Northern Explorer

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Northern Explorer
Northern Explorer at Wellington.JPG
Northern Explorer carriages at Wellington railway station in 2012
Service typeInter-city rail
LocaleNorth Island, New Zealand
First service25 June 2012
Current operator(s)The Great Journeys of New Zealand
Former operator(s)KiwiRail Scenic Journeys
Distance travelled681 km (423 mi)
Average journey time10 hours 55 minutes northbound
10 hours 35 minutes southbound
Service frequency3 per week in each direction, 6 trips total
Line(s) usedNorth Island Main Trunk
On-board services
Class(es)Tourist Class
Seating arrangementsAirline style, alcove, and lounger
Catering facilitiesOn-board café
Observation facilitiesLarge windows in all carriages
Baggage facilitiesOverhead racks
Baggage carriage
Rolling stockNew Zealand AK class carriages,
DFB locomotives

The Northern Explorer is a long-distance passenger train operated by The Great Journeys of New Zealand division of KiwiRail between Auckland and Wellington in the North Island of New Zealand, along the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT). Three services operate per week in each direction between Auckland's The Strand Station and Wellington railway station.[1] The Northern Explorer replaced the Overlander from 25 June 2012. All the Great Journeys were suspended on 23 March 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.[2] A resumption date has yet to be announced,[3][4] but is promised by summer.[5]

KiwiRail passenger trains in the North Island (interactive map)



The first regular daylight Wellington–Auckland passenger train services, augmenting the older overnight services, were the steam-hauled Daylight Limited and diesel-hauled Scenic Daylight, which ran primarily during summer months and Easter holiday period for many years from the 1920s onwards. The arrival of the Blue Streak and later Silver Fern railcars saw an end for a time to regular carriage trains. At the time of its cessation, The Overlander was usually hauled by DC or EF locomotives with NZR 56-foot carriages.

Re-branding as the Northern Explorer[edit]

In 2012, passenger numbers were in decline and KiwiRail decided to replace the Overlander with the Northern Explorer, from Monday 25 June 2012. The timetable was accelerated by eliminating intermediate stops, except Paraparaumu, Palmerston North, Ohakune, National Park, Otorohanga (summer only), Hamilton and Papakura.[6] Since October 2016, fire-suppressed DFB class locomotives (as required for diesel-hauled passenger trains in tunnels) have been assigned to the service.

The service uses one AKC and three AK class carriages, an AKL class luggage van and an AKV class power/viewing van from the Coastal Pacific. A larger AKS luggage van, converted from SA, replaced AKL in 2019.[7]

Northern Explorer near Waiouru
Hapuawhenua Viaduct, south of National Park


The Northern Explorer carried 39,419 passengers in the year to 30 June 2014; about 1,500 more than in 2012–13, but almost 23,000 fewer than the Overlander in 2011–12.[8] Numbers rose 71% from 2013 to 2018,[9] or about 65,000 a year and slightly more than the Overlander numbers.


The Northern Explorer serves the stations shown at the foot of this page. There have been variations since 2012. Papakura and Paraparaumu were added on 15 October 2012.[10] Otorohanga was added on 10 December 2012.[11] The Auckland terminus was moved from Britomart to The Strand Station on 21 December 2015.[12]


  1. ^ "Northern Explorer Timetable". The Great Journeys of New Zealand.
  2. ^ "KiwiRail makes changes to services in response to COVID-19". KiwiRail. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  3. ^ "Service Alerts". Great Journeys of New Zealand. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  4. ^ "Derailed future unclear for century-old Northern Explorer train". Stuff/Fairfax. 25 July 2020.
  5. ^ "Northern Explorer train should be subsidised to compete with flying, Minister says". Stuff. 29 July 2020. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  6. ^ "Dash to catch the last train". Manawatu Standard. 25 June 2012.
  7. ^ "Old NZ trains brought back to life". Māori Television. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  8. ^ "2013/14 Annual review of the Ministry of Transport, the New Zealand Transport Agency, KiwiRail Holdings Limited, and the New Zealand Railways Corporation". Report of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee.
  9. ^ "Record season for KiwiRail tourism services". 7 May 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  10. ^ "Two new stops added to Northern Explorer train service". 20 September 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  11. ^ "KiwiRail launches Waitomo and Hobbiton Escape package". 14 February 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  12. ^ "Catch the Northern Explorer at Auckland's new Strand Station". 4 December 2015. Retrieved 10 June 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bowden, David. Great Railway Journeys in Australia and New Zealand. Oxford, England: John Beaufoy Publishing. pp. 130–133. ISBN 978-1-909612-94-5.

External links[edit]