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Similarly, a shuttle bus meets each ferry arrival and will take you to the railway station as soon as everyone has reclaimed their baggage although there's no shuttle bus for ferry arrivals after 9pm. At the ferry terminal, all bags except hand baggage must be checked in. If you're connecting with the Coastal Pacific train, you can check your bags all the way through to Christchurch. Similarly, when checking in at Christchurch, you can check your bags all the way through to Wellington Interislander ferry terminal.

Your bags will automatically be transferred between ferry and train at Picton, and you reclaim them at your final destination, either Wellington or Christchurch. The obvious request to make is for seats on the left-hand side of the train going south from Picton, or the right-hand side coming north from Christchurch, as this puts you on the coastal side of the train where most of the scenery is. Keen photographers could also request seats at the northern Picton end of the train close to the viewing platform.

The journey aboard the Coastal Pacific The 3 hour, 92km crossing of the Cook Strait is one of the most scenic ferry rides in the world.

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You sail in a wide arc out of Wellington harbour and across the open sea of the Cook strait itself, before passing between headlands into the Tory Channel, named after the migrant ship 'Tory' which navigated the channel in The ship follows this narrow channel between the island of Arapawa and the mainland, all the way to Picton at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound.

At Picton, the station is just a metre walk straight ahead of you. Look out for the 'Edwin Fox', a preserved 19th century sailing ship in a museum on the left. It's the ninth oldest wooden sailing ship in the world, and you can see it from the road even if you don't have time to go in to the museum. At the station, the small wooden station building now houses a 'Subway' fast food place, a travel agency, and a small check-in desk for the train.

Seats on the train are allocated there.

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The train leaves Picton station and curves around valley out of the town. Within half an hour you're in the middle of vineyards in the Marlborough wine region. You'll pass one of the main Montana wineries, with its huge stainless steel tanks. The train calls at Blenheim, the region's main town. Soon after Blenheim, the train climbs hard up a long gentle pass through grassy hills. Within an hour of leaving Picton, snow-capped mountains appear in the distance on your right, and you pass over what used to be a double-decker combined road and rail bridge over the Awatere river, with the railway on top and roadway underneath.

The road deck has been removed now that a separate road bridge has been built.

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Just over an hour from Picton you skirt Lake Grassmere. Salt is produced here, by letting sea water evaporate in large salt pans. You'll see piles of harvested salt on the right. About an hour and a half after leaving Picton the train reaches the sea. It now runs right along the coastline for about 98 km. You'll see beaches, cliffs, rocky headlands, in places draped with low-lying sea mist.

Although parts of the line are much older, the Picton-Christchurch railway was only completed in , although work on this coastal section started in the s. Until then, overnight ferries had linked Lyttelton the port of Christchurch direct with Wellington. The train stops at Kaikoura, the South Island's main whale-watching and dolphin-swimming centre. The whale-watching centre is now housed in the old station building. The train continues along the coast.

Watch out for the seal colonies just feet from the train. Just over 3 hours from Picton, the train swings inland again, through green hills and pretty valleys. The train passes through the Christchurch suburbs and arrives at Christchurch station.

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This is now a small modern single-platform rail terminal, opened in in an unremarkable industrial estate built on what was once the massive Addington Railway Works. Much of New Zealand Railways' locomotives and rolling stock were once built there, although there's little left to show for it..! The new station is some 3km from the city centre, but taxis and shuttles shared minibus taxis are available.

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Until the recent earthquake, Christchurch's original station well, the building opened in though built to a design first published in still stood on Moorhouse Avenue to the south of the city centre where it had become the 'Science Alive' entertainment centre. The TranzAlpine is the most scenic train journey in New Zealand, and one of the most scenic train trips in the world. Not surprisingly, it's become the most successful of all the Kiwi Rail Great Journeys passenger train services, very popular with tour groups because of the spectacular crossing of the Southern Alps between Christchurch and the South Island's west coast at Greymouth.

It's a fantastic trip, though in my opinion neither as epic or as historically-significant as the Auckland-Wellington Northern Explore r.


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Once important cities, Dunedin and Invercargill have declined in importance and apparently no longer justify a proper train service to the rest of New Zealand. Nowadays, anyone wishing to reach these towns must endure a long bus journey from Christchurch. Here are the main bus services, although an additional bus may run on Fridays and Sundays. You can check fares and book bus tickets online at www. There were never any train services to Queenstown, although historically you might have taken a slow train from Invercargill to Kingston the preserved Kingston Flyer train uses part of this route , then a steamer across Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown, a route on which Queenstown's famous year old working steamship Earnslaw would have worked.

Today, there are bus services operated by several companies. You can check times, fares and book bus tickets online at www. However, you can still ride the Taieri Gorge Railway www. Leaving from the beautiful and much-photographed railway station in Dunedin's town centre, it travels a few kilometres south over the South Island Main Trunk Line still well-used for freight but sadly with no passenger service before branching off inland through the scenic gorge that gives the line its name.

Highly recommended! The Taieri Gorge Railway now also operates a tourist train called the Seasider along the main line between Dunedin and Palmerston. Rolling through a river gorge Sadly this no longer operates. Make sure you take a good guidebook. The Lonely Planets and Rough Guides are easily the best out there for the independent traveller. Both guides provide an excellent level of practical information and historical and cultural background. You won't regret buying one of these guides..! Some recommended hotels In Auckland , the Airedale Hotel or Mercure Auckland Hotel are both sound central choices, the latter right near the Britomart station and Devonport ferry terminal, though not the cheapest options.

In Wellington , the Shepherds Arms Hotel is a cosy gastro pub just 15 minutes walk from Parliament and the city centre with friendly staff, great food and good beer. A top choice! You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens. It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.

I never book hotels non-refundably. I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8. Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www. Hostelworld offers online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in many places in New Zealand at rock-bottom prices. But a long-haul flight might be unavoidable to reach New Zealand in the first place. Make the airport experience a little more bearable with a VIP lounge pass, it's not as expensive as you think! See www.

Always take out travel insurance It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit. An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself. Here are some suggested insurers. Online Events See more.

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