Heading south on the Northerner train!

Recently, after flying to north for a conference, I returned home on the train from Auckland – back to Wellington on the Northern Explorer.  Seems funny to be going south on the northerner! 

Britomart, Auckland’s downtown  transport hub

 I’d taken this trip about 18 months ago in reverse as this train travels three days a week in each direction – Mon/Wed/Fri from Auckland and Tues/Thurs/ Sat from Wellington. (See KiwiRail Tranz Scenic website for exact details or booking)


KiwiRail staff spot me as a Northern Explorer traveller as soon as I enter Britomart station in downtown Auckland and quickly I’m given my seat number. After breakfast and my usual ‘long black’ on the station concourse, I settle into my comfortable seat with its good leg room, and note the carriages are much improved since my last trip. With large scenic windows and a great purpose-built viewing carriage I know this will be a great journey – unfortunately the weather is not promising for great photos.


One of the waterfalls that cant be seen from the road
One of the waterfalls that can’t be seen from the road


Travelling by rail always ensures you see many parts of NZ that can’t see from the road and this route delivers. This ‘main trunk line’ had its last spike hammered into place by Prime Minster Joseph Ward in 1908. Covering 681 kilometres it has 14 tunnels and 352 bridges and of course the Raurimu Spiral. An engineering feat, on this spiral the train climbs 132 metres in under seven kilometres, and for many enthusiasts this is the highlight of the trip, while I love the viaducts and white cliffs of the Rangitikei River.


Seems the on-board crew, Antonio, Mark and Elaine have worked on the Northern Explorer for some time: Elaine tells me “How could you not love a job that has the office window changing like this one does!”


The café car has seat service so I suggest you get there as soon as you can and pre-order your meals or coffee breaks – I missed out on the chunky fruit salad as it had sold out so my warning is based on experience!


My meals were roast vegetable and feta salad for lunch, then a lamb shank for dinner – this meant I could just head home and relax without having to stop on Cuba St. for a meal or cook one J Also note that for about 2 hours of the trip, EFTPOS is not available due to the remote and windy track.

A happy traveller from the UK
A happy traveller from the UK


Comments from some of my fellow travellers include these:


  • Bath, UK woman: “Excellent. Absolutely fabulous.”

  • Tauranga, NZ couple: “Fabulous, relaxing. We bussed to Auckland to get the train and in Wellington we have a list of to-do things we didn’t complete a couple of years ago – we’ll fly back home.”

  • Virginia, USA couple:  “We have travelled all over Europe by rail and this has more than lived up to our expectations!  This trip is to celebrate our 59th and 60th birthdays and we are travelling onto the South Island by the Interislander ferry then we will train and bus too. We just love the open observation carriage. ”

  • South African couple: “We just love it. My husband has been a train enthusiast since he was a child in Namibia.”

  • A Kiwi and his new Vietnamese wife:  “This is my first trip on a train since I was a child and it’s great. My wife has never been on a train before and is really loving the ride and scenery. It’s a great way to see our own country.”

  • Auckland couple: “this has been on our bucket list for year. It’s fabulous and will absolutely recommend it. We are spending a few days in Wellington then flying home.”


So, to see rolling hills, plains, rivers, native bush, pine plantations, mountains and viaducts along with sheep, cattle, deer, birds, beehives, grapevines, ducks and llamas .. all unseen from the road, I recommend you take a journey on the Northern Explorer. As you can tell, I loved it and would do it again – but first I must travel across the Southern Alp’s by train to add to my list of great journeys I’ve taken by train!



See what a guy who recently sped around the world in only 125 days, and travelled on all three KiwiRail scenic journeys had to say about them here


You can also follow KiwiRail on their Facebook page or on Twitter @KiwiRail. (of course you can follow me here on Facebook and Twitter too @kiwitravwriter)



Wellington to Christchurch via the Interislander & KiwiRail

Sailing across the Cook Strait on the Kaitaki, then a rail journey from Picton to Christchurch on the CoastalPacific  is fabulous. Now it’s going to be even better!

KiwiRail’s new scenic carriages are now on the Coastal Pacific train between Christchurch and Picton: the carriages have 52 square metres of panoramic side and roof windows. They also have ceiling mounted HD screens, GPS triggered commentary in a choice of five languages, and new café cars. They’re also the first carriages to be entirely designed and built in New Zealand since the 1940s.















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Six degrees of separation disproved in New Zealand

Six degrees of separation disproved in New Zealand! I have long said we kiwis have only 1½ degrees of separation and now it’s been proved. Let me set the scene for the study and outcome:

I recently dragged myself into 2011 and bought a ‘smart phone’ from my mobile provider 2Degrees

I add my Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail and think I’m pretty smart for a senior citizen and as I sail across the Cook Strait on the Kaitaki, then train from Picton to Christchurch on the CoastalPacific  I tweet about the trip. How cool is that. However, pride comes before a fall.

I arrive in Christchurch in the middle of a snow storm, and, between the train station and my accommodation –  the fabulous 5-star boutique hotel, the  Classic Villa  – my phone disappears.

I ring the taxi company, the train station and the police – by the time I leave Christchurch five days later it has not been found and I return to Wellington (NZ’s capital) to hunt for my faithful , but discarded, old Nokia. I get a blank SIM card, have it set up with my number, then go home where the answer phone is blinking.

Hi Heather” a friends voice has recorded, “have you lost your phone? I think a friend has found it. He found my name in it and rang me to see if I know whose it was! Lots of mutual friends then your daughters name, Renée, made me realise it must be yours. Give me call and let me know!”

Sure enough it’s my beautiful new Ideos smart phone – it’s been run over but the man who found it is posting it back . . . not that I have insurance cover . . . but at least I’ll be able to retrieve my friends numbers.

Could you do that with 6 degrees of separation? I think not.  Just think: one cyclist finds a phone, checks the names, recognises one and calls her. She recognises my other friends’ names!  It sounds like my theory of New Zealand’s one and half degrees of separation has been proved correct.

Now to start saving, again, for a  new smart phone. Oh well, it’s a pretty high-class problem when you think of all the problems in the world.

Sailing across the Cook Strait then training down the Coastal Pacific

After sailing crossing the Cook Strait on the Interislander, yesterday I was on the first Picton to Christchurch train (after the February quake). The newly named CoastalPacific was great and more stories will follow.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from the trip on the Kaitaki and the TranScenic Coastal Pacific.

The Kaitaki leaves Wellington city behind
The observation carriage on the CoastalPacific is loved by photographers

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I’m staying at the wonderful boutique Classic Villa, right in the middle of the Cultural Precinct, Christchurch. (Check out the snow photos I posted too)

A ferry and rail trip to Christchurch coming up! & The Kiwi Travel Writer


Coastal Pacific train journey and wonderful scenery

Have a short break in Auckland

Fancy a short break in Auckland? I’ve just had one, and before I get those stories written, here’s a brief overview of my few days before the stories are written.  I’m happy to recommend all the choices I made. Bookmark this page so you get to hear about them in more detail very soon – some in the print media, and some online on this blogs pages.

My little holiday started with a train trip on the Overlander, a 12-hour journey from Wellington to Auckland. What fabulous scenery is hiding from those who usually drive up there!  Paul Theroux says ‘trains are the only way to travel’ – it certainly was relaxing.

My choice of accommodation was the Quadrant Hotel  in central Auckland. With four stars, green goals and very handy (often walking distance) to many of the places I wanted to visit. For the others, it is also close to the Britomart transport hub and wharf.

So, as well as the train and hotel, what else will I be writing about?  Well, Kelly Tarlton and the Auckland Zoo are ’must-sees’ for kids and adults alike.  Also, the zoo has its fabulous new Te Wao Nui opening in September (2011) so make sure you bookmark this page as that’s the first story I will be writing. The Auckland Museum is a traditional museum with interesting flourishes – it seems it’s also the only place in Auckland where you can experience a Maori cultural performance daily.

Local Maori also host guided walks (Tamaki Hikoi) and I had a Prince show me around the volcano that the museum sits on the rim of (well, not exactly A prince, but Prince by name!) This was the perfect way to start an Auckland trip with family and local tribal history – it sort of set the scene!

So, there’ s a taster of what’s to come . . . in the meantime check out the links above and come back here soon.

Editors are of course welcome to contact me for stories about any, or all, of these topics.


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