With modern airfares very competitive people tend to overlook the train. I had initially booked to fly back to Auckland from Christchurch when I became aware of this railway and the fact that, as I had an extra day I could catch the train all the way up both islands. The fare was about $130 which if you compare to UK prices is very good for what is a scenic 5 hour train journey. My hotel arranged a free shuttle to the train station and I arrived at 6:30am. The bag and ticket check-in was painless - although I had paid for "oversized bag" as I didn't know my bag was included in the fare. One of the cool things about the bag checking process was that they checked my bag all the way to Wellington (they actually put it on the ferry) so I didn't have to hand carry it which was nice. The train was really comfortable and spacious. The observation car is a fantastic idea and I spent most of my time in here. The only problem with the observation car is that you cannot hear any onboard train announcements because of the train noise - it would be nice if they turned up the volume a bit or had an LCD with updates/map. If you are going to go in the observation car I would suggest bringing a jumper - it can get quite cold especially as I travelled in Autumn. The staff were very friendly and went out of their way to help you - wish we had similar train staff in the UK. The buffet was reasonably priced with the exception of the tea which was incredibly small for the $4 you were paying. The scenery was truly fantastic and the route takes you through some fantastic farmland, mountain and coastal vistas. The observation car really lets you smell New Zealand as you are traveling with the wind in your hair. We saw plenty of wildlife - seals, birds of prey etc. You also have time to chat and meet people as you travel - its more relaxed than air travel and its full of like-minded people who are enjoying traveling. I would recommend this train journey!
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