Rail Journeys

The Amazing Railways of New Zealand

Tour Date: 7 February to 2 March 2023
Location: New Zealand

Welcome to Aotearoa, New Zealand. Offering you a mix of landscapes – rolling green hills, sublime forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and rivers – an ever-changing variety packed into a landmass the same size as the UK.

Because of the terrain, the small population in the mid-1850’s, and the lack of money, 3ft. 6in gauge was very early adopted throughout the country for the railway system. At its peak the national railway system grew to over 6000km.

The closure of uneconomic lines has led to several groups of volunteers developing railway operations using a variety of equipment in various places on closed lines, and by the running of excursion trains on mainline tracks.

The national system was complemented by a large number of short lines related to the extraction industries – particularly timber and coal and other groups of volunteers have saved and restored key items of industrial heritage and now offer fascinating glimpses of bush tramways and former coal lines.

The closure of electric street trams has also seen several groups preserving and restoring key items and offering journeys on what used to be the norm in many of our cities

Your tour will include travel on all three of Kiwirail’s premier passenger services; on one of the rail ferries which enables the railway system in two islands to be operated as a single unit; visits to the best of the restored heritage lines and associated workshops; three charter trips on main lines and visits to several street tramway operations. On many days when you are travelling on trains, your tour coach will “shadow’ the train, with your large bags on board.

Your rail experiences will be complemented by an introduction to Maori culture through its people; a visit to Rotorua’s thermal reserve; a boat trip on the North Island’s largest lake; tours of several cities; views of the nocturnal kiwi and the tuatara; travel through the rain forest and around and on several of the gorgeous southern South Island lakes.

Tour Itinerary

North Island

Our day starts with a short (45 minute) flight from Christchurch to Wellington for the start of our tour of the railways of the North Island.

Saturday 1st April

Various flight options to Auckland including “Round the World” tickets.

Day 1 Monday 3rd April (D)

Arrive International Auckland Airport. Transfer to your waterfront hotel. Free day. In the late afternoon: Orientation to your tour, followed by a Welcome Dinner. (Overnight: Auckland)

Day 2 Tuesday 4th April (B)

This morning you will be introduced to New Zealand’s largest city by means of a Coach tour, including the downtown areas; the waterfront; Parnell Village; Holy Trinity Cathedral; Auckland Domain and Wintergardens and Tamaki Drive (with a stop at Bastion Point for wonderful harbour views).  Following time for you to purchase lunch, tour MOTAT, NZ’s largest transport, technology & social history museum (aviation; road; rail; kiwi ingenuity; trams). The tour will include a ride on a restored heritage tram which links the two compuses. (Overnight: Auckland)

Day 3 Wednesday 5th April (B,D)

Free morning (but possible options:  tour the National Maritime Museum; travel on an EMU on the West Auckland line to Swanson and return; a ferry across the harbour to Devonport to stroll around the village, then return to Auckland). This afternoon, travel by coach to Glenbrook to visit the now over 40 years old Glenbrook Vintage Railway. Enjoy  a steam engine hauled charter train on the 15km round trip through rural countryside to the historic town of Waiuku on the Manukau Harbour including photo run-by’s. You will also have a conducted tour of their workshops. Steam locos on shed include two Ww 4-6-4T locos; an F 0-6-0T loco; a Ja 4-8-2 loco and a 2-4-4-2 Mallet loco. Either dinner in their “Parlour Car” on the train, or a BBQ evening meal. Return to your hotel by coach. (Overnight: Auckland)

Day 4 Thursday 6th April (B,L,D)

Coach to Pukemiro (near Huntly). Charter steam-hauled trip on the Glen Afton Line (formerly The Bush Tramway Club), followed by a tour of their workshops. View their Climax, Heisler & Price built bush lokies, plus their former coal hauling locos. Enjoy a bush tramway jigger ride and lunch. This afternoon, travel on by coach to Rotorua. This evening enjoy a comprehensive Maori Cultural Evening, including a hangi (cooked in an underground oven) dinner. (Overnight: Rotorua)

Day 5 Friday 7th April (B,D)

Enjoy an amphibian “duck” tour of Rotorua, then travel out on it onto two of the local Lakes. This afternoon, tour the Thermal Reserve to view geysers, steam vents, mud pools, and local Maori engaged in a variety of arts and crafts. (Overnight: Rotorua)

