Dazzling vistas flow past, with the light blue water and rolling green hills contrasting the stark white ridges on the horizon. As the train Auckland to Wellington meanders through this scenic terrain on a journey across the North Island, the fresh air from snow-capped volcanoes fills the open-air carriage around you.

Northern Explorer Auckland to Wellington train, tranzalpine, wellington to auckland kiwi rail.

There are a number of amazing places to visit in New Zealand, both on the North Island and the South Island. These destinations are even more incredible because of the journey taken to reach them. The trip is packed with picturesque views of the country’s unique terrain. One of the best ways to get a comprehensive look at the beauty of the North Island is to take the Northern Explorer train journey.

KiwiRail operates a tourist Train Auckland to Wellington and Wellington to Auckland, called the Northern Explorer, there are three services per week. The line itself covers a total distance of 682 km and takes 11 hours to complete.

Northern Explorer Map

Since this rail connects New Zealand’s two largest cities it is the perfect activity to add to your New Zealand Itinerary. Auckland has a population of 1.5 million and Wellington houses 0.5 million which is a significant chunk of the country’s 4.3 million people. Even though Auckland is the largest, and certainly one of the most well known, Wellington is actually New Zealand’s capital city.

Lonely Planet New Zealand's Best Trips (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet, Brett Atkinson, Sarah Bennett, Lee Slater - Publisher: Lonely Planet - Edition no. 1 (09/09/2016) - Paperback: 360 pages
£15.99 - £6.54 £9.45

Northern Explorer by KiwiRail

The Northern Explorer is a trip that has been available since 2011. This train was built in New Zealand and showcases some truly spectacular landscapes through its panoramic windows. From the licensed café to the open-air carriage, everything onboard is there for your comfort. You can sit back in comfort and enjoy the scenic views that rush past your window.

Northern Explorer Auckland to Wellington train, tranzalpine, wellington to auckland kiwi rail.

While driving yourself along the same route does have its own benefits, nothing beats the comfort of being able to move freely around and take photographs at any point in the trip without having to stop. Sit back and relax on the train Auckland to Wellington, without having to take the wheel for yourself as you watch the New Zealand landscapes roll past.

Our carriages were designed to showcase this fantastic landscape, with the phrase ‘the view is paramount’ becoming the guiding principle behind the designs.
Northern Explorer by KiwiRail

Engineering Marvels along the Railway

The railway line itself is known as the North Island Main Trunk. The line is mostly single track and employs frequent passing loops for traffic. While the Northern Explorer tour may only have been available since 2011, the railway line itself became operational in 1909 and has been described as an engineering miracle.

Northern Explorer Auckland to Wellington train, tranzalpine, wellington to Auckland kiwi rail.
Hapuawhenua Viaduct

Hapuawhenua Viaduct is one of the many impressive viaducts along the North Island Main Trunk. At 414 m long, this incredibly well-engineered structure was a true wonder of its time, being completed in 1987. The viaduct crosses a spectacular valley, giving you incredible views of the landscape and New Zealand’s unique vegetation.


Kiwi Rail Auckland to Wellington Train, tranzalpine
Raurimu Spiral

The Raurimo Spiral is another indicator of New Zealand’s excellent engineering. The train tracks snake back on themselves in this spiral, allowing for a significant change in altitude over a very short distance. The train goes very slowly at this point because the turns are sharp and the downhill slant is great enough to pull the train along the rails.

Read our New Zealand Travel guide for more inspiring destinations!

Crossing North Island Scenery

The real highlight of this incredible journey by train Auckland to Wellington is when you pass through Tongariro National Park. This park features a number of magnificent, snow-capped volcanoes which line the horizon in an impressive display of might.

Ngauruhoe, New Zealand ski resorts

Tongariro National Park is home to three active volcanoes. While they may have a blanket of snow coating their outer crust, bubbling molten lava lies beneath the surface. New Zealand’s largest active volcano is among these three and is known as Mt Ruapehu. These snowy slopes play host to two commercial ski fields. Experiencing this exciting activity on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu is something that I will never forget! If you’d like to learn more about this, feel free to visit my Whakapapa Ski post.

