Auckland to Wellington on the North Island Main Trunk Railway, one of the world's great train rides!  See more photosPhoto courtesy of James Chuang

Auckland to Wellington by train from NZ$ 158 (83 or US$129)!

The superb Northern Explorer train is easily the best way to get from downtown Auckland to city centre Wellington, stress-free and in comfort at ground level, stopping off if you like at the Tongariro National Park.  The Northern Explorer is an epic 681 kilometre (423 mile) journey across the whole interior of the North Island, taking you in a single day past every kind of scenery there is, from coastline to volcanoes to mountains, from lush green farmland to thick New Zealand bush.  It will take you the length of the historic North Island Main Trunk Railway, started in 1885 and completed in 1908, over such feats of engineering at the Raurimu Spiral, Turangarere Horseshoe and Makatote Viaduct.  It's one of the world's great railway journeys and one of my favourites, far more historically and economically significant than the branch line used by the TranzAlpine train on the South Island.  And all this costs from NZ$ 79 (42 or US$64).  You'd be crazy to waste the opportunity, so ditch that domestic flight to Wellington and take the train!

The Northern Explorer replaced the Overlander in June 2012.  The new train is faster as it cuts out smaller stops, and it features brand-new panoramic carriages and upgraded on-board services compared to the rebuilt 1950s coaches of the Overlander.  Kiwi Rail intend it to become an 'internationally-recognised tourism product'.  However, the new train will run only three-times-a-week instead of daily.  See KiwiRail press release.

On this page...

  Auckland  - Wellington timetable

  Auckland - Wellington fares

  How to buy tickets - the cheapest way!

  What's it like on board the Overlander?

  What to see on the Auckland-Wellington train ride

- a journey on the Northern Explorer, in pictures...

 

On other pages...

  Wellington-Picton by Interislander ferry

  Wellington-Christchurch by ferry & Coastal Pacific train

  Christchurch-Greymouth by Tranz-Alpine train

  Christchurch-Dunedin-Invercargill bus service

  Christchurch-Queenstown bus service

  Dunedin-Queenstown train+bus service

Auckland-Wellington Northern Explorer timetable & fares...

 Auckland ► Wellington

 

 Wellington ► Auckland

Train:

Northern

Explorer

Capital

Connection 

Train:

Northern

Explorer

Capital

Connection

Days of running:

Mon, Thurs, Sat

all year round

Mon-Fri 

Days of running:

Tues, Fri, Sun

all year round

Mon-Fri

Auckland

depart

07:50

-

Wellington

depart

07:55

17:15

Hamilton

depart

10:05

-

Palmerston North

arr/dep

10:05

19:20

National Park

arrive

13:05

-

National Park

arrive

13:20

-

National Park

depart

13:05

-

National Park

depart

13:20

-

Palmerston North  

arrive

16:15

06:15

Hamilton

arr/dep

16:30

-

Wellington

arrive

18:25

08:20

Auckland

arrive

18:45

-

The Northern Explorer has new panoramic carriages, reclining seats, cafe car, open air viewing car, power sockets at all seats.

 Fares

 Auckland - Wellington   

Flexi fare NZ$ 198 (104 or US$160)

Smart-Saver fare * NZ$ 178 (93 or US$145)

Super-Saver fare * NZ$ 158 (83 or US$129)

* Super-Saver = limited availability, no refunds, no changes.  Smart-Saver = limited availability, $20 for any changes which can only be made more than 48 hours or more before departure.  Important:  These cheap fares will not appear on the Kiwi Rail Scenic website when viewed from a computer outside NZ, see below for the necessary workaround so you can see and buy them online from outside NZ.

Children aged 2-14 travel at reduced fare,  Infants under 2 travel free.  New Zealand railpass information.

Buy tickets online at www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz, but read this first...

Buying your tickets online is simple, but not as simple as it should be!  You can buy tickets for the Northern Explorer online at www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz with self-print tickets, but there's a problem.  Kiwi Rail have set up their website to hide the cheaper Super-Saver & promotional fares if your computer is located outside New Zealand, even though anyone from any country is entitled to buy them.  The screenshots below show a similar booking for the TranzAlpine, and speak for themselves.  I was shocked when I first worked out what was going on, but fear not, I have also worked out the necessary workaround, explained below!

If you book using your PC normally:

If you book using the special Tor Browser as explained below:

How to buy cheaper tickets online from outside NZ using the Tor browser workaround:  Anyone from any country is entitled to buy the cheaper fares shown in the second screenshot, the only problem is that they don't appear unless you give your PC a New Zealand IP address.  So here's how to do just that:

(1)  Go to the Tor Project's download page and download & install the Tor Project's special Tor browser. 

