New Zealand's TranzAlpine Train: An Unforgettable South Island Journey

Spanning a distance of 139 miles, this stunning five hour train journey includes 16 tunnels and four viaducts and features breathtaking views of the New Zealand landscape. The route goes from Christchurch to Greymouth and provides vistas of rivers, mountains and gorges. There’s no better way to explore New Zealand’s countryside, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the views from the comfort of your seat. 

The New Zealand TranzAlpine route is one of the most spectacular railway journeys in the world, allowing you to travel from the east to west coast of New Zealand’s South Island in just under five hours. 

The train crosses the Canterbury Plains, before ascending past magnificent gorges and the deep river valleys of the Waimakariri River and into the alpine region of Arthur's Pass before beginning its descent through the Otira Tunnel and finally into the lush rain forests of Greymouth. The train makes stops at Springfield, Arthurs Pass, Otira, and Greymouth with the opportunity to depart the train and explore these towns. 

The train features huge panoramic windows and skylights, as well as an open air viewing carriage at the back of the train where passengers can feel the wind in their hair as they travel through the valleys of New Zealand. The TranzAlpine train is also very accommodating to those with disabilities, for those in wheelchairs there are dedicated disability spaces as well as disabled bathroom facilities. For those who are hearing impaired a hearing loop covers all of the cafe carriage saloons and serving area. 

From the 14th of April 2023, TranzAlpine is reintroducing its popular “Scenic Plus” class. This class grants you access to freshly made hot and cold regional dishes and complimentary drinks as well as afternoon tea, and we all know afternoon tea improves every journey!

The journey traverses coast to coast passing a variety of unique towns and natural beauty spots that you can enjoy!

The Canterbury Plains

Canterbury Plains

After departing Christchurch the TranzAlpine begins its 139-mile journey across the expansive agricultural plains of Canterbury. The Canterbury Plains are one of New Zealand’s primary agriculture regions, growing a variety of crops including wheat, potatoes, peas and hay! If you’re sitting in the Scenic Plus section, one of your local dishes might just feature ingredients grown in the very fields you’re travelling past. 

To the Western side of the plains, you can see the Torlesse mountains rising in the distance and are the same mountains that the TranzAlpine will journey through. 



As you start to leave the Eastern plains of the Canterbury Plains you reach the quaint town of Springfield, the last stop before your journey enters into the mountains. Springfield is a great stop-off for enthusiasts of horse trekking and hiking and offers stunning views of the mountains and plenty of snow in the colder months. Other things to try if you're stopping off in Springfield include a ride down the Waimakariri River on an airboat, skiing in winter and of course visiting the huge pink doughnut linking Springfield with the fictional Simpsons town of the same name.

Waimakariri River 

Waimakariri River

The train then follows the bends of the stunning Waimakariri River gorge, one of the largest in Canterbury slowly beginning its ascent into Mount Bisner and the surrounding mountains. 

Mount Binser 

Mount Binser

One of the most iconic moments on the TranzAlpine journey comes at Cass. Here, at the top of the world, the views open out to the north with broad Mount Binser rising above the Waimakariri River in the distance. 

This stretch of the journey is profoundly scenic, and it is well worth