All Aboard the TranzAlpine

Forget the Trans-Siberian train journey: book yourself a ticket to ride on New Zealand’s TranzAlpine! Regarded as one of the world’s greatest scenic rail journeys, the TranzAlpine train operates daily between Christchurch and Greymouth, transporting passengers from one coast of the country to the other. Some use it as a fast and convenient mode of travel; others simply come along for the beautiful ride.

While travelling on an anti-clockwise circuit of the south island, I arrived into Christchurch and, saddened that I was almost at the end of my tour, decided to return to the West Coast to do it all over again! Instead of heading north up to Kaikoura as my bus tour dictated, I decided to book myself on the TranzAlpine train and instead, head west back to Greymouth.

Hopping on-board at 8am, ticket in hand, I checked my seat number and found my location for the next four and a half hours. With my copy of the local paper in one hand and a strong coffee in the other, I happily sat gazing between the news and the sights out of the window as we pulled away from the station. It wasn’t long before I put the paper down altogether however, as no amount of exciting world news was going to divert my eyes from the Canterbury Plains, gorges and the beautiful clear turquoise-coloured waters of the Waimakariri River. From here, I was treated to a journey through the Southern Alps mountain range, where the great outdoors transformed from clear skis to a cloud of thick fog. Out on the open air viewing deck, I was fortunate to snap some fabulous mystic photographs, each with an eerie backdrop. Rather than camouflaging the views, the fog simply added to the atmosphere and beauty.

Chugging along a little further, the fog seemed to disappear almost as fast as it had arrived, revealing the stunning beech-forested river valley, giving way to Arthur’s Pass National Park. After a quick stop at Arthur’s Pass itself, (a small village), the train then entered the longest tunnel of the journey, the 8.5km Otira, burrowing under mountains to the West Coast. Once through the tunnel, the views were again incredible, passing the Otira, Taramakau and Grey River valleys as well as Lake Brunner, before finally arriving on the West Coast, into the town of Greymouth at around 12.45pm.

While this was sadly the end of the journey for me, many other passengers on-board simply used the stop in Greymouth as an opportunity to grab a bite to eat and stretch their legs. An hour later, as I was checking in to my hostel, they were jumping straight back on that same loyal train and returning to Christchurch that same evening. After a 223.8km journey, meandering through 16 tunnels, 5 viaducts and enjoying a delicious afternoon tea of scones, clotted cream and Earl Grey tea with a fellow passenger, I was finally back at the start of my trail and ready to start my adventures around the South Island all over again. The TranzAlpine train journey offers an opportunity to sit back, relax and soak up some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery, all from the comfort of your window seat. For more information on the TranzAlpine train, see the KiwiRail website.

– Jeff the Kiwi