It might not be the quickest or easiest way to get around.
And it won’t get you from the top to the bottom of the country.
But if you want to pass through braided river valleys and remote national parks, over volcanic fields, across 19th century viaducts, and alongside rugged coastlines, and other places inaccessible by car, then take one of New Zealand’s scenic train trips.
The Northern Explorer
This is the train trip that, according to legend, opened up filmmaker Peter Jackson’s eyes to the fact that New Zealand really was ‘Middle Earth’. The 423-mile, 12-hour journey between Auckland and Wellington goes through the heart of the North Island, passing from farmland to rainforests, rivers gorges to volcanic plateaus. Train buffs will appreciate such feats of engineering as the Makatote Viaduct and Raurimu. Train romantics can partake in High Tea. And the open-viewing platform allows for reflection-free photography.
The Coastal Pacific
The 5-hour, 200 mile train trip along the east coast of the South Island from Picton to Christchurch is a true scenic feast, complete with towering mountains, rolling vineyards, a rugged Pacific Ocean coastline and plenty of opportunities to see dolphins, seals, and even penguins and whales along the way.
One of the world’s great train trips, the TranzAlpine travels coast to coast from the South Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea, through farmland, forests, and the spectacular Southern Alps. Leaving early in the morning from the east coast town of Christchurch, the train arrives in Greymouth on the west coast four and a half hours later. Travelers can either stay in Greymouth or hop back on board for the return journey in the afternoon.
As well as the three main scenic train trips, there are a number of localized and historic train trips.
In Canterbury, the Weka Pass Railway runs most Sundays through limestone country from the wine region of Waipara to Waikari.
And further south, there are two amazing train trips that leave from Dunedin’s stunning train station: the Taieri Gorge Railway that takes Central Otago’s narrow and never racking Taieri Gorge passing through tunnels and across viaducts dating back to 1879, and the Seasider that runs along the coast to the small town of Palmerston.
(photos @Liz Lewis 2013)