Events, Operations & Maintenance, Passenger Rail

NZ scenic train operations resume

KiwiRail’s Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific scenic train operations will resume later this year, with the addition of new travel packages and tours which will encourage travellers to explore regional New Zealand.

KiwiRail General Manager Scenic Journeys Tracey Goodall said the Northern Explorer (Auckland – Wellington) will resume from 25 September and the Coastal Pacific (Picton – Christchurch) from 29 September. The two services were hibernated in December 2021, when the ongoing impacts of COVID saw passenger numbers dwindle.

The best known of KiwiRail’s three tourism trains, TranzAlpine (Christchurch – Greymouth), re-started in January and will also offer package and tour options from early October.

“Our three services will cater for a range of travellers, both domestic and international. People will be able to book tickets between Auckland and Wellington, Picton and Christchurch, and Christchurch and Greymouth as they previously have, but we will also be offering new products on all three trains to appeal to more people and different travel styles,” Goodall said.

“We’ll be providing new visitor experiences on the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine – with the addition of self-guided tours and set and customized packages, which will allow people to get off the trains for a day or two to experience more of what the regions have to offer.

“We are also going a step further by adding a range of high-quality, multi-day guided tours, built around our scenic trains. There is a growing international market for this kind of high-quality, rail-cruising experience and this will be a first for KiwiRail.

“The diversity of the new visitor offering allows KiwiRail to appeal to different parts of the international tourism market, while also offering something new for Kiwis.

“Our new products will give visitors a greater choice and convenient new ways to see New Zealand. Our guests will be able to both travel by train and get off the beaten track, immersing themselves in local tourism experiences, including getting out into nature; experiencing local food and wine; meeting the locals and hearing the stories – all the while knowing their accommodation and activities are taken care of for them.

“Importantly, the packages and tours will see  an increase in spending in the regions along our routes, supporting local jobs and businesses.

“Our scenic trains, like tourism operators across New Zealand, have been hit hard by border closures and the impacts of COVID. Not only will our new approach enable our scenic services to be more financially sustainable, it will also play a role in helping other tourism operators recover.”

Bookings for standard travel on all three train services are open from 26 April and available to book on www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz. The new package and tour products will be launched in the coming months.

“Given that pre-COVID, 65 per cent of our passengers were international tourists, the restart will allow time for New Zealand’s borders to progressively re-open and we’ll be fully up and running in time for the summer tourism peak,” Goodall said.

“We appreciate the disappointment some people felt when our scenic trains were hibernated. It means a lot to us that New Zealanders care about travelling by rail. However, our tourism services are self-funding, and do not receive the local council and Waka Kotahi subsidies that commuter and inter-regional passenger trains receive, so we had to make the right decision to get through COVID.

“KiwiRail wants to see more people move by train. We are proud to run Te Huia and the Capital Connection as local commuter services and we continue to work with councils and government to explore more opportunities for passenger rail.

“Right now, we’re proud to be re-starting the Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific with an improved visitor offering that will benefit New Zealand’s wider tourism sector.”