A Super Scenic Rail Journey with the TranzAlpine

Yes, we can even make Christmas Eve feel epic on a New Zealand gap year! Instead of doing the same thing every year, whether its actually celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve as Robin would do if he was back in France, or eating and drinking way too much on the sofa in front of the TV as Laura would do if she was back in the UK, we’re going to take one of the most scenic train journeys in the world! Today, we are taking the TranzAlpine through the Arthur’s Pass National Park!

Christchurch to Greymouth

The TranzAlpine goes from coast to coast, making its way through iconic New Zealand scenery. After a journey from Christchurch and through the Southern Alps, we’ll be in Greymouth in the wild West Coast for one hour and one hour only, before making our way back on the return journey! As they say: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” but honestly, after the time we’ve had in the West Coast, we’re pretty excited about both!

Breakfast along the Canterbury Plains

We check in for our 8.15am departure, and get ourselves comfortable at a table seat. With eight different carriages to the train, there’s plenty of space to stretch your legs, especially as two of those carriages are open viewing decks for uninterrupted photo-taking. We think we know where we’ll be spending most of our time through Arthur’s Pass… Until, then the journey begins leaving the city and suburbs of Christchurch, reaching the flat pastoral lands of the Canterbury Plains. This seems like a good time to grab a coffee from the cafe carriage along with a breakfast wrap and fruit. (Beware, this blog post unashamedly talks about how much we stuff ourselves today in the true Christmas spirit!)

The cafe carriage itself has its own seating area with leather-style seats and tables. Plus, like every carriage, we can enjoy the views from absolutely huge windows. Even the overhead luggage shelf is transparent so that you can see through the windows spanning towards the roof. This makes for optimised mountain viewing right here!

All aboard the TranzAlpine! All aboard the TranzAlpine!
Breakfast will seem pretty boring after this trip... Breakfast will seem pretty boring after this trip...
Just one of the MANY amazing views along the way Just one of the MANY amazing views along the way
Travelling along the valleys to Arthur's Pass Travelling along the valleys to Arthur's Pass

Spending way too much time on the viewing deck

As we reach a town called Springfield, the landscape starts to transform into something a little more dramatic.

Rolling green hills grow in height as we start to make our way to the Southern Alps. Out of nowhere, the view of a brilliantly blue river can be seen worming its way between the mountains. The contrast in colours is picture-perfect, made evident by the sound of cameras clicking away on the viewing deck!

From here, we head over and through a series of tunnels and viaducts, one viaduct being 72m high! When travelling through a wild high country landscape like this, it’s hard to imagine how a railway was even built here.

Every moment a “wow” moment

Every second feels like a “wow” moment when passing mountainous terrain, river gorges, even a few snowy peaks – literally, a passenger sat near us couldn’t keep her gasps of awe and “wows” in! As always, the valleys of purple lupin flowers take everyone’s attention, even if those damn pretty flowers are a pest in New Zealand!

Snapping up the sensational views in Arthur’s Pass

The Otira Tunnel

Following clear-as-day rivers fed by cascading waterfalls, we start to approach the Arthur’s Pass train station. Here, we get the opportunity to leave the train for 10 minutes while two extra locomotives are added to the train! It’s time to prepare for the Otira Tunnel. Not only does this prepare the train to tackle the gradient in the 8.5km tunnel, but it also acts as an extra backup in case on an unlikely event of an emergency.

Meanwhile, we’re getting our snaps and selfies outside of the train in the midst of towering rugged mountains until the whistle calls and we get back to our seats. The viewing platforms and cafes are closed until we pass the tunnel and reach Otira.

The wild West Coast

As we cross from the east side of the Southern Alps to the west, we notice yet another change in the landscape. And guess what? It’s freakin’ beautiful too! God, New Zealand, give us a break!

Now we travel through mountains covered in thick lush rainforest created thanks to the infamous amount of rain that the West Coast receives. However, today is an exception to the rule, as the West Coast is far more sunnier than it was in Christchurch. It’s a Christmas miracle!

We've arrived in the West Coast! We've arrived in the West Coast!
Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
The journey back relaxing and listening to the commentary (and drinking wine, because, ya know...) The journey back relaxing and listening to the commentary (and drinking wine, because, ya know...)

Lake Brunner

Lake Brunner is our last stop before reaching Greymouth – a huge glacier-formed lake surrounded by epic views of mountains and rainforest. We have some great not-so-distant memories of boating on the lake, hiking in the forest, and drinking with locals in the lakeside town of Moana.

Arriving in Greymouth

The final stint is along the side the mighty Grey River lined with more mountains carpeted in rainforest. Finally, we arrive in Greymouth – the hub of the West Coast where enjoyed self-driven 4×4 buggy driving and touring the Monteith’s Brewery more than 100 days ago!

Because we only have one hour here, we don’t do anything too crazy. We just have a quick smoothie in the quirky and colourful DP1 Cafe near the train station.

A proper Christmas eve dinner

We now have it to enjoy all over again as we get back on the train to Christchurch! Because we were totally distracted by the scenery on the way here, taking photos and all that nonsense, we decide to relax a bit more on the way back and even have a mini-Christmas dinner in the cafe carriage. We share a roast chicken, stuffing and vegetables and a lamb shank with mashed potato and vegetables sat in front of a golden Christmas tree. N’awww!

As we get back to the Otira Tunnel, we take some drinks back to our seats and get chatting to an awesome couple from the US.

Commentary back to Christchurch

Along the Arthur’s Pass and back to Christchurch, we listen to the commentary through the headsets provided at our seats, telling us about how the landscape has been formed, as well as the history of various small towns we pass through the Canterbury Plains.

High buildings tell us that we’re back in Christchurch. We disembark the train like professionals and head back to our digs at the Jucy Snooze. We need to go to sleep or else Santa won’t come! Join us tomorrow for a classic Kiwi Christmas!

Laura and Robin

Not bad for Christmas dinner entertainment!
Not bad for Christmas dinner entertainment! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

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See you tomorrow!

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  1. Your photographs are always such a pleasure to look at! You really capture the beauty of the journey in these. I loved my time on the TranzAlpine railway line, particularly the views from the open-air carriage. I did a similar route by car as well and I’ve actually written an article comparing the benefits of each tour.

    Comment avatar Pilot Mark
    01/03/2017 at 9:28 pm
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