When it comes to ‘gram-worthy places there’s nowhere quite like New Zealand. From mountainous peaks to glacier-fed rivers, volcanic landscapes and hobbit-like hills, it is a photographers dream. The Great Journeys of New Zealand services will take you through some of the most photo-worthy locations. And the best part? You don’t have to get out of your seat. Our scenic trains and ferries are the perfect place to capture that holiday snap worth sharing.
15 Instagrammable Places
Travelling New Zealand by train and ferry unlocks a world of unimaginable beauty as you carve through spectacular terrain. There are plenty of opportunities to take photographs of lakes, gorges and mountain ranges through the panoramic windows but, if you’re looking for something a bit more spectacular, head outside to the outdoor viewing platform.
So, get your phone out, and make sure your camera is charged as we take you on a journey from Auckland to the West Coast to ‘gram-worthy spots. Here are our top 15 places to take a photo along the Great Journeys New Zealand route, but remember, there’s nothing like seeing it for yourself.
Setting off from Auckland, the Northern Explorer Train takes you south to Wellington, where you’ll experience the extremes of New Zealand’s scenery along the way. Lush farmlands, volcanoes, glimmering coastlines – you name it – all while breathing in the fresh air New Zealand is famous for. The train runs from Auckland to the capital three times a week.
1. Auckland Strand
Catch the cityscape at sunrise before departure at 7:45 am or the city lights when arriving back to the city of sails at night.
2. Hapuawhenua Viaduct
This is one of the most charming viaducts on the Northern Explorer journey; its graceful 201-metre curve is a photo opportunity not to be missed. While travelling on the concrete viaduct, you will also see the abandoned original 1908 steel truss viaduct, which is now used as part of the Ohakune to Horopito Old Coach Road mountain bike route.
3. Mount Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park
After leaving the Raurimu spiral, the greatest engineering feat of many on the Northern Explorer route, the journey continues to the volcanic plateau. The plateau covers most of the Central North Island but at its tip are the three volcanoes that can be seen from the train, when the weather is favourable. The highest is Mt Ruapehu, then Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro, which make the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
4. Rangitikei River
This is one of New Zealand's longest rivers; it is surrounded by white mud stone cliffs (papa) which hold records of climatic change and sea-level variations covering 2.6 million years. The best photos of the gorge are from the up-and-coming viaducts, up first the North Rangitikei Viaduct, 78 metres high and 182 metres long, the second-highest on the line after the Makatote. The next viaduct crosses the Kawhatau River, and it is 74 metres above the river and 182 metres long. The third of the three concrete viaducts is South Rangitikei, which is the third-highest on the North Island Main Trunk at 75 metres, the length is 315 metres.
5. Kapiti Coast
Kapiti Coast is best experienced at golden hour, coming into the coast in autumn and leaving the coast in winter. Offshore is the rugged Kapiti Island, and the whole island is a nature reserve under the control of the Department of Conservation. Native flora and fauna have been re-introduced back to the island, including the little spotted kiwi and short-tailed bat.
Interislander is a ferry service which crosses the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The 92 km, three-hour journey between Wellington and Picton is one of New Zealand's most iconic tourist experiences, and one of the most spectacular cruises in the world.
6. Marlborough Sounds
Come rain or shine, Marlborough Sounds are one of the most photographic locations in New Zealand. Head to the outdoor decks to experience Marlborough Sounds, the rolling hills, the secluded bays and, if you're lucky, a pod of dolphins might guide you into Picton.
7. Tory Channel
The Tory Channel is one of the drowned valleys that form Marlborough Sounds. It is also the Interislander's exit from the Cook Strait crossing and the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sounds and the small town of Picton.
With the sea stretching to the horizon in the east and the Kaikoura mountains stretching to the sky in the west, the Coastal Pacific journey between Picton and Christchurch is one of the most astonishingly beautiful in New Zealand.
The Coastal Pacific scenic train is a seasonal train, running from Spring through to Autumn.
