Taking a train from Wellington to Auckland isn’t the fastest way to get between the capital and the other major city on the North Island. I mean, they’re practically on opposite ends of the island. It might not necessarily be the cheapest, either, depending on airline specials and deals. But it sure is the prettiest.
The thing is, you’d be hard-pressed to find another way to see as many sights as you see on this train ride in such a limited period of time. Sure, you could drive. But the train goes through areas that would take several detours to access with a car and plus — who wants all the stress of driving? So hear me out, I have a couple of great reasons why this eight hour train ride may just be the best way to get between the two cities.
It’s Not Just Any Train from Wellington to Auckland
When we say take the train, we’re not just talking about any old train. We’re talking about the Northern Explorer train operated by KiwiRail. This scenic, eight hour train ride makes seven stops, traveling through the beautiful landscape of the North Island.
You’ll ride through the heart of the North Island, which offers beautiful views of the following:
- Waikato Plains
- Ruapehu Volcano
- Raurimo Spiral
- Nguarahoe Volcano
- Tongariro National Park
- Rangipo Desert
- Rangitikei River
That’s Not Even the Best Part
The best part about the Northern Explorer Train is the open-air viewing carriage located at the rear of the train. This is literally just an open carriage with standing room that you can visit at almost any point during your journey to get better views of the scenery and take pictures without the interference of windows.
Odds and Ends
When booking your trip, you can decide which type of seat you want, whether it’s forward facing or table seating. The system will automatically assign your seat reservation, but we recommend booking well in advance and emailing KiwiRail (email@example.com) to request seating in the last cabin next to the open air carriage. This way, you can visit the viewing carriage as often as you want throughout the trip without having to walk through several cabins each time.
The Northern Explorer train operates every other day in one direction, with Tuesdays being off days. So, for example, if the train runs from Wellington to Auckland on Wednesday, it will run from Auckland to Wellington on Thursday. Leaving from Wellington, the train departs in the morning and arrives in Auckland in time for dinner.
When you arrive in Auckland, you will arrive at the Auckland Strand station — which is not in downtown. We walked from the station to our hotel, because we’re weird and that’s our default whenever we’re in a safe area. But if you don’t want to haul your luggage the roughly 20 minute walk to downtown, you can easily arrange a taxi. The attendants on the train will be more than happy to help you arrange a taxi toward the end of the journey and will walk throughout the cabin to ask if you need a ride. The Wellington station is located right in downtown.
Tickets for the train usually sell out, so booking well in advance is strongly recommended. Overseas bookings are limited to the Flexi and Flexi Plus fares, but AAA and CAA members can get up to 20% off on these fares.
Okay that’s it. Hopefully we’ve convinced you to try an alternate route if you’re planning to take a trip to the North Island in New Zealand. Personally, we found it a great way to get from one city to another and see sights that we would not have otherwise had time to see. And the benefit of being able to take a quick nap during the day wasn’t bad either.