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Spotlight on New Zealand train journeys

Are you looking for a different and relaxing way to see another side of New Zealand's spectacular scenery? There are many New Zealand train journeys that fit the bill perfectly.

The challenge is choosing what particular train travel experience will work in with your plans. So we thought we'd offer a little train trip help.

Crossing the Cass River with TranzAlpine

New Zealand is home to some of the most diverse and challenging landscapes in the world -- hence the spectacular scenery. But the challenging landscape often means there is no road access to the most stunning views.

This is where rail comes in. History, geography and some amazing colonial engineering have combined to mean that rail often goes where cars can't. So our relatively small railway network offers a way to take in some pretty amazing vistas while relaxing in a train. It's a case of enjoying the scenery - snowy alpine passes, remote national parks, volcanic fields and windswept coastlines - via panoramic windows while sitting back in a reclining seat with your choice of food and drink.

Combine scenic rail journeys with some unique rail-related adventures and you are spoiled for rail journey choice ...

North Island

The North Island has one key scenic railway, The Northern Explorer and two (notable) smaller ones - Driving Creek Railway and The Forgotten World adventures.

The Northern Explorer

The Northern Explorer cuts through the heart of the North Island traveling between Auckland - New Zealand's largest metro area - and Wellington - New Zealand’s political and cultural capital. The remarkable 12 hour trip takes you through lush farmland and the volcanic plateau. Through wide panoramic windows and open air viewing decks you’ll see Tongariro National Park - home to Mordor, the fictional stronghold of Sauron in Lord of the Rings.

It’s three active volcanoes - Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe - can be spotted along with ancient lava flows, native beech forest and deep river gorges. You'll also go through the renowned Raurimu Spiral - an astounding feat of engineering.

Passengers can choose to sit around tables, or in recliners that can be rotated to face whichever direction the train is traveling. The carriage windows are non-tinted, non-reflective glass - optimal for taking pictures as you travel. Overhead HD screens keep track of your journey while an automated commentary is available via headphones at your seat.

We recommend: Traveling in a southbound direction, starting in Auckland.

Discover the North Island with the Northern Explorer

Driving Creek Railway

Located in the Coromandel this one hour narrow gorge railway trip provides a thrilling insight into the history of the area. Originally developed by acclaimed potter Barry Brickell as a means of transporting clay to his kiln, the innovatively designed train carriages journey through regenerating kauri forest and native bush before ending with soaring views over the Hauraki Gulf and surrounding islands. Unique pottery sculptures and outdoor art line the tracks while the neighboring predator free wildlife sanctuary is a must see.

We recommend: Taking the time to see the Driving Creek Wildlife Sanctuary

The Forgotten World Railway Adventures

Nestled in the heart of Taranaki this railway adventure is like no other. Travelling in specially adapted golf carts along decommissioned railway lines you’ll go over bridges and through tunnels to faded townships of the past. Venture into the Republic of Whangamomona, once a thriving pre-war community, now a ‘ghost town’ of 40 people.

As you travel, learn about the hardy pioneers who built this line - an essential link to the outside world. Livelihoods such as coal mining and farming were only viable because of this rail connection. Abandoned stations along the line are visible, but decay is evident - and this only adds to the experience. Choose from between one and four day tours.

South Island

South Island landscape is far more dramatic than the North - and as a consequence it has many more scenic rail journeys. The most well known is the TranzAlpine Scenic Train but other notable journeys include The Oamaru Seasider, The Coastal Pacific and the Taieri Gorge Railway.

Journey with the Coastal Pacific

The TranzAlpine

Renowned as one of the world's greatest scenic railway journeys, the TranzAlpine tracks a route from Christchurch to Greymouth - from one coast of the South Island to another. You'll cross the Canterbury Plains before weaving your way through the gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri. Ascending the Southern Alps, you'll be awestruck by the sheer grandeur of these mountains, before descending into native beech rainforest to arrive in the seaside town of Greymouth.

With huge panoramic windows and an open air viewing car to better enable photography, passengers can choose to sit one way or around a table. As with the Northern Explorer, HD screens track the journey while at-seat audio commentary is available throughout.

We recommend: Taking your time and choosing to stay overnight along the way.

The Coastal Pacific

Following the coast from port town Picton to Christchurch, the South Island's largest city. Traversing over 60 miles (98 kilometers) of rugged coastline, you’ll go through Marlborough wine country, the Kaikoura Ranges and the patchwork Canterbury Plains. On this journey the sky seems endless - dissolving into the blue of the pacific ocean horizon. Watch the seabirds and seals from open air carriages or view the mountains from inside through huge panoramic windows, and reclining seats.

We recommend: Starting your vacation with this train journey and then continuing on a self-drive tour.

The Oamaru Seasider

Just North of Dunedin, this train follows the Otago harbor before climbing the slopes to Port Chalmers. Traversing the clifftops, breathtaking views of the rugged Otago coastline can be seen including Blueskin Bay and the surrounding inlets, beaches and hills. The Seasider also makes a stop in Moeraki, home to the unique Moeraki boulders, before continuing on through coastal farmland.

As you travel, fascinating commentary is given about the history of the area and its farming community. Considered a ‘must-do’ if you're a rail enthusiast, this trip is not to be missed.

We recommend: hopping off in Moeraki to visit the Moeraki boulders.

Across the water on the Oamaru Seasider

The Taieri Gorge Railway

Departing the famous Dunedin Railway Station, the Taieri Gorge train travels through the spectacular Taieri river gorge. Once part of the old Otago Central Railway, this trip offers not only amazing views but an insight into the history of the pioneers who built this line.

Once on board you’ll go through the city’s south end before arriving at the junction of Wingatui where the train begins its lazy trip into the Taieri Gorge. Constructed during the years 1879 to 1921 - this route has a long and interesting history which is told in a commentary delivered by the on-board train manager.

Part of what makes this journey so unique is the opportunity to disembark at specific scenic locations for photos and to stretch your legs.

We recommend: Taking some time to explore the renowned Dunedin Railway station before beginning this train journey.