Experience three breathtaking train journeys on this 11-day New Zealand adventure. Sit back and enjoy the views as you make your way from Queenstown to Auckland—traversing the windswept Canterbury Plains, winding along the Pacific coast, and cruising the magnificent Marlborough Sounds. Along the way, you'll stand in awe of the mighty Franz Joseph Glacier, search for kiwis and glowworms in the forests of Wellington, and step into movie magic in the rolling hills of Hobbiton.


  • Trek to the foot of the vast and ancient Franz Josef glacier
  • Watch spectacular scenery pass you by on the TranzAlpine Train 
  • Discover secluded bays and crystal clear waters on a ferry ride to Wellington
  • Descend into the Waitomo caves, where glowworms light your way
  • Experience a traditional Maori feast by torchlight

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Queenstown, Transfer to Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef Glacier
Day 2 Explore Hokitika & Scenic Train to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 3 Discover Christchurch by Tram & Cruise Christchurch
Day 4 Take the Coastal Pacific Train to Picton Picton
Day 5 Interislander Ferry to Wellington Wellington
Day 6 Explore Wellington: Te Papa Museum & Zealandia Wellington
Day 7 Take the Northern Explorer Train to Auckland Auckland
Day 8 Transfer to Rotorua, Glowworm Caves & Te Pa Tu Māori Feast  Rotorua
Day 9 Return to Auckland via Hobbiton Auckland
Day 10 Explore Auckland, Ascend the Sky Tower Auckland
Day 11 Depart New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Queenstown, Transfer to Franz Josef Glacier

Walk around—and on—the impressive Franz Josef glacier

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival, you may just have time for a specialty New Zealand coffee before your glacier shuttle arrives to whisk you away to the mountains. Leaving Queenstown, travel past the picturesque scenery of towering mountain peaks and crystal-clear blue lakes. Cut across the Haast Pass to the other side of the Southern Alps, and the landscape changes dramatically as you enter the remote wilderness of the West Coast region. Wind your way past native rainforest, rocky coastlines, and powerful waterfalls.

As you arrive at your destination—the village of Franz Josef—you will catch a glimpse of the 7-mile-long (12-km) glacier. Take time to explore the vibrant, bustling township, the surrounding rainforest-clad mountains, and, most importantly, the glacier. To see the ice from a viewpoint, you can walk along the valley floor below the terminal face of the glacier. To get onto the glacier itself, however, you must take a licensed helicopter tour. After a day of exploring, head back to your accommodation and rest up for tomorrow.

Day 2: Explore Hokitika & Scenic Train to Christchurch

Explore the wild West Coast on a Hokitika Scenic Tour

Join a tour that will take you north through the historic gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its greenstone (pounamu), this seaside town has a rich history dating back to the 1860s. Continue on to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast and the starting point for the next leg of your journey—the TranzAlpine Train.

Crossing the South Island from Greymouth to Christchurch, the TranzAlpine is considered one of the world's greatest rail journeys. Travel from east to west through Arthur's Pass National Park, and from the comfort of your carriage, see lush beech forest, deep river valleys, and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend to the windswept Canterbury Plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch, where a private driver will take you to your hotel.

Day 3: Discover Christchurch by Tram & Cruise

Enjoy a four-course meal on a colonial-style tram
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

With so many ways to spend the day, you may have trouble deciding what to do! You could explore three of Christchurch's iconic attractions in one day with the Triple Pass. This includes a delightful tram ride through the gentrified city center and Spanish-style buildings of New Regent Street. Also included is a bird's-eye view of Christchurch and the distant peaks of the Southern Alps when you ride the gondola to the top of Heathcote Valley and a punt along the Avon River / Ōtākaro through the city's green belt—a relaxing way to explore what is known as the "Garden City."

Opt for a day tour of nearby Akaroa, where you will be taken on a scenic route via Governors Bay, Gebbies Pass, and Lake Forsyth, or take a two-hour cruise through the Akaroa Harbour and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, penguins, and seals. On the return journey, you can visit the cheese factory at Barry's Bay and sample some of New Zealand's finest dairy produce. Lunch at the popular waterfront restaurant Bully Hayes is included in the tour. 