8. Salt plains of Lake Grassmere
In summer the salt plains at Lake Grassmere turn a pink hue, this alien landscape is natural salt production. The pink to purple colour of the lake is caused by natural microscopic green algae that change to pink in the high salt concentration. The same phenomena gives the Red Sea its name.
9. Papatea Faultline
Just after midnight on November 14, 2016, the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake displaced the Papatea Faultine by more than 7 meters. The fault starts offshore and runs across the reopened route of the Coastal Pacific scenic train. After two years of reconstruction, the train now runs through some of the most phenomenal landscapes, a photographic opportunity to discover a new New Zealand.
10. Kaikoura Coastline
The Pacific Ocean runs parallel to the Coastal Pacific train. The train meets the Pacific Ocean at Claverly. This stretch of coastline is home to many species of wildlife, and some mornings, depending on sea conditions, you may see pods of Dolphins herding schools of fish in towards the Bluff ready for their early morning snack. Three varieties of dolphin can be found in these waters, the dusky, the bottlenose and common dolphins.
The world-famous TranzAlpine train runs daily from Christchurch to Greymouth, return. This journey is all about the scenery, running alongside the ice-fed Waimakariri river, crossing the majestic Southern Alps and winding through miles of native beech forest. It really is spectacular.
11. Lake Pearson and Lake Sarah
After travelling through the Canterbury plains and into Craigieburn range, the TranzAlpine train crosses the Waimakariri Basin and its lakes: Lake Pearson and Lake Sarah. A great place to watch the change in seasons from the vibrant yellow, crisp blue skies and stunning reflections in the autumn to the snow-capped peaks and early sunset colours of the winter.
12. Waimakariri River Gorge
Travelling high above the Waimak gorge, you get a bird's eye view of the crisp blue glacial-fed waters from the Southern Alps. The Waimakariri is, aside from this gorge, a braided river.
13. Mount White Bridge
The Mount White bridge over the Waimakariri River, near Cass, is the entrance to Canterbury's largest high country station and one of the most photographed bridges on the journey. At the bridge is where the kayaking section of the famed Coast to Coast race starts.
14. Arthur's Pass station
There are few New Zealand railway stations with a better setting than Arthur's Pass, an alpine village encircled by mountain peaks. The station building is designed to blend with its scenery. Arthur’s Pass National Park covers 90,000 hectares of alpine environments of mountains, rivers, and forests, two-thirds being on the eastern side of the Main Divide and one third in the west. It was created in 1929, the third National Park in New Zealand, following Tongariro and Egmont.
15. Moana and Lake Brunner
Lake Brunner is Westland’s largest lake, covering 109 square kilometres or 42 square miles. Moana is the largest lakeside settlement. The permanent population is about 70, but it can swell to some hundreds during holiday periods. The Moana Lake Brunner Railway Station precinct is a protected historic area under the Rail Heritage Trust. The precinct includes a station building completed in 1926 and Stationmaster’s house, now the café. It represents the last remaining example of a Type A station, the smallest type of staffed station designed in Edwardian times by New Zealand’s George Troup, designer of the magnificent Dunedin Railway Station. It is the most complete rural precinct of its era left in the country.
A journey to last a lifetime
So there you have it, our top spots along Great Journeys New Zealand routes. The Coastal Pacific is known for its sweeping views of the Kaikoura mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. While the TranzAlpine boasts its sights of the Southern Alps, deep gorges and West Coast wilderness. And then there’s the Northern Explorer, which will take you through the rolling North Island rolling hills to the volcanic Central Plateau.
So, no matter what journey you’re on, you’re bound to give your camera a good workout. If you’ve got some photos to share, we’d love to see them. Just tag us in your social post and add #greatjourneysnz – and if you’ve got another favourite spot to add to the list, share that as well.
We look forward to welcoming you aboard and seeing all of your brilliant photography! Enjoy.