(2)  Open your PC's file explorer, open the Tor Browser folder, then the Data folder, then the Tor folder and look for a text document called torrc-defaults.

(3)  Open torrc-defaults with Notepad or any suitable text file editor, scroll to the bottom, hit 'return' a couple of times and cut & paste ' ExitNodes {nz} ' into the text document, without the quote marks of course.  This sets up the Tor browser to use a New Zealand IP address.  Save the file after editing.

(4) Open the Tor browser.  You are now browsing through a random relay of servers, exiting the relay with an NZ IP address.  The connection naturally works a bit slower than your normal internet connection, but it does work! 

(5)  Go to www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz and buy your tickets.  You should now see the full range of fares (if they are available, obviously).  Feedback would be appreciated!

One traveller reports:  "Thanks for the 'Tor' advice when booking Super-Saver tickets for New Zealand.  It worked for me, and I've saved a lot of money as I'm backpacking on a budget."

Or buy via an international phone call instead:  If you're not sufficiently computer-savvy, you can buy all the cheap prices if you call New Zealand.  Call KiwiRail Scenic Journeys telesales on + 64 4 495 0775, as all fares are available by phone, potentially saving money even allowing for the cost the call. 

Or buy online from Rail New Zealand:  You can also check train times, prices & buy tickets at www.railnewzealand.com, although they say they don't sell Saver fares, only full-price.

Or book by phone, call 0800 872 467 (in NZ) or  00 64 4 495 0775 (from outside NZ)...

From outside New Zealand, call Kiwi Rail on + 64 4 495 0775, remembering that NZ is 13 hours ahead of the UK in the UK's winter, 11 hours in summer - you should be able to buy the full range of fares including Super-Saver and Smart-Saver.  When you're in NZ, call them on their free-phone number, 0800 TRAINS (0800 872 467).  There are no discounts for seniors or students on the Northern Explorer, although there are discounts on the other Kiwi Rail passenger trains.  You can buy all the fares by phone, Flexi, Smart-Saver or Super-Saver, even if you call from outside NZ.

Alternatively, if you live in the UK or Ireland you can arrange New Zealand train tickets or passes & reservations with UK-based train travel specialist International Rail, call 0844 248 248 3.  From outside the UK +44 844 248 248 3.  Lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday.

What's it like on board the Northern Explorer?

The Northern Explorer uses brand new AK panoramic sightseeing coaches built in Kiwi Rail's Dunedin workshops in New Zealand in 2011-2012.  These replace the old rebuilt 1950s carriages used until June 2012 by its predecessor, the Overlander. Photos courtesy of James Chuang

Auckland to Wellington on the Northern Explorer train   Seats in the new 'AK' carriages on the Auckland-Wellington 'Northern Explorer'

Reclining seats, most facing direction of travel, all lining up with huge panoramic windows (note the roof skylights too!), with loads of legroom even if you're over six feet tall.  Seats recline to about 40 degrees.  Seats are not allocated at booking, but by the train manager before departure.  However, if you book by phone (or book online and then call Kiwi Rail's freephone number when you get to NZ and quote your booking reference) you can make a seating request.  For example, four friends or family travelling together could request one of the few bays of 4 seats facing each other around a table, keen photographers could request a seat close to the viewing platform.  Requests can't be guaranteed, of course, but it doesn't hurt to ask!  All your heavy baggage is checked in to the baggage van, only hand luggage may be taken into the seating coaches.

Cafe car on the Northern Explorer train from Auckland to Wellington   Auckland to Wellington on the Northern Explorer train

Cafe-bar:  In the centre of the train is a counter selling tea, coffee, wine, beer, spirits, snacks & light microwaveable meals at reasonable prices.  I can recommend a cream tea in the afternoon, and a glass of Montana Sauvignon Blanc!  You take your food & drink back to your seat. Bring cash, as cards are sometimes not accepted if the credit card machine is out of cellphone range.

Viewing car on the Northern Explorer train from Auckland to Wellington   Inside the viewing car on the Northern Explorer train

Open-air viewing platform:  At the front of the train at the rear of the baggage car is a large open-air viewing platform, ideal for seeing and photographing the scenery, with no glass in between you and it.  Children must be accompanied.

What to see on the Auckland to Wellington train ride...

  The Northern Explorer train about to leave Auckland's Britomart station

The Northern Explorer departing from Auckland:  With its baggage car attached at the rear, the Auckland-Wellington 'Northern Explorer' stands at platform 3 of the Britomart Transport Centre.  A 423-mile adventure lies ahead...  Courtesy James Chuang.

  The new Northern Explorer train from Auckland to Wellington

On its way...  The new Northern Explorer.

