PHOTO: TranzAlpine Train. (Photo courtesy of Kiwi Rail)
New Zealand is a country made up of many different geographical landscapes that seem to unroll, mixed together creating an impossibly diverse topography for such a small, island nation — one that is often sought out by filmmakers and photographers alike for its otherworldly images. Its compact nature makes navigating the country via car or campervan something that can be undertaken with ease. However, there is seemingly always something that nature seems to tuck away – some stunning landscape located just beyond the reach of even the least traveled road. And for that, we have train travel.
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Exploring New Zealand by train provides a unique glimpse at countryside and landscapes not easily viewed by the average traveler and a daylong train journey with Kiwi Rail gives them a peek at what they are missing.
Visit the heartland of New Zealand onboard the Northern Explorer, which takes visitors through virgin countryside, rolling green hills and along the rocky coastline. One of the most spectacular parts of the journey is traveling by train through Tongariro National Park, to see its three volcanic mountains and observe a place of extremes, where a snow-blanketed field, an ancient lava flow and a beech forest can all be seen on the same trip.
The train runs between Auckland to Wellington, with several stops in between. The southbound route operates Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays and the northbound train runs Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
Travel over New Zealand’s Southern Alps on this coast-to-coast journey. The train travels between Christchurch and Greymouth on the South Island. It’s considered one of the world’s great train journeys, taking visitors through the farmlands of Canterbury Plains, over deep gorges and alongside the Waimakariri River and across the Southern Alps. The trip is almost guaranteed to take your breath away as guests take in the chiseled landscape and jaw-dropping views.
The train runs daily, leaving from Christchurch at 8:15 a.m. and returning at 6:05 p.m., stopping in Greymouth for one hour. Guests can choose to make it a day trip or stay in Greymouth overnight.
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The Coastal Pacific is a summer train that operates between September and May. It explores the rugged coastal structure of the country's South Island, between Christchurch and Picton. Visitors get up close to the shoreline to see the waves of the Pacific crashing onto the shoreline and can stop in Kaikoroa for wildlife viewing and fresh seafood.
The train connects with the port in Picton, allowing for seamless transfers to interisland ferries, and operates daily all summer long.
Bonus train: It’s not exactly your average train, but the Wellington Cable Car is a must when visiting the city. In the same way that the New Zealand’s iconic trains present visitors with scenery that they can’t see by car, the Wellington Cable Car affords one-of-a-kind views as well as easy access to the Botanic Garden, Cable Car Museum and more.