Day 6 Saturday 8th April (B,L)

Coach across country from Rotorua to Taumarunui via Taupo (including a boat trip on Lake Taupo), and Turangi. (Overnight: Taumarunui)

Day 7 Sunday 9th April (B,L)

Because Kiwirail’s Taumarunui to Stratford line has been “moth-balled”, you will be able today to self drive (in convoys) battery operated railcarts to  Whangamomona, with lunch en route. Your 40km ride will take you past a good number of small isolated communities; through several tunnels: over several bridges; and past ever changing back-blocks scenery. Return to Taumarunui later in the day in minivans. (Overnight: Taumarunui)

Day 8 Monday 10th April (B,D)

This morning enjoy a Jetboat trip on the Whanganui River. Around midday, join Kiwirail’s “Northern Explorer” train on the North Island Main Trunk line from Taumarunui to Paraparaumu (arrival time: 5.30pm). You will travel through a very scenic part of the Island, including the famous Raurimu Spiral, an engineering masterpiece which overcomes a 456 feet height difference between the volcanic plateau to the east and the valleys and gorges of the upper Whanganui River to the west. (Overnight: Paraparaumu)

Day 9 Tuesday 11th April (B,L)

This morning you will participate in a charter trip on one of Wellington Tramway Museum’s trams, and tour their extensive workshops and tram barns at nearby Queen Elizabeth Park. The group has the largest stable of restored electric trams in the country. This afternoon, enjoy a guided tour around one of the country’s major preservation group (Steam Incorporated)’s Workshops at Paekakariki. They have restored several large steam and historic diesel locos, including J, Ja, K, and Ka steam locos and three 1950 – 1960’s era Da A1A-A1A diesel electric locos. You will also be able to inspect the ex  Rhodesian Railways Garratt which is stored for it’s New Zealand owner. All of their carriage fleet have some historical or structural significance. (Overnight: Paraparaumu)

Day 10 Wednesday 12th April 2023 (B)

Travel on Steam Incorporated’s heritage diesel-hauled excursion train from Paekakariki to Napier to tour ART Deco buildings during this weekend’s Art Deco Festival. The section of line from Palmerston North to Napier is normally a freight only line. Return to Paekakariki (Ovrnight: Paraparaumu)

Day 11 Thursday 13th April 2023 (B,L)

Travel on an EMU from Paraparaumu – Wellington, then on a Wairarapa train from Wellington (dep. 9.25am) through the Rimutuka Tunnel to Featherston. Conducted tour of the Fell engine (H199 0-4-2T) and Fell brakevan and associated Museum. Prior to the opening of the Rimutuka Tunnel in the 1950’s, the Fell System was used to convey freight and passengers on the 1:13 gradient forming part of the line over the mountain. Late morning, you will be collected by your coach and taken over the Rimutuka’s to the well established working heritage Silverstream Railway in the Hutt Valley, for lunch; a charter steam-hauled trip and a tour of their workshops. Their large collection of locos include three Barclay 0-6-0Ts; a C class (0-4-2T) built by Dubs in 1875; A C 2-6-2 heavy shunting loco; two 1950’s era diesel electric locos; Ka935; an 1887 Avonside loco (L509) and both a Standard  class and a Wairarapa class railcar. Later, your coach will then take you to your Wellington hotel. (Overnight: Wellington)

South Island

Day 11 Thursday 13th April 2023

If you are joining just for the South Island then the best priced flights from the UK are generally into Auckland. So, we take an evening flight from Auckland to Wellington. We will leave the UK on flights departing on 11 April.

Day 12 Friday 14th April 2023

Your journey begins in the harbour city of Wellington. The tour commences with one of the most picturesque ferry crossings in the world as we cruise across the Cook Strait, then weave our way through Queen Charlotte Sound to the port town of Picton.