The journey through Tongariro National Park, with its three spectacular volcanic mountains -Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu – is a highlight, a place of extremes and surprises, where snow-blanketed fields, ancient lava flows and dense beech forests can be seen side by side.
Northern Explorer by KiwiRail

New Zealand North Island Scenery

The journey will not only allow you to see these icy slopes, but also a wealth of other sights unique to New Zealand’s landscape. The rocky coastline bears a mesmerising beauty as you glide past it in the comfort of the cabin. You’ll have excellent views of lush trees coating gentle slopes as well as soft meadows filled with colourful wildflowers.

Northern Explorer Auckland to Wellington train, tranzalpine, wellington to auckland kiwi rail.

Touring this picturesque country by train is an experience not to pass up. There is no doubt that it should be part of your New Zealand itinerary. If you would like to follow a detailed itinerary of the New Zealand then take a look at my North Island Itinerary.

Lonely Planet New Zealand's Best Trips (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet, Brett Atkinson, Sarah Bennett, Lee Slater - Publisher: Lonely Planet - Edition no. 1 (09/09/2016) - Paperback: 360 pages
£15.99 - £6.54 £9.45

Visiting Auckland

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and will likely be the place where your journey begins. While it’s possible to do the Northern Explorer trip from Wellington to Auckland, to take the train Auckland to Wellington is a far more popular route. The reason for this is that most international flights land in Auckland and this train trip is the perfect way to start off your New Zealand Itinerary.

Northern Explorer Auckland to Wellington train, tranzalpine, wellington to Auckland kiwi rail.

The suburbs of Auckland are littered with small hilltops, many of which are dormant volcanoes. These volcanoes have left a dramatic crater in their wake, making for an incredibly unique landscape. The clean air and phenomenal views are made even more clear from the top of these interesting hills.

Mt Eden Crater and Auckland Skyline. New Zealand travel blog
Mt Eden Crater

Auckland is a thriving city with plenty of activities and sights on offer. It is also one of the best places to visit in New Zealand. You can dine in picturesque luxury at the top of the sky tower, where a revolving restaurant can be found. If you’d like to explore the city on foot then you can join one of the many walking tours. If premium quality wine tasting sounds tantalising, then take a short ferry trip to the nearby island of Waiheke. This will surround you in a number of excellent wineries.


Of all the places to visit in New Zealand, Wellington stands to be one of the greatest locations. It serves as the perfect link between the North and South Islands, separated by the Cook Strait. The beauty of this city, framed by the shimmering ocean and rolling green hills is almost unparalleled.

Mt Victoria Wellington, wellington new zealand

If you wake up and set off in the early hours of the morning, you can enjoy a panoramic view of this marvellous city from Mt Victoria as the sun rises over the horizon. To see more of New Zealand’s incredible vegetation, take a trip in the cable car to the Wellington Botanical Gardens.

Train Auckland to Wellington

Northern Explorer Auckland to Wellington train, tranzalpine, wellingto to auckland kiwi rail.

Travelling a long distance by train is a truly incredible experience, particularly in a country as scenic as New Zealand. Taking a train from Wellington to Auckland or vice versa provides you with a comprehensive view of the North Island.

This train journey should definitely be part of your New Zealand itinerary. If you’re feeling inspired to learn more about epic train journeys across New Zealand’s beautiful countryside, then read more about my TranzAlpine train trip across the southern alps.

Read our New Zealand Travel guide for more inspiring destinations!

Lonely Planet New Zealand's Best Trips (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet, Brett Atkinson, Sarah Bennett, Lee Slater - Publisher: Lonely Planet - Edition no. 1 (09/09/2016) - Paperback: 360 pages
£15.99 - £6.54 £9.45


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  • I would love to be able to do this more often, however its just cost prohibitive. For a one way trip I could actually drive in less time, enjoy as much scenery, stop when I want, spend less on food than it costs on the train, between Wellington and Auckland. Its quite disappointing.