End your day on a high with dinner on a colonial-style dining tram while cruising through the charming central business district. Journey along the inner city tram loop while enjoying four courses of gourmet cuisine paired with New Zealand's excellent wine. Lasting two and a half hours, you'll take three laps of the tram line passing the Avon River / Ōtākaro, High Street, and Victoria Square.

Day 4: Take the Coastal Pacific Train to Picton

Views over the Kaikoura Peninsula

Board the Coastal Pacific train to Picton—one of the world's most scenic train journeys. Be prepared for a visual feast of New Zealand, with the Kaikoura mountain ranges on one side of your train and the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline on the other. Travel through some of New Zealand's finest horticultural and farmland areas and spot amazing wildlife, such as dolphins, seals, and penguins, from the comfort of your train carriage. Head to the open-air carriage and breathe in mouthfuls of the fresh sea air. 

You won't have long in Picton, so on arrival, take some time to explore this quaint, port-side town that sits at the top of the South Island. Built around a sheltered harbor, the town offers a gateway to native New Zealand forests, as well as the marine and island attractions of the Marlborough Sounds. Home to a plethora of cafés, restaurants, and galleries, it also has a floating maritime museum and aquarium for those intrigued by underwater worlds. 

Day 5: Interislander Ferry to Wellington

Be mesmerized by the crystal waters of the Marlborough Sounds

Wake up to a fresh cup of coffee and get ready for the breathtaking 57-mile (92-km) journey between Picton and Wellington on the North Island. Described as "one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world," this three-hour journey passes many fascinating points, such as New Zealand's oldest lighthouse and the seal colony at Red Rocks. The cruise takes you through the Marlborough Sounds—a region with mountains, islands, crystal clear waters, and secluded bays—so keep your camera to hand.

Greet New Zealand's capital as your boat docks on Wellington's deep, natural harbor surrounded by bush-clad hills. The city center itself is compact (only half a square mile), so exploring on foot is the best way to see the sights. You have a full day in Wellington tomorrow, so take it easy and stroll among the cafés and restaurants around Courtenay Place, easily reachable from your city center accommodation. 

Day 6: Explore Wellington: Te Papa Museum & Zealandia

Spot New Zealand's mascot, the kiwi, during a night tour at Zealandia

Whether it's museums, wildlife, or history you're after—you have it all in Wellington. Start the day with a one-hour tour of the Te Papa Museum, whose permanent collections include everything from Māori taonga (treasured possessions), seventeenth-century English furniture, and a rare specimen of a colossal squid. Start your discovery of New Zealand over 100 million years ago, and learn about the country's rich history and wildlife, as well as the resilience of the Māori people.

If you're looking for dramatic views of the growing cityscape and the surrounding hills that define Wellington's harbor, join locals and visitors alike on the Wellington Cable Car. This five-minute trip to the top of Kelburn Hill offers a charming escape from the busy city streets. Once at the Kelburn Lookout, you can visit the Cable Car Museum located adjacent to the Kelburn Terminus, and if you feel like stretching your legs, you can walk downhill back to the city through the beautiful Wellington Botanic Garden.

For the night owls among you, take the Zealandia Night Tour. A conservation success and safe haven for some of New Zealand's rarest native animals, Zealandia is home to many remarkable species of birds, reptiles, and insects living wild within a beautiful 555-acre (225 ha) valley—just 10 minutes from the city center. Your guide will lead you on a torch-lit walk, with possible sights including kiwi foraging on the forest floor, tuatara hunting for food, glowworms lighting up the night, tiny Maud Island frogs, pateke (brown teal) ducks feeding at night, and kaka (parrots) coming in to roost. 

Day 7: Take the Northern Explorer Train to Auckland

Take in the view of the snowcapped Mount Ruapehu on your train journey
Set off early with your driver, who will take you to Wellington Train Station. Here, you will board the Northern Explorer—a journey through the heart of the North Island that travels from Wellington to Auckland. Along the way, you'll see fantastic views of the country's farmland, Mount Ruapehu, the world-famous Raurimu Spiral, and stunning river gorges—all from panoramic windows or open-air viewing decks. On arrival, you'll be met by a private driver who will take you to your Auckland accommodation. 

