TranzAlpine Train from East to West Coast

What is the TranzAlpine Train and why should I go?

The TranzAlpine Train is one of the world’s classic rail journeys.  Travelling from Christchurch in the east to Greymouth in the west, the train traverses the Southern Alps and is a popular choice for visitors to New Zealand’s South Island.

Lake Brunner, one of the highlight's of the TranzAlpine train journey
Lake Brunner, one of the highlight’s of the TranzAlpine train journey

What would I see on the way?

As the TranzAlpine train pulls out of Christchurch and winds its way through the flat Canterbury Plain, you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about.  Once you leave Springfield and start to climb into the mountains, however, it’s a different story altogether.  The train climbs steadily up the mountains, the Waimakiriri River gorge offering the first vistas to grab your attention. Travelling through high mountain pastures where, in winter, ice is still visible on the puddles despite the sunshine, the train reaches Arthur’s Pass station at 737 metres above sea level.  Following the Otira Gorge, the train begins its descent through the Misty Mountains, past the beautifully serene Lake Brunner and down to the coast at Greymouth.

Snow on Southern Alps from TranzAlpine Train
Snow on Southern Alps from TranzAlpine Train

Can I get any good photos from the train?

The best views on the TranzAlpine train demand a closer look, which is where the open air carriage comes into its own.  But even in summer, that’s a chilly spot.  Take windproof and warm clothes so you can snap the best photos long after everyone else has retreated inside.  Don’t be put off doing the journey in winter; the trains are less crowded and heated, making it a perfect trip for a clear day.

Gorge-ous, crossing a ravine on the TranzAlpine
Gorge-ous, crossing a ravine on the TranzAlpine

What else do I need to know?

The TranzAlpine train has an onboard licensed cafe for refreshments, though at full price these can be expensive.  However, in winter, if there has been a large tour group the day before, they will discount the leftover food.

I heard you have to get a bus at Arthur’s Pass?

For annual maintenance (winter) and sometimes for safety reasons, passengers are required to alight from the train at Arthur’s Pass and cross the Otira Viaduct instead of taking the train through the Otira tunnel.  Although you might think this is inconvenient, the coaches park right up on the platform and from the bus, the scenery is there to be savoured – whereas from the tunnel it would be hidden.

Arthurs Pass, New Zealands highest station
Arthurs Pass, New Zealands highest station

One way or return?

Some people opt to do the TranzAlpine train trip as a day return, but if you have more time, you can purchase a stopover fare for a small supplement and break your journey at any of the stops en route.  There’s excellent hiking using Arthur’s Pass as a base to explore the surrounding National Park, or perhaps you’d prefer to take a small boat out onto tranquil Lake Brunner.  In Greymouth, the train connects with buses that can whisk you further south, opening up some of New Zealand’s most stunningly attractions.  A few hours after stepping off the train, for instance, you could be enjoying an afternoon beer in the glacier town of Franz Josef.  From there, bus connections down to Queenstown and Milford Sound open up the country’s most spectacular scenery.

Do I need to book in advance?

In summer, the train can get pretty busy so it’s worth reserving your ticket in advance, especially if you want to secure a window seat.  In winter, the trains will be less crowded, so it might be worth waiting until you arrive to see what the weather forecast is like before you pick your day, especially if you plan to spend a few days in Christchurch before taking the train.  Advance fares offer considerable savings, especially if booked from a New Zealand computer.  Book your TranzAlpine train ticket via the KiwiRail website.

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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  1. 6 Most Popular New Zealand Road Trip Routes | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] you wish to visit another part of this great country, we recommend taking the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch and starting your road trip from this sweet coastal town. You’ll be treated to some of the most […]


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