In a country such as New Zealand, that's blessed with immense natural beauty, a train trip is sure to be one festooned with incredible sights and experiences. The TranzAlpine service covers the South Island from the east coast to the west coast and operates daily between Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass and Greymouth. Considered to be the most scenic train ride in New Zealand, it easily figures among the most beautiful train journeys in the world.
As it chugs across the Canterbury Plains it slowly makes its way uphill, climbing through the gorges and the magnificent river valleys of the Waimakariri River towards the Southern Alps. After a brief stopover at Arthur’s Pass, it continues onwards towards the west coast. It also passes through the Otira Tunnel before finally reaching the west coast at Greymouth. But the real crux of the journey is the sightseeing that you can do along the way.
The train is built for sightseeing, as is evident from the way the carriages are designed. They have un-tinted and non-reflective panoramic windows that continue into the ceiling allowing you to take in the sights in an unrestricted manner. The train is fitted with an advanced air suspension system that makes the journey quite comfortable. You can listen to the GPS-triggered commentary in five languages as you marvel at the sights passing by. The commentary is complemented by informative displays and HD videos.
Each centrally air-conditioned carriage has its own washroom facilities. The seats, equipped with a headrest and a footrest, face towards the direction of travel and recline for extra comfort. You can buy light meals and refreshments in the train. The entire train is wheelchair-friendly and hoists provide access from the track level.
The most beautiful train journey of New Zealand is 223 kilometres long and takes around 5 hours to complete. It leaves Christchurch at 8:15 am to reach Greymouth by 1:05 pm. The return journey starts at around 2:05 pm from Greymouth and the train reaches Christchurch by around 6:30 pm. Other than Christchurch and Greymouth, these are the stations that you will encounter along the way:
The train journey is perfect for a day-long excursion of fun and sightseeing. Once you reach Greymouth, you have a range of other options to get back to Christchurch including regular buses and a range of ‘Hop on/Hop off’ buses. This is a daily train service that runs every day of the year except Christmas.
Starting from Christchurch, the train heads out across the sprawling Canterbury Plains making a few stops before the Southern Alps begins looming over the horizon. If it’s winter, you will see snow-capped peaks contrasting the blue sky beautifully. In every other season, you will see the rugged countenance of the peaks framing the lush, emerald green of the plains.
One of the most thrilling parts of the journey is crossing the seemingly rickety bridges spanning gorges over the meandering Waimakariri River. The gorgeous scenery plays hide and seek as the train passes through a series of tunnels on its way ahead. From the plains to the mountains, the scenery changes tracks suddenly. And before you know it, the train is ascending towards Arthur’s pass. With the beautiful scenery, you will pass many farmlands and small towns that add their own allure to your train journey.
The untouched scenery and small towns make for perfect picture postcards of an idyllic life in the lap of nature. The wide river valleys are spanned by a series of low-slung bridges that take you within touching distance of your destination. As you inch closer to your destination, the scenery takes on dramatic accents such as the fluffy clouds that start forming on the other side of the Alps. Arthur’s Pass serves as a sort of a midway point to the line that separates the east coast from the west coast.
After Arthur’s Pass, the scenery remains hidden for quite some time as the train enters the 8.5-kilometre-long Otira Tunnel. As soon as the tunnel ends, you will have entered the west coast of New Zealand. You will soon reach Greymouth, your ultimate destination, where the train halts for an hour before heading back and reversing its journey. The TranzAlpine is the most scenic way to cross the Alps.
The TranzAlpine train journey is quite a popular one on the Kiwi Railway and needs you to book your tickets in advance.
Train journeys have an inherent romance associated with them. The TranzAlpine is one of those train journeys that is perhaps more beautiful than its destination. Passing through a variety of terrain, it takes you on a journey of discovery and exploration. It is a journey that has to be experienced to be believed. Mere words don’t do justice to its beauty. The very allure of this train ride is magnified manifold by the expectations and the aura of serenity surrounding it.