Rated among the world’s best scenic train journeys, the TranzAlpine train makes its way from Christchurch, on the East Coast of the South Island, across the beautiful, remote New Zealand countryside to the sea-side town of Greymouth on the West Coast.
What To Expect
From the comfort of your viewing-enhanced rail carriage you can fully appreciate the spectacular, normally inaccessible, views of the Southern Alps, several large viaducts, countless deep gorges, wild rushing rivers and waterfalls, the sprawling Canterbury plains, lush New Zealand rain forest and an impressive number of historic tunnels – nineteen of them in fact!
Throughout the long journey the train rumbles through the various sized tunnels with some passing in the blink of an eye and others plunging you into semi-darkness for extended periods. The Otira tunnel is the longest, at just over 8.5 km. The construction of the Otira tunnel began in 1907 and after experiencing some difficulties eventually opened in August of 1923. A relatively steep gradient was achieved with the Arthur’s Pass end of the tunnel approximately 250 metres higher than the Otira end. The Otira tunnel is one of the largest tunnels in New Zealand and an impressive accomplishment for the time period.
The train makes various stops as it glides along its scenic journey, some necessary for passenger pick up/drop off and others for track maintenance or to let other trains pass. The longest stop is at Arthurs Pass, a small town nestled in among the misty peaks of the Southern Alps. Passengers are able to disembark to stretch their legs and view the surrounding alpine landscape. About halfway between Otira and Greymouth, the train passes along the shores of Lake Brunner. An exceptional reputation for fishing has made this 40 square kilometre lake a popular destination for many fishing enthusiasts.
Departing daily, you can board the train at the Christchurch Railway Station in Addington, or if making the return trip, from the Greymouth Railway Station on Mackay Street. At over 200 kilometres in length the trip takes approximately four and a half hours and is designed with tourists in mind. On board facilities include a licensed café, multi-language commentary, with complimentary headphones and an open air viewing carriage; perfect for unobstructed views and photo opportunities if you can endure the cold temperatures!
Arrival times can vary but as a guide the train will usually reach the railway station at Greymouth just after 1 pm. An extensive gift shop and i-SITE information centre is housed within the terminal along with restroom facilities. The Greymouth i-SITE facility is able to make accommodation, travel and activity bookings throughout New Zealand.
Along with the usual forms of transport, Greymouth car rental services are available from the terminal building, with complimentary pick up and drop off assistance available directly from the Greymouth Railway Station on Mackay Street.
West Coast Highlights
Day trip, scenic escape or pit-stop on your travels, Greymouth is an excellent base for exploring the vast West Coast region.
In and around Greymouth itself are many opportunities to get out and about and experience the well-known West Coast hospitality. The local Shantytown Heritage Park offers insight into the rich gold mining history of the region; with a museum, steam train and the chance to try your hand at gold panning. Fishing is immensely popular, with many fishing charter companies offering deep sea and trout fishing opportunities.
To the north is Punakaiki, home to the famous pancake rock formations and explosive blowholes, as well as numerous opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors in Paparoa National Park. The Point Elizabeth Walkway begins close by at the popular swimming spot, Rapahoe Beach, and follows along the clifftops to the native bushlands of the Rapahoe Scenic Reserve, home to many species of New Zealand’s native birds.
Beyond Hokitika, to the south, is the West Coast Treetop Walkway & Café. Be inspired by the sensational views from atop the specially constructed platforms, walkways and 40 metre high tower. Experience a bird’s eye view of the ancient Rimu and Kamahi trees, and forest floor as you make your way along the 20 metre high, 450 metre long wheelchair friendly walkway. Informative signs offer insight into the local flora and fauna you would expect to see, and the tower offers the most amazing views out over Lake Mahinapua. After your walk, rest and relax in the al fresco Café. Open daily from 9 am to 3pm the café offers a wide range of seasonal options, great coffee and daily specials.
Further south are the famous Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, where you can get up close and personal with all the glacial action. Only two and a half hours by rental car, both glaciers offer scenic flights, guided walks, and various opportunities to experience the alpine environment.
Booking your rental car in Greymouth ahead of time is advised, ensuring availability upon departing the train. The KiwiRail TranzAlpine train journeys can be booked online or at your nearest i-SITE visitor centre. Whether you are in Greymouth for a day, a week or longer you will never get enough of the fantastic West Coast atmosphere.