New Zealand is a magical country to explore by train. The scenery is spectacular and there is something new to discover around every corner. This trip allows you to experience the three great scenic rail journeys in New Zealand, as well as the three largest cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Finally pick up some wheels on the West Coast and explore some of the most rugged landscapes the South Island has to offer.
Day 1 - Welcome to New Zealand!
On arrival into Auckland you will be greeted at the airport and transferred by private vehicle to the accommodation of your choice. After a long flight it is recommended to get outside and stretch the legs; thankfully there is an abundance of wonderful locations around the city for such an activity.
Day 3 & 4 - Tongariro National Park
You will board the Northern Explorer from downtown Auckland in the early morning. The journey today takes you out of New Zealand’s largest city, through rolling farmland, the rugged King Country, up the engineering marvel that is the Raurimu Spiral and onto the Central Plateau; home to the Tongariro National Park. The national park is the oldest in New Zealand and second oldest in the entire world, and it is no wonder this special place was recognised as such so long ago. Here you will find the North Island’s largest mountains and taking a stroll in the lower reaches of the park is a great way to get a feel for what is on offer. This said, of all the activities to be had in the park, the one that takes the headlines and entices people from all corners of the world is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which many experts believe to be “the best one day walk in the world”.
Day 5 & 6 - Wellington
You will re-board the Northern Explorer in the early afternoon to complete the journey you started in Auckland. The second half of the journey takes you across incredible viaducts bridging expansive river beds that carve their way through rural New Zealand, past the Tararua Ranges, along the Kapiti Coast and right into central Wellington. With 2 nights in New Zealand’s capital there is plenty to see and do. Wellington has always been a foodies dream with exceptional eateries at every turn; however, nowadays it is much, much more. From the world-class national museum Te Papa; to the Weta Workshop, where you can see how Lord of the Rings was brought to life; and the biosphere Zealandia, host to some of New Zealand’s rarest wildlife. And if you want to see how New Zealand is governed then a free tour through the Beehive provides a great insight.
Day 7 & 8 - Picton
The Inter-islander ferry leaves from downtown Wellington and is a fantastic way to get to the South Island via the Cook Straight and the undeniably stunning Marlborough Sounds. Arriving in Picton you will think you have stepped into another world. There is plenty to do in this little coastal town, and it’s yours to explore in any way you want. Jump on one of the many departing boats that ply the Sounds to remote locations only accessible by boat and walk part of the Queen Charlotte track or visit a Paua farm. If it is the vineyards of Marlborough that are calling you, not a problem, you can pick up a wine tour for the day and be chauffeured from world-class vineyard to world-class vineyard. The options are endless and one thing is for sure, you will leave wanting more.
Day 9 - Kaikoura
Departing from Picton in the early afternoon the Coastal Pacific train passes through the wineland’s of Marlborough and out onto the Pacific coast where you will be astounded at how breathtakingly close you are to the ocean. The destination today is Kaikoura, a remarkable location hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the towering Kaikoura Ranges to the west. Ordinarily this stunning setting would be enough of a draw card; however, the real stars of this small town are the giant sperm whales that call Kaikoura home year-round. Whether it is out on the water or up in the air, seeing these majestic creatures of the deep in their natural environment is something that you will treasure forever.
Day 10 & 11 - Christchurch
The morning is free and can be taken at your leisure; however, a lot of people are so taken by what they witnessed on the previous day that they are inspired to head out to get up close with the giant sperm whales once again. The choice is yours. You will board the Coastal Pacific train in the late afternoon and continue your way south, now passing across the Canterbury plains and numerous river beds that are fed by the mountains to the east. There is plenty to explore in the vastness of Hagley Park, or city centre which was severely impacted by the 2011 earthquake; the rebuilding is well under way and it is a sobering experience to watch the locals go about their daily business. Excellent examples of their resourcefulness are the Re:Start Container Mall and the Cardboard Cathedral, both of which should not be missed.
Day 12 & 13 - West Coast
Departing in the early morning aboard the TranzAlpine, one of the world’s most scenic train journeys, is an exciting adventure. Passing over the fertile Canterbury Plains towards the mighty Southern Alps is a sight to behold; as are the deep gorges you will witness along the timeless Waimakariri River. As you descend the landscape changes dramatically with an abundance of native beech forest all the way to the Greymouth and the Grey River. From here you will pick up a hire car for the remainder of your journey.
The West Coast of New Zealand is one of the last frontiers in a modern world and as such is a truly unique place. Windswept, rugged, and down to earth there is a myriad of adventures to be had. The tourist draw card is undoubtedly the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki; however, there is much, much more to see and do. The “Coast” road is unforgettable, and the walking and cycling tracks that criss-cross the area provide a great way of truly exploring New Zealand. There is also a history lesson or two to be had at Shanty Town, which is an exceptional living museum showing how the Coast came to be populated and how New Zealand’s forefathers carved out the country as we know it today.
Day 14 & 15 - Franz Josef
The town of Franz Josef has grown organically with the help of the natural wonder that is the glacier; which can be explored on foot, by plane, or by helicopter (weather permitting). The glacier is not the only attraction in town and the ruggedly beautiful setting provides the perfect backdrop for stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking & canoeing, 4WD off-road tours; not to mention an abundance of self-guided walking trails, lakes to explore and a great wildlife centre.
Day 16 & 17 - Wanaka
Arriving over the Southern Alps you will immediately notice the drier, warmer climate of Central Otago. In Wanaka prepare to be greeted by a majestic lake, framed by steep mountains culminating in the sentinel Mount Aspiring standing tall far in the distance. There is plenty to see and do in Wanaka, and whether it be walking or cycling along the lake edge, sampling great local wine in a lively restaurant whilst watching the sunset over Mount Aspiring, visiting any number of world-class cellar doors, or planning to scale the heights of Roy’s Peak, it is a truly memorable location.
Day 18 & 19 - Tekapo
The drive north toward Tekapo will take you over the Lindis Pass and down into Mackenzie Country, a place of incredible natural beauty. Spend your time here marvelling at Mother Nature and what she has created. The view of Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak out over the emerald lakes is truly spectacular. This however is not to be outdone by the Church of the Good Shepherd, cycling along quiet trails, or gazing with astonishment after dark at the only dark sky reserve in the Southern Hemisphere, Mackenzie Region International Dark Sky Reserve. Light pollution is strictly controlled here making it one of the best star gazing locations on the planet.
Day 20 - Christchurch
Having been left spellbound by your experience in Mackenzie Country, it is time to make your way north to the garden city of Christchurch; along the edge of the Southern Alps, through small rural towns, and down onto the fertile Canterbury Plains. Arriving in Christchurch in the early afternoon you will have time to take in anything that you felt you missed when passing through the city a little over a week ago or perhaps revisit a favourite location.
Day 21 - International return flight
Make your way to Christchurch airport where you will board a flight to Auckland and then onward to your destination.
- Prices start from £2,800 per person
- Accommodation based on 15 nights bed and breakfast and 5 nights room only
- Airport transfers on arrival to New Zealand
- Train fares for the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine
- Ferry from Wellington to Picton
- Car hire (air-conditioned vehicle)
- Local taxes
- All trips are ATOL protected or ABTA bonded to ensure you are fully covered