  The Auckland to Wellington train passing typical New Zealand 'Lord of the Rings' scenery

Middle Earth!  No wonder filmmaker Peter Jackson realised that NZ looked so much like Tolkien's Middle Earth!  (Photo taken from the old 'Overlander')

  Scenery from the Overlander.

King Country...  A green & pleasant land...

  Scenery from the Northern Explorer train to Wellington

Approaching National Park...  Are those old volcanoes..?

 

Mount Ruapehu, seen from the Northern Explorer train

Mount Ruapehu, seen from the Northern Explorer train.  Photo courtesy of James Chuang.

 

The Overlander train crosses the Makatote Viaduct.

Crossing the Makatote Viaduct.  This photo was taken from the old Overlander's open-air viewing platform.

  A Wellington to Auckland Overlander crosses to Hapuawhenua Viaduct

Crossing the Hapuawhenua Viaduct.  This photo was taken through the rear-facing observation lounge window of a northbound Overlander.  Note the original steel viaduct, now a walking trail, on the left...

 

Crossing the Kawhatau Viaduct over the Rangitikei gorge

Crossing the Kawhatau Viaduct over the Rangitikei gorge, on the Northern Explorer's viewing platform.  Photo courtesy of James Chuang.

  The Wellington-Auckland Overlander train passes the 'Cookie Time' DC3

The "Cookie Time" DC3!  It has since been repainted...

  Soon after leaving Wellington, the Auckland-bound Overlander train passes along the coast...

Coastline north of Wellington, seen in the early morning light from a northbound Overlander...

The train crew provide a commentary over the train's public address system, pointing out things of interest, but here's a summary of what to look out for on the journey from Auckland to Wellington:

A brief history...


Watch the video - The Auckland to Wellington train on the Raurimu Spiral

The video was taken from the old Overlander's tail-end observation lounge, and some shots from the open-air viewing platform, as it climbs the famous Raurimu Spiral.

The 'Goodbye' in the title is no longer necessary, as the Overlander has been saved, and now replaced by the Northern Explorer.  Take it the next time you need to go from Auckland to Wellington!

Video by iafilm

 


Railpasses for New Zealand

New Zealand Scenic Railpass:  Check prices & buy online in UK...

There is an excellent New Zealand Scenic Railpass giving unlimited travel on all Kiwi Rail passenger trains, and (if you buy the ferry-inclusive version), the Inter-Island Ferry between Wellington and Picton.  If you're going to travel on all 3 trains from Auckland to Wellington, across on the ferry and down to Christchurch and on to Greymouth, the 7-day pass makes a lot of sense.  To buy online in the UK, see www.internationalrail.com.  For more information, see www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz.  Once you have a railpass, it's easy to make seat reservations to go with it simply by calling Kiwi Rail on 0800 TRAINS (0800 872 467) or from outside New Zealand, 00 64 4 495 0775.


Holidays to New Zealand using train travel

Railbookers.com7-night holiday with the Northern Explorer, InterIslander ferry, Coastal Pacific & TranzAlpine...

Tailor-made holiday specialist Railbookers (www.railbookers.com, in the UK call 020 3327 0761) can arrange holidays around New Zealand using train travel rather than buses or flights.  A 7-night trip from Auckland to Wellington on the Northern Explorer, Wellington to Picton on the inter-island ferry, Picton to Christchurch on the Coastal Pacific, and Christchurch to Greymouth on the 'TranzAlpine' starts at around 799 per person excluding flights.


Recommended guidebooks

Lonely Planet New Zealand - click to buy onlineRough Guide to New Zealand - click to buy onlineMake sure you take a good guidebook.  The Lonely Planets and Rough Guides are easily the best out there for the independent traveller.  Both guides provide an excellent level of practical information and historical and cultural background.  You won't regret buying one of these guides..!

Click to buy online at Amazon.co.uk...

Lonely Planet New Zealand    Rough Guide to New Zealand

 


Hotels & accommodation

Find hotels in Auckland, Wellington or elsewhere in New Zealand...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Personal recommendation in Wellington...

In Auckland, the Airedale Hotel or Mercure Auckland Hotel are both sound central choices, the latter right near the Britomart station and Devonport ferry terminal, though not the cheapest options.  In Wellington, the Shepherds Arms Hotel is a cosy gastro pub just 15 minutes walk from Parliament and the city centre with friendly staff, great food and good beer.  A top choice!


Travel insurance...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you're resident in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you're resident in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find some huge bills waiting for you.  I've known people run up a 1,000 bill in data charges just by leaving their iPhone connected during a simple trip to Europe.  However, if you buy a global SIM card for your mobile phone from a company such as www.Go-Sim.com you can slash the cost by up to 85% and limit any damage to the amount you have pre-paid.  It cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also works for laptop or PDA data access.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.


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