Day 13 Saturday 15th April 2023

Wake up to a magnificent sunrise over the Marlborough Sounds. Arrive at Picton Station and then we introduce you to the historic WW1 memorial steam locomotive Ab608 Passchendale, (named in honour of our fallen soldiers at The Battle of Passchendale in 1917). The steam train will gently roll into Blenheim Station,  and it is “all aboard” and onward South via the Dashwood Pass and Awatere Valley. We steam ahead for Kekerengu where we disembark for lunch overlooking the Pacific Ocean at “The Store”. After taking on water for the steam train we pull away for the spectacular coastal journey to Kaikoura. We will stay at the newly opened Sudima Hotel (or equivalent) taking in spectacular views on the Kaikoura Esplanade.

Day 14 Sunday 16th April 2023

Kaikoura, home of resident whales, where the guardians of the seas – the mountains of the Southern Alps – rise majestically from the deep trenches of the Pacific Ocean. Several different species of whale can be seen off the coast of Kaikoura at different times of the year, and most of the time, the huge resident Sperm Whales can be sighted. The ocean trench just off the coast means sperm whales are often seen close to shore. There will be optional excursions for whale, dolphin and seal watching (by boat or plane). We depart Kaikoura for Christchurch hauled by two heritage 1950’s DA locomotives – in dramatic double-header formation – displaying in their impressive racing colours. After arrival in Christchurch, be collected at your hotel by a privately chartered Tram for a historic tram journey around the city before dinner. We will stay at the newly renovated Commodore Hotel.

Day 15 Monday 17th April 2023

A morning visit to explore modern day Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre and experience a taste of this unique and breath-taking continent – just like the explorers before you. After departing from Christchurch by train to Oamaru, luxury coaches then provide the link inland to Aoraki/Mt Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand, which helped Sir Edmund Hillary to develop his climbing skills in preparation for the conquest of Everest. Recognised as part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Area, the National Park is a breath-taking environment of glaciers, terminal lakes, turbulent rivers and Australasia’s tallest peak, the mighty Aoraki / Mt Cook soaring above at 3,724 metres. There is the option after dinner to enjoy star-gazing at the Planetarium, digitally immersed in what has been voted the world’s largest “International Dark Sky Reserve”. We will stay at the iconic Hermitage Hotel with majestic mountain views.

Day 16 Tuesday 18th April 2023

Enjoy a leisurely morning and then a visit to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, which is a tribute to New Zealand’s global icon as well as discovering New Zealand’s colourful transport, climbing and hotel history. Followed by a scenic drive through the National Park surrounded by the silent splendour of the Southern Alps. Afternoon optional activities include a glacier helicopter tour or a scenic flight with expert pilots navigating their way over a glacial lake, passing soaring mountain tops over NZ’s longest glacier – the 600 metre thick, Tasman Glacier. Dinner that evening is with celebrity guest speaker, Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary. We will stay at the iconic Hermitage Hotel with majestic mountain views.

Day 17 Wednesday 19th April 2023

Departing from Aoraki / Mt Cook, we journey back to the coastal route via Omarama and Pukaki to meet the train in Oamaru and continue south by rail to Dunedin. We will stay at Scenic Hotel Southern Cross which is Dunedin’s most established hotel, nestled in the heart of the city.

Day 18 Tuesday 20th April 2023

Situated on the picturesque Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle is one of New Zealand’s premier visitor attractions. Lovingly restored by the Barker Family, the Castle and surrounding grounds are at the heart of the Dunedin visitor experience. Arrive in time for refreshing high tea in the Ballroom Café followed by a guided garden tour. In the afternoon, there is the option to explore the ‘hidden’ underground Fort Taiaroa – the fort was established over 100 years ago to counter the threat of invasion from Tsarist Russia and is located underneath the Albatross colony. This is the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world. We will stay at Scenic Hotel Southern Cross which is Dunedin’s most established hotel, nestled in the heart of the city.

Alternative Rail Option: We go by road to Middlemarch to join the Taieri Gorge Railway train bound for Dunedin. This heritage diesel hauled train will take you through the spectacularly rugged scenery and over splendid iron viaducts en route to Dunedin. On arrival, tour the station. This most photographed building is the best of the Edwardian era Gordon Troup designed railway stations in NZ.

Day 19 Friday 21st April 2023

We bid farewell to Dunedin by train and head towards the southern-most point of the main trunk line. We initially hug the coast, the train winds its way inland towards the town of Gore, and then southwards to Invercargill. Luxury coaches provide the link inland, traversing the Southern Scenic Route from Invercargill to the Fiordland National Park district, where we spend a couple of awe-inspiring days experiencing the wonders of Te Anau and Milford Sound. We stay at Distinction Hotel Luxmore in Te Anau.