Day 8: Transfer to Rotorua, Glowworm Caves & Te Pa Tu Māori Feast 

Watch the Waitomo Cave ceiling light up with glowworms 

Start today with a trip to the Waitomo Caves and Te Puia Geothermal Park. Jump on a minibus and sit back as you watch the stunning Waikato countryside pass you by on this fully guided journey. Encounter New Zealand's longest river and staggering mountain ranges, and once in Waitomo, explore the ancient caves before descending even farther underground to board your boat. Cruise through an otherworldly grotto river with millions of glowworms glittering overhead.

Next, you'll continue to Te Puia to experience the geothermal and cultural wonders of the area, including the Pohutu Geyser, Māori architecture, the National Māori Arts School, geothermal craters, and even kiwi birds. Continue your adventure south to Rotorua, passing attractions such as hydro dams, rivers, and an abundance of native wildlife. Your guide will briefly introduce you to Rotorua's famous sites before dropping you off at your hotel to relax before dinner. 

Tonight you are invited as a manuhiri (guest) at Te Pā Tū—formerly Tamaki Māori Village—for a three-course feast and four-hour celebration of dancing, music, and storytelling. The themes change according to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), so ask your guide what might be on show for your evening's performance. Listen to stories and songs and watch dance performances in the forest amphitheater. Follow your Māori guide by torchlight to your three-course hākari (feast), after which you'll be chaperoned back to your accommodation. 

Day 9: Return to Auckland via Hobbiton

Take a tour of Hobbiton from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy

Get ready for an adventure, Hobbit-style! Leave the steaming vents and boiling pools of the geothermal region behind you as you make your way through the lush dairy pastures of Waikato. Take in the emerald landscapes most famous for their role in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" films as you arrive in the small town of Matamata, home to New Zealand's very own Hobbiton. Matamata is a rural town with a strong farming tradition and major Thoroughbred horse breeding and training operations, so you'll see lots of horses on the outskirts of town.

Experience the real Middle-earth at the Hobbiton movie set, where you can step into the lush pastures of the Shire. Fall in love with the Alexander family sheep farm, just as acclaimed director Sir Peter Jackson did. Your guide will then escort you around the set, showing the intricate detailing, pointing out the most famous locations, and explaining how the movie magic was made.

You will be fully guided on a walking tour around the 12-acre (5-ha) set; past Hobbit Holes, the Mill, and into the world-famous Green Dragon Inn, where you will be presented with a tasty Hobbit Southfarthing drink to conclude your own Middle-earth adventure. Your drive then continues northwest across the dairy country of the Hauraki Plains before arriving at State Highway 1 and back into Auckland, where you'll stay the next two nights.

Day 10: Explore Auckland, Ascend the Sky Tower

Squeeze every drop from your New Zealand trip with a wine tour of Waiheke

Head to the Sky Tower to truly get your bearings in the "City of Sails." Standing at just over 1,000 feet (328 m), the Sky Tower is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand and offers panoramic views of the Auckland landscape. Travel in a glass-fronted lift to one of three spectacular viewing platforms, or for a little more excitement, do a SkyWalk—an outside loop around the pergola 600 feet (192 m) above ground. And if you're really bold, take a quick way down and SkyJump off the tower—a controlled bungee free-fall to the base. 

If you want to give your sea legs a stretch, you can participate as a member of the crew on an authentic America's Cup yacht. Take the helm of one of these Grand Prix racing machines or sit back and enjoy the action (and scenery) as you sail the beautiful Waitemata Harbour. For something more relaxed, opt for a whale and dolphin safari aboard the luxurious Dolphin Explorer ship and look out for Bryde's whales, sharks, manta rays, and pygmy blue whales.

Or, spend your final day in the country soaking up every last drop of that delicious New Zealand wine on a tour of Waiheke's vineyards. Known as "New Zealand's island of wine," Waiheke is adored for its beaches, forests, olive groves, and last, but not least, its small-scale wine producers. Swill mouthfuls of cabernet sauvignon as you learn about tannins and terroirs underneath a canopy of vines laden with fruit. Between tour stop-offs, enjoy a commentated scenic drive, and finish the day by indulging in a late lunch at one of the island's gastronomic gems accompanied, of course, by a glass of wine.

Day 11: Depart New Zealand

Say farewell to New Zealand!

Pack your bags and get ready to leave Auckland and say farewell to this beautiful country. Safe travels, and until next time!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

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Map of New Zealand by Rail: Scenic South to North Island Adventure - 11 Days
Map of New Zealand by Rail: Scenic South to North Island Adventure - 11 Days