New Zealand’s North Island by Overlander Train

Travelers often look for options that provide the best coverage for the least money. In New Zealand the Overlander gives a rail journey through the central North Island.

Leaving from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, the Overlander train travels the length of the North Island to Wellington, the capital city. The daytime Main Trunk Line journey takes twelve hours. Passengers enjoy views of mountains and rivers, of historic Maori sites and small towns. The journey crosses viaducts and goes through tunnels. New Zealand’s green farm land stretches out, giving close up views of sheep and cattle grazing.

Features of the Overlander Train

There is no rush, nor having to make decisions about the best way to go. There is no chance of getting lost. Once on the train, passengers sit back in comfortable seats and enjoy the trip. At appropriate times a hostess comments on significant historical features and scenic views. At other times the surrounding countryside is there to be enjoyed at leisure.

The train initially travels through greater Auckland, making several stops to pick up passengers, but after the first 45 minutes, stops are minimal. The few scheduled stops along the way are just long enough to pick up new passengers.

Overlander passengers can move from carriage to carriage while the train is traveling, enjoying the outside observation platforms. The viewing lounge gives uninterrupted views from larger windows, also enabling passengers to mix and meet fellow travelers. Many passengers carry their own food and snacks with them for the journey, but there is also a buffet car where a small, but adequate, range of New Zealand food and beverages can be purchased. A lunch stop is made at National Park station. This enables legs to be stretched, photographs to be taken and enjoyable local food to be purchased and consumed.

Overlander Trip Highlights

There are several highlights during the trip and as well as a complimentary booklet explaining these, the hostess gives background information.

One of the early highlights is traveling through what is known as the King Country. It was in this area that New Zealand’s Maori king movement developed in the 1850s. Whilst this movement has no constitutional role in New Zealand, it still has a wide following. At Ngaruawhahia, local people can be seen tending the graves of previous Maori kings and queens. The Overlander hostess gives a detailed account of the history of the movement and surrounding area.

Further south the train crosses the Tangiwai bridge. It was here on Christmas Eve 1953 that an unexpected lahar traveled down the Whangaehu River from Mt Ruapehu, destroying the bridge and causing New Zealand’s worst rail disaster. 151 of the 285 people on board the over night train died.

Raurimu Spiral is an interesting world renowned railway engineering feat. When the North Island Main Trunk Line was being developed in the late 1880s it was discovered the gradient was too steep for trains and therefore an alternative had to be devised. The Raurimu Spiral was the outcome, where the train travels in a series of corkscew spirals and through tunnels, twisting and turning, adding an additional 11 kilometres to the trip. The hostess points out the various levels the train passes over as it back tracks and circles previous line. It is a sight worth experiencing.

In addition there are many other great views, such as as the breathtaking experience of traveling over a number of viaducts, or watching sheep and cattle graze nonchalantly in green fields as the train passes by.

A Rail Journey Worth Experiencing

For travelers wanting to experience New Zealand in a leisurely way, learning something about the North Island as they travel, a Main Trunk Line rail journey by the Overlander is definitely recommended. Over the period of a day train passengers experience wonderful scenery and learn about significant historical events, all from the comfort of their carriage seat.

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