Day 20 Saturday 22nd April 2023

Traveling along the Milford Road (between Te Anau and Milford) is one of the finest alpine drives in the world. The scenery is exceptional, ranging from broad grassy flats, dense rainforest and towering mountains through to glacial lakes and alpine herb fields. A day tour to Milford Sound offers some of the most spectacular natural scenery to be viewed anywhere in the world. Board the coach and travel through stunning scenery along the Milford Road and into Fiordland, where your cruise boat awaits you. The tour includes a cruise around the fiord so you can experience its wonders up close and see landmarks like Mitre Peak and amazing wildlife, such as dolphins and seals. Cruise the inner most reaches of Milford Sound to the open Tasman Sea and back. A one-day itinerary is enough to see all the beautiful views along the way, take a scenic cruise around the fiord, and get back to Te Anau in time for dinner.

Day 21 Sunday 23rd April 2023

Wake up to enjoy a visit to the Takahe Bird Sanctuary. Takahe are the stars of the show and meeting these prehistoric-looking characters is a ‘must do’ for Fiordland visitors. The sanctuary is a large part of the success of the Takahe Recovery Programme. Continuing to the village of Kingston nestled on southernmost end of Lake Wakatipu, is the iconic Kingston Flyer Steam Train, taking you on a memorable journey between Kingston & Fairlight. The adventure playground of Queenstown then awaits. Cap off a special day as we take in The Remarkables Mountain Range and lake views from the hotel. We will stay in the Novotel Lakeside Hotel in Queenstown, centrally located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

Day 22 Monday 24th April 2023

Wake up to join a lake cruise on board the historic TSS Earnslaw, the 1912 Edwardian steamboat, which takes us across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak High Country Farm for a gourmet BBQ lunch. Enjoy an afternoon visit to the historic and picturesque goldmining town, Arrowtown, with a visit to the Lakes District Museum. We will stay in the Novotel Lakeside Hotel in Queenstown, centrally located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

Day 23 Tuesday 25th April 2023

Leaving Queenstown, we pass by the crystal-clear waters of Lake Dunstan, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Continuing through Makaroa on the boarder of Mount Apsiring World Heritage Park, we will travel through the Haast Pass, journeying through native beech forest and over the Southern Alps, before emerging on the West Coast. This remote area has a ruggedly beautiful landscape of vast rainforests, gushing waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. Our last night is spent at Franz Josef and all guests are encouraged to wind down and enjoy some well-deserved pampering at the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools. We stay at the Scenic Hotel in Franz Josef, located on the edge of the Westland World Heritage Park.

Day 24 Wednesday 26th April 2023

The final day and before departing Franz Josef – options are available for helicopter tours of the glacier (additional cost). Then, the TranzAlpine awaits. Often regarded to be one of the world’s great train journeys for the scenery through which it passes. The journey is 223 kilometres in one direction, taking almost five hours. Along this journey you will see epic vistas, travel the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River, traverse the majestic Canterbury Plains and Southern Alps, and see miles of native beech forest – the journey of a lifetime.

Day 25 Thursday 27th April 2023

Today, travel from Christchurch to Greymouth on the very best of the Kiwirail passenger trains – the Tranz Alpine. Enjoy  spectacular scenery and railway engineering and travel through the 7 mile long Otira Tunnel into the West Coast. You will be able to purchase lunch on board. Following time for photos at Greymouth Station, your coach will take you to Shantytown for a tour of their complex, including a steam hauled train; gold panning and bush tramway relics. Later, travel on by coach through historic Hokitika to Franz Josef (Overnight: Franz Josef)

Day 26 Friday 28th April 2023

All good things come to an end and will have a road transfer to Christchurch airport for flights back to Auckland and on to the UK and Europe.

Prices & Options

Tour Prices (per person) – TBC

11 Day North Island Tour: £3,750 – single supp £590

15 Day South Island Tour: £4,250 – single supp £710

Return flights from the UK: Allow £1,250*

*  with flight price confirmed at time of booking