On the tran from Auckland to Wellington
 

Auckland to Wellington by train.

Auckland to Wellington by train

The wonderful 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 at the Tongariro National Park for a couple of days if you like.

It's an epic 681 kilometre (423 mile) journey across the interior of the North Island, through every kind of scenery there is, from coastline to volcanoes to mountains, lush green farmland to thick New Zealand bush.  It takes you the length of the historic North Island Main Trunk Railway, started in 1885 and completed in 1908, over feats of engineering such 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$ 158 (90 or US$115).  Don't waste the opportunity, ditch that domestic flight and take the train!

On this page

small bullet point  Auckland  - Wellington timetable

small bullet point  Auckland - Wellington fares

small bullet point  How to buy tickets - the cheapest way!

small bullet point  Vacations & tours by train

small bullet point  What's it like on board the train?

small bullet point  What to see on the Auckland-Wellington train ride

 

On other pages

small bullet point  Wellington-Picton by Interislander ferry

small bullet point  Wellington-Christchurch by ferry & Coastal Pacific train

small bullet point  Christchurch-Greymouth by Tranz-Alpine train

small bullet point  Christchurch-Dunedin-Invercargill bus service

small bullet point  Christchurch-Queenstown bus service

small bullet point  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:

Thur, Sat, Mon

from 26/09/2022

Mon-Fri 

 Days of running:

Wed, Fri, Sun

from 25/09/2022

Mon-Fri

 Auckland*

depart

07:45

-

 Wellington

depart

07:55

17:15

 Papakura

arr/dep

08:40

-

 Paraparaumu

arr/dep

08:45

18:03

 Hamilton

arr/dep

10:15

-

 Palmerston North

arr/dep

10:00

19:20

 Otorohanga (Waitomo)

arr/dep

10:54

-

 Ohakune

arr/dep

12:45

-

 National Park

arrive

13:15

-

 National Park

arrive

13:15

-

 National Park

depart

13:15

-

 National Park

depart

13:15

-

 Ohakune

arr/dep

13:45

-

 Otorohanga (Waitomo)

arr/dep

15:45

-

 Palmerston North  

arr/dep

16:20

06:15

 Hamilton

arr/dep

16:30

-

 Paraparaumu

arr/dep

17:30

07:32

 Papakura

arr/dep

17:55

-

 Wellington

arrive

18:25

08:20

 Auckland*

arrive

18:50

-

* = Since December 2015 the train leaves from the Kiwirail Scenic terminal, a basic platform at the old Strand Station.

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

 How much does it cost?

 Auckland - Wellington   

Summer fare NZ$ 219 (112 or US$140)

Winter fare NZ$ 179 (92 or US$115)

Children aged 2-14 travel at reduced fare,  Infants under 2 travel free.

How to buy tickets

Vacations & tours in New Zealand by rail

Railbookers are train travel specialists with offices in the UK, Australia & United States.  They offer customisable tour packages around New Zealand with travel on some or all of the KiwiRail scenic routes, with trains, stopovers, hotels, transfers and (if necessary) flights sorted for you.

UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600, www.railbookers.co.uk

US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, www.railbookers.com.

Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, www.railbookers.ca.

Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

What's it like on board the train?

The Northern Explorer uses new AK panoramic sightseeing coaches built in KiwiRail's Dunedin workshops in New Zealand in 2011-2012.  These replace the old rebuilt 1930s & 1940s 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'

Comfortable seats, most facing direction of travel, some in bays of 4 around a table, 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 are not always allocated at booking, but by the train manager before departure.  However, if you book by phone (or book online and then call KiwiRail'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.  Larger photo.

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 Sauvignon Blanc!  You can buy at the counter and take your food & drink back to your seat, but staff also come through the train taking orders for delivery to your seat.  Bring cash, as cards are sometimes not accepted if the credit card machine is out of cellphone range.  Larger photo.

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 Wellington end of the train (rear going north, behind the locomotive going south) 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.  The viewing cars now have additional rails to prevent you leaning out.

What to see on the Auckland to Wellington train ride

  The Northern Explorer train leaves from Auckland Strand Station

The Northern Explorer leaves from Auckland Strand Terminal:  A 423-mile adventure lies ahead.  Since December 2015 it has left from it's new home at Strand Station, 1km from the Britomart Centre.  There are only basic facilities at Strand, so buy any supplies before going there.  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.

A recorded commentary is played over your complimentary headphones, pointing out things of interest.  It's linked with the route map displayed on the in-car display screens.  Here's a summary of what to look out for on the journey from Auckland to Wellington:

A brief history

Auckland to Wellington in pictures

The Northern Explorer train leaves from Auckland Strand Station

The Northern Explorer leaves from Auckland Strand Terminal:  A 423-mile adventure lies ahead.  Since December 2015 it has left from it's new home at Strand Station, 1km from the Britomart Centre.  There are only basic facilities at Strand, so buy any supplies before going there.  Courtesy Jim Walshe.

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.

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 was saved, and now replaced by the Northern Explorer.  Take it the next time you need to go from Auckland to Wellington! Video by iafilm


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 Amazon logo

Lonely Planet New Zealand    Rough Guide to New Zealand

 


Hotels & accommodation

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search: www.booking.com

Booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally use it to book all my hotels in one place.  I've come to trust booking.com's review scores, you won't be disappointed with any hotel that scores 8.0 or more.  Crucially, booking.com usually lets you book with free cancellation, which means you can confirm accommodation risk-free before train booking opens and/or you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when planning a trip.  I never book hotels non-refundably!

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 & VPN

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Columbus Direct logo

Always take out travel insurance

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 and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  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 with Staysure.co.uk myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

UK flag  www.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection & gets 4.7 out of 5 on Trustpilot.

UK flag  www.columbusdirect.com is also a well-know brand.

US flag  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Maya.net logo

Get an eSIM with mobile data package

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a mobile data package for the country you're visiting and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM card so you don't need to buy a physical SIM, including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility listMaya.net is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data.

 

Curve card

Curve card

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, 500 per month at time of writing.  The money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.

How it works:  1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than digging a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card, they'll give you 5 cashback through that link.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  Why you need a VPN

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription.  I get a small commission to help support this site.

 

Anker Powerrbank

Carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, vaccination records and Interrail or Eurail passes are often held digitally on your mobile phone, so it's vital to keep it charged.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over if I can't get to a power outlet.  Buy from Amazon.co.uk or from Buy from Amazon.com.


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