years. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Infants under 2 are free when sitting on an adults lap.
  • Please Contact LOCO for pricing if you would like to connect with the Interislander Ferry, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine

Scenic Class Includes

  • Ever-changing views through panoramic windows
  • Comfortable reclined seats
  • Open air carriage – perfect for photography
  • Hot and cold food and drinks available for purchase from our Scenic Café
  • Location-triggered headphone audio-commentary
  • One item of luggage (up to 23kg)
  • One small bag* (up to 7kg)

Tour Itinerary

Your Northern Explorer Itinerary
Setting off from Auckland, our cosmopolitan City of Sails, the first chapter of the Northern Explorer's epic journey is across the mighty Waikato Plains to Hamilton, famous for its gardens and the Hobbiton film set. The Northern Explorer then begins its journey into the rolling hills of King Country, stopping at Otorohanga late morning. In the early afternoon, the Northern Explorer begins its ascent onto the southern tip of the Central Plateau, where the often snow-capped volcano Ruapehu dominates the skyline. To reach this elevation, the train squeals around the tight curves of the historic Raurimu Spiral, designed in 1898 to make the 139-metre ascent onto the plateau possible without a lengthy diversion. As you travel through National Park, the eastern skyline will feature the distinctive volcanic cone of Ngauruhoe, which starred as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movie. Further south, the massive peak of Ruapehu will loom on the horizon as the Northern Explorer skirts around the Tongariro National Park. At approximately 800m above sea level, travelling across the southern tip of the Central Plateau is surprisingly flat and straight. This smoothness is thanks to a series of steepling viaducts that bridge deep ravines carved by rivers forming on the slopes of Ruapehu. The greatest of these viaducts are the Makatote, Manganui-o-te-Ao and Hapuawhenua. It was the middle of the three, the 34m tall Manganui-o-te-Ao Viaduct, that was completed last in 1908 and finally connected Auckland to Wellington by train. An obelisk on the western bank just north of the viaduct marks the spot where the opening ceremony took place. The tallest of the of the three viaducts is the Makatote Viaduct, which is just a couple of minutes north of Manganui-o-te-Ao Viaduct. At 79m tall and with a span of 262m, it is also the second largest on the Northern Explorer's route. The Hapuawhenua Viaduct, a little north of Ohakune, was replaced in 1987 with a new 51m high and 414m long concrete viaduct. This magnificent curved viaduct is a photo hotspot, both from on the train and the old viaduct which is now part of the Old Coach Road walking and cycling trail. Northern Explorer travels through the Rangipo Desert south of Waiouru Swamps, plains and the Rangipo Desert Bleak expanses of tussock and snow-grasses dominate the south-eastern edge of the Central Plateau. This high plain is called the Rangipo Desert, and although it is not officially a desert, it is as inhospitable and barren as any place on earth. This treeless void is good for two things: firstly, training for Waiouru Military Camp; secondly, giving magnificent unobstructed views of the imposing Mount Ruapehu. Rangitikei District South of Taihape, the Northern Explorer journey follows the distinctive papa cliffs of the Rangitikei River. Here, the soft sandstone has been easily carved by the river, resulting in a narrow gorge with several sharp horseshoe bends. As the train passes through, it negotiates the river and its tributaries via five towering viaducts. The most northerly is the Toi Toi Viaduct, built in 1904 and standing 62 metres high. The most southerly is the Makohine Viaduct, built in 1902 and measuring 72m tall 229m long. Between these two original iron truss viaducts is the Mangaweka Deviation, which was completed in 1981 with three new concrete viaducts. To the north is the North Rangatikei viaduct which, at 78m tall and 182m long, is the second tallest on the Northern Explorer railway. This is closely followed by the Kaiwhatau River viaduct, 74m tall and 182m long. A couple of minutes farther south is the South Rangitikei viaduct, which is 75m tall and 315m long, making it the third largest on the Northern Explorer journey. The final stretch of this marathon scenic journey sees you clinging to rugged cliffs of the Kapiti Coast before easing into our twinkling harbourside capital city, Wellington. Your arrival is perfectly timed with the descent of early evening when the city's boutique bars and worldly restaurants come to life.

For more information about this tour, price queries and updates on specials, please Enquire Now.