Travel by train in New Zealand: Is it possible?
Learn where you can travel to by train in New Zealand and what transport options are available if you cannot or do not not want to drive a car.
About train travel in New Zealand
Train travel is one of the no car travel options in New Zealand, but the rail network in New Zealand is very limited.
There are basically two options where train travel in New Zealand is concerned:
- Train travel in and around cities like Auckland and Wellington.
- Train travel from one key city to another on a fixed route.
Auckland has a city rail network that covers an area from the city center till Waitakere in the east and Pukekohe in the south.
So if you are staying in Auckland and would like to use the train as a way to get around Auckland city, you can visit the Auckland Transport website [at.govt.nz] to find train routes, fares, and other information.
Wellington also has a city rail network you can make use of to travel to and from the Greater Wellington Region.
Trains run from Wellington City to Masterton in the northeast, and from Wellington City to Paraparaumu on the Kapiti Coast in the northwest. To get information about fares and timetables, you can check out metlink.org.nz.
Going beyond Auckland or Wellington
To travel further than in or around Auckland or Wellington, you can make use of the scenic rail services of KiwiRail [kiwirail.co.nz].
KiwiRail offers travel between the following cities/towns in New Zealand:
- Auckland – Wellington with the Northern Explorer
- Christchurch – Greymouth with the TranzAlpine
- Christchurch – Picton with the Coastal Pacific
The Northern Explorer passes south of Tongariro National Park on the North Island, the TranzAlpine goes through Arthur’s Pass on the South Island, and the Coastal Pacific follows the Kaikoura coast on the South Island of New Zealand.
All of these train routes offer scenic views of landscapes and are unique in their own way. You can learn more about these train services at greatjourneysofnz.co.nz.
You can also go on scenic train rides around Dunedin with Dunedin Railways [dunedinrailways.co.nz], which offers the following routes:
- Dunedin – Oamaru with the Taieri Gorge
- Dunedin – Middlemarch with the Seasider
Trains to Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, or Wanaka
There are no trains that travel to or from Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, or Wanaka.
To get to Queenstown or Wanaka, you would have to drive or fly to, for example, Queenstown Airport.
And because there are no commercial airlines flying to Lake Tekapo, you would have to use the road to get to Lake Tekapo after you’ve flown to Christchurch Airport.
Note however that you could, for example, charter a flight to fly between Christchurch and Tekapo.
Road options include renting a car in Christchurch and then driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo or driving from Christchurch to Queenstown.
If you do not want to drive yourself, the only other option to reach Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, or Wanaka would be to catch a bus or a mini bus (also see the traveling without a car article).
What to do if there are no trains available?
If you cannot catch a train to your destination of choice – either because there aren’t any or because rail services have been interrupted – you can catch a bus or fly.
While buses do not go everywhere (like, for example, rural areas and very small towns), the coverage is pretty extensive, so you can get to many places in New Zealand by bus.
For Lake Tekapo in particular, you could book a Christchurch – Tekapo trip with InterCity to get to Lake Tekapo.
At the time of writing, the lowest bus fare I could find was $35 one-way for an adult with the bus trip lasting between 3 hours and 35 minutes minutes. You can visit the InterCity web site to view timetables and the most current bus fares.
And finally, Air New Zealand flies to many cities/towns in New Zealand, so if you wanted to speed up your travel, you could book a domestic flight to your destination of choice.
Final words on train travel in New Zealand
While there are benefits to traveling by train in New Zealand, as you can see from what I have written above, the amount of places you can go is very limited.
You can extend those limits by adding bus travel or domestic air travel to your trip itinerary. But at some point, you may want to get to more remote places or where no buses go.
In the latter case, the easiest and most convenient way to travel around New Zealand would be by car; nothing beats renting or having a car.
This article falls under Travel Guide.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.