    • Compared to driving, then yes it is expensive. Compared to flying, then no. It maybe slower than flying but you get a much better view! In my North Island road trip itinerary I highlight that its good to traverse the North Island: Auckland to Wellington by one mode of transport, train, and then the drive back in the other direction. Best of both worlds and cost effective.

      • Why is more than double the price the later you book when you’re actually on the same train as the cheaper price, are you getting anything more? And if there are seats left after a certain date does the rates then get cheaper, ie, will they get discounted to fill the train? I would like to book for 2 return, but not at more than double the price.

        • Hi yes you are right, early bookings get a good price. Wait till last minute and the price has gone up! This is the same booking pricing all busses and airlines run I’m afraid, its designed to fill up seats early and profit over those who leave bookings to last minute. I suggest you book in advance. (note – I do not work or speak on behalf of Kiwirail, I’m just a customer like you!)

    • sorry i have to say, of course it is different to driving! The trip if you want to enjoy scenery, relax & aren’t worried about time, because you know what time you will arrive, is not at all disappointing. I did a return trip a few years ago, i would next time only go one way depending on how much time i had. I enjoyed the scenery & being able to sit back & relax.

      • Life is about Journeys, not the Destination. There are clearly cheaper ways (driving) or quicker ways (flying) of travel between Auckland and Wellington. The train is a good option balancing time, price and enjoyment of the journey.

      • Hi Ash, the pricing for these train trips are variable according to selected dates. But it varies one way from $100-$200.

  • My wife ( who had never traveled by train )and myself traveled by this northerner train and found it very enjoyable. Just one thing we would like to suggest is that you have lovely new carriages and a engine that is right out of of Ark, well it looks like it anyway. Would it not be possible to have a modern engine that would look more in place with the carriages?

    • Hi Keith, yes its certainly a stunning journey, New Zealand is a stunning country! I will forward your query to KiwiRail.

  • Earlier this year I travelled to Auckland from Wellington, Train $140 and 11 hours. Jetstar $45 and only hour. It’s far to expensive when also got purchase food and drinks.
    I’ll stick with flying

    • Hi You raise a good point that Flying is generally Quicker and Cheaper. Which maybe good for a local. But for a tourist travelling the Country, the train provides a more leisurely and scenic option, even if it is more expensive; The Journey, not the destination counts more!

    • Hi Ash, the pricing for these train trips are variable according to selected dates. Auckland to Wellington by train is from early morning to 6pm evening.

  • We are doing a 10-day Australian cruise with 2 relatives Oct. 29-Nov. 8. It hits New Castle, Airline Beach, Queensland, Willis Island, Brisbane, but there is limited time in each area. I am considering a small New Zealand tour to get a better feel/look/ at the 2 countries Prior to the cruise. I have talked with Natl. Geographic Tours and they have given me a 4-day itinerary, but they don’t provide references. Four days may be way too short. We are in our 60’s, reasonably fit. Not much into a lot of water sports, extreme hiking; but do like scenery, art, music, food, wine, don’t mind longer drives (Texans,) some museums, walking, etc. Been to Yellowstone, so not sure about hot springs stuff on limited tour time. Do you have any suggestions? Husband leery of driving himself, but really wants a private tour operator. The other company was figuring in cost of hotel, plane, some food and private tour operator. Need ideas and recommendations if possible. Thank you.

    • Hi Rita, 4 days is not enough time to experience fully any part of New Zealand! You should leave NZ until you have more time. I would use the time to visit somewhere in Australia instead, like: Perth, Tasmania, Uluru, the WhitSundays or the Gold Coast. Mark

  • I read your fantastic blog post on the Northern Explorer in New Zealand. I don’t know if you have heard, but the route has been cancelled as a same-day intercity service (along with The Coastal Pacific in South Island). We are running a petition to save the passenger train network. Keeping the trains are good for our communities and good for the fight for climate action. It would be really great to have your support if you could write a social media post with the link to the petition.


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