The TranzAlpine Train: The Best Way to Explore the South Island

February 19

Being just a small country with a particularly low crime rate and no dangerous predators to speak of, visitors are free to travel New Zealand in whichever way takes their fancy. And this they certainly do – some buy or hire a van, some hitchhike, and some walk the entire length on the Te Araroa trail.

But what is the best way to travel in New Zealand?

That’s a case of different strokes for different folks. Aotearoa is known for being a great place for road trips, so it’s full of travelers in the car, van, caravan, house bus or any other manner of home on wheels. For others, taking the bus from city to city takes all the hassle out of the journey. For the truly intrepid, there’s no better way to take it all in than hiking the length of the country.

One of the great journeys of New Zealand, though, is the TranzAlpine train, a truly unforgettable travel experience traversing Arthur’s Pass across the Southern Alps of the South Island. The TranzAlpine is one of only a few long-haul train journeys in the country, and one of the world’s most spectacular trips.

Is there a train system in New Zealand?

Back when European settlers first arrived in Aotearoa, railways had a huge part to play. In fact, the early part of the 20th century was known as the ‘golden age for rail’. Everyone took the train, whether they were travelers on a journey between cities, kids going to school, suburban workers heading to work or day-trippers to beaches, shows and racecourses. Come the 50’s, though, cars and planes began to take over. In the last thirty years, there’s been a ‘rail revival’, seeing more inner city and intercity networks sprout up.

The railway line across Arthurs Pass between Christchurch and Greymouth was among the original railways, built to connect the east coast of the country with newly booming west coast gold mining towns. Today, this is known as the TranzAlpine, one of the great journeys of New Zealand, and of only four long haul passenger rail travel routes in the country. The others are the Northern Explorer between Auckland and Wellington, the Capital Connection between Wellington and Palmerston North, the Coastal Pacific between Picton and Christchurch.

What is public transport like in New Zealand?

Traditionally, it hasn’t been great, with most Kiwis owning a car and using that as their main transport option. However, it’s on the up!

Where does the TranzAlpine train run from?

The TranzAlpine passenger train is one of the world’s great train journeys. It runs across Arthur’s Pass, between the west coast and the east coast of the South Island – specifically, Christchurch to Greymouth and vice versa. It’s a stunning journey across arguably New Zealand’s most iconic pass, with wide panoramic windows and an open air viewing carriage to soak in the ever changing alpine scenery.

The train snakes from Christchurch through the Canterbury plains, along the edges of the glacier-fed Waimakariri River, traverses the Southern Alps, and winds through miles of native beech forest. In Greymouth, when you arrive or before you leave, there’s the entire West Coast to explore, from the tropical Karamea all the way down to Jackson Bay and a whole lot of weird and wildness in between.

There’s even the option to continue your journey from Greymouth with Intercity, a national bus company, which can take you on to Franz Josef, Fox Glacier or Queenstown.

If you book a West Coast Package tour which includes the TranzAlpine train journey, you can stop and soak in the beauty along the route, like the quaint fishing town of Moana, on the banks of the gorgeous Lake Brunner, midway between Arthur’s Pass and Greymouth. You can book this tour through their Greymouth office. Or, better yet, travel really slow and stay a day or two at stops along the way, be it at Lake Brunner or Arthur’s Pass.

Where does the TranzAlpine leave from in Christchurch?

The train leaves from Christchurch railway station, also known as Addington Railway Station, within the modern Tower Junction retail park in Addington on the southwestern edge of Christchurch city. 

How long is the TranzAlpine train trip?

The one way journey is just under 5 hours. The carriages are spacious and comfortable, with food and beverage services to make you feel like you’ve taken a trip back to the good ol’ days. There are a couple of options – the Scenic Class, or the Scenic Plus Class. Both have panoramic windows, access to the cafe and an open air viewing carriage, but to take your experience to the next level, go for Scenic Plus, and enjoy table service with a full food and beverage menu. Trust us, the train will soon become your favourite way to travel.

Both options have seating designed to maximise the views, and the scenery is spectacular whether you’re first or second class.

Is there food on the TranzAlpine train?

Both carriages have access to the cafe throughout the journey, but Scenic Plus has full menu table service.

Does the TranzAlpine train have WiFi?

No, but the views you get as you cross the Southern Alps are far better than anything you’ll find on your screen, trust us. There are a bunch of other services, though, including air conditioning, toilets, baby changing stations and power sockets.

How much does the TranzAlpine cost?

The Tranzalpine train journey costs $140 for a regular seat, $270 for premium (that’s including food and drinks). To book a seat, see the TranzAlpine site. When you choose your date and book your tickets, they’ll reserve your seats according to whether you’re a single, pair or group.

How many days do you need to see New Zealand?

How long is a piece of string? The longer the better, really. Even exploring the West Coast when you disembark from the Tranzalpine in Greymouth could last weeks if you let it, from the glaciers at Fox and Franz Josef to the Heaphy Track and Pancake Rocks.

Long live the railway line!

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