The Northern Explorer is a long distance scenic tourist train that runs from Auckland to Wellington.
The train travels 681 kilometres (423 miles) from Auckland to Wellington via the North Island Main Trunk.
The Northern Explorer departs on Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 7:50 am from Britomart Transport Centre and Papakura at 8:40 am. The train stops at Hamilton, Otorohanga, National Park, Ohakune, Palmerston North and Paraparaumu before a scheduled arrival in Wellington at 6:25 pm that evening.
If departing Britomart passengers check in at the Kiwi Rail Scenic Counter at the ground (street) level of Britomart Transport Centre. The train normally departs platform 4 at Britomart. After boarding passes are issued passengers can check their luggage in with staff at the rear of the train.
The train has 3 passenger cars A, B, D. The C car is a café car serving meals, snacks and beverages. KiwiRail Scenic Journeys currently serves prepackaged meals from catering company Wishbone. Staff can heat up meals. The meals are reasonably priced but as it is a full day trip it would be advisable for passengers to bring some of their own food, particularly if travelling with children.
Speaking of children the café also sells activity packs that include playing cards, colouring-in, origami and other activities to keep them occupied and entertained.
The first car is an open viewing car, offering the best opportunity for photos and a breath of fresh air.
There is an excellent automatic onboard commentary, which plays at certain points of the journey. Headphones, which plug into a seat jack are provided. The commentary is provided in English and Mandarin.
The views offered on the Northern Explorer are a plenty, including green lush farmland, bush and native forest, the mighty Waikato River, small picturesque country towns, the National Park and its snow capped mountains, and rocky coasts.
An engineering marvel is the Raurimu Spiral, near National Park, that was built in 1898. The Spiral allows the train to climb the 132 metre height difference between the Whanganui River and the Volcanic Plateau. The train travels 6.8 kilometres in a spiral, a distance that would only be 2 kilometres long if travelled in a straight line.
The train returns from Wellington on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Departure from Wellington is 7:55 am; arrival time in Auckland 6:50 pm.
The Northern Explorer is an excellent way to see this country at a slower and more relaxed pace. The train trip from Auckland to Wellington is longer and more expensive than other forms of transport but the journey is the attraction, and one well worth making.
Disclaimer: My employer paid for my travel on the Northern Explorer. Neither my employer or KiwiRail Scenic Journeys are affiliated with this blog post. Opinions are my own.