Don’t rely on trains to get you around; train travel in New Zealand is limited to three routes operated by Kiwi Rail Scenic Journeys and commuter services in Wellington and Auckland. That said, the three long journeys are indeed scenic. They include the daily TranzAlpine Express, a spectacular ride over Arthur's Pass and the mountainous spine of the South Island between Greymouth, on the west coast, and Christchurch on the east. The Coastal Pacific runs from Christchurch along the stunning Kaikoura coast (between mountains and sea), to Marlborough wine country and Picton. This runs daily between October and April and a few days a week through winter months (timetable varies). The Northern Explorer travels from Wellington to Auckland, departing Auckland on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and Wellington Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday.
The trains do leave and arrive on time as a rule. They have one class, with standard comfortable seats and a basic food service selling light meals, snacks, beer, wine, and spirits. Special meals (diabetic, wheat free, or vegetarian) can be arranged, but you have to order at least 48 hours before you board the train. Most carriages have large windows from which to view the spectacular passing scenery, and you’ll hear a commentary on passing points of interest. Most trains also have a viewing carriage at the rear.
Travelers can purchase a New Zealand Travelpass for unlimited travel by train, bus, and Interislander ferry for a variety of periods. Senior citizens (over 60) get a 20% discount with proof of age.
You can obtain both schedules and tickets at i-SITE visitor information centers and at train stations. Major credit cards are accepted, as are cash and traveler's checks. Reservations are advised, particularly in the summer months. Book at least 48 hours in advance.
InterCity Travel Centres (09/583–5780 in Auckland; 03/365–1113 in Christchurch; 04/385–0520 in Wellington.)
KiwiRail (04/495–0775; 0800/801–070 toll-free in New Zealand for bookings. www.kiwirail.co.nz.)