These New Train Tours Might Be the Most Stunning Way to See New Zealand

Expect panoramic views of lush forests, sparkling coastlines, rolling hills, small towns, and big cities.

<p>Picasa/Courtesy of Great Journeys New Zealand</p>

Picasa/Courtesy of Great Journeys New Zealand

The wonders of New Zealand require a visitor’s full attention, so why not give your eyes a treat and roll through the country on a scenic train ride? Great Journeys New Zealand offers a brand-new collection of multiday, guided rail tours that sweep across spectacular landscapes on both North and South islands.

The just-launched rail adventures take three existing train lines and mix them with a fresh crop of guided tour itineraries — ranging from six to 17 days — leading guests on a variety of off-rail excursions in search of Kiwi experiences. The Northern Explorer train starts in Auckland and runs just over 400 miles south to New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington. Along the way, tours bring guests to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and into Tongariro National Park, where they’ll see towering Mount Ruapehu. After crossing the 58-mile Cook Strait aboard the Interislander ferry, travelers can transfer to the Coastal Pacific train at Picton. The route passes through Blenheim’s vineyards and hugs Kaikōura's coast (renowned for whale sightings) on the way to Christchurch. Finally, the TranzAlpine train traverses the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps between Christchurch and Greymouth. Private coach or shuttle tours can whisk passengers to nearby destinations, including Queenstown and Milford Sound.

<p>Heyworth R&F/Courtesy of Great Journeys New Zealand</p>

Heyworth R&F/Courtesy of Great Journeys New Zealand

“Great Journeys New Zealand takes travelers through some of the country's most stunning and diverse landscapes, from rolling hills and lush forests to rugged coastlines and sparkling oceans,” says Mark Hockley, senior tour manager and partnership specialist at Great Journeys New Zealand. “The scenic routes provide panoramic views that can't be found by road, and the relaxed and comfortable train ride allows travelers to sit back, relax, and fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of New Zealand.”

<p>Heyworth R&F/Courtesy of Great Journeys New Zealand</p>

Heyworth R&F/Courtesy of Great Journeys New Zealand

Tour guides provide local insights and personal introductions. “There’s a story at every stop, from tales about Kiwiana culture to facts about New Zealand's curious birds, the history of Māori culture, geology in volcanic regions, rock formations, orientation of cities and locations in New Zealand, and so much more,” Hockley says. An audio commentary system, triggered by GPS, offers additional facts and historical background as the train chugs along. “The views really are breathtaking — from the volcanic peaks of Middle Earth in Ruapehu to sighting the mystical Blue Lake in the northern reaches of New Zealand's Southern Alps — but we also visit local stores and meet sheep farmers and winemakers, and hear their stories along the way,” he says.

“Māori storytelling and legends are woven into every guide's narrative throughout all trips — it's an important part of the New Zealand experience,” says Hockley. “We offer unique cultural experiences on many of our tours, ranging from visiting a Māori village to tasting Māori food, learning about Māori arts and crafts, and more.”

<p>Courtesy of Great Journeys New Zealand</p>

Courtesy of Great Journeys New Zealand

Scenic Class carriages are open and airy, thanks to panoramic windows and skylights, with spacious seating and airbag suspension for a comfy ride. Open carriages are also available — perfect for fresh-air viewing and photography. When you’re hungry, the onboard Scenic Cafe offers New Zealand wine and beer selections, along with dishes showcasing local ingredients, from roasted free-range chicken with Manuka honey to High Country lamb to South Island hot-smoked salmon salad. Starting April 14, Great Journeys will add Scenic Plus service, with a new, custom-built carriage plus a dedicated chef.

Tours are offered on specific dates from January through early May, and travelers can choose between Classic (six to 15 days, with a maximum group size of 35) or Signature (six to 17 days, with a maximum group size of 20). 

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