Train Hopping New Zealand
New Zealand is an extremely small country which is separated by two islands, the North Island, which is where most kiwis and Maori’s reside, and the South Island, where there is more mountainous rugged landscape and open scenery. The government over the past years has decimated much of its railways abandoning less frequented lines, replacing freight with trucking companies. So in turn, much of the country cannot be seen by merely train, but by hiking, walking and hitchhiking.
Kiwirail and the Rideable Freight Cars
Kiwirail is the only rail company in New Zealand. They are government owned and unlike America, their freight trains that run around the country are way way shorter, spanning about 10 to 20 cars with the most I have seen being 40 cars. So, how does one get on without being seen by the crew or conductor? Well, it’s not as hard as you would think really. The difference between front engines in New Zealand compared to America is they do not have mirrors. I am not really sure why, but my conclusion comes from the fact that the freight trains are so much smaller in length that they don’t really need them. So, if you wanted to hop on a train a few cars behind the front engine, technically you could.
But, remember, it’s dangerous and if a train detailed you wouldn’t survive even if you rode the back of the train…they are just too short.
So what can you ride in New Zealand?
The safest rideable I have seen thus far and personally rode was in between two containers on a flat car. It gives you just enough space to lay down, and normally they have cables or chains attached to the container so you can have a third point of attachment if you choose to stand or hold on while riding.
You can also ride on empty lumber racks, but make sure they have the metal post going across the flat car or you might fly off when she’s humming down the main line.
As for other rideable freight cars in New Zealand I have not extensively ridden around the country, but I will say the least exposed ride would be loaded coal, but this still makes you vulnerable to cameras on light masts while rolling through yards. Also, do not ride the roof of cars and be very careful if you ride loaded coal due to live wires. I do know that Hamilton and Palmerston North both have a few eyes in the sky, from scoping out the yards. Along with loaded coal you may be able to ride on a few grain cars, but they do not have fox holes like in America.
Kiwirail Map of Freight Lines on the North and South Islands
Below is a moderately accurate downloable excel spreadsheet of the timetables for Kiwirail. It’s not completely accurate, but it might help you out with identifying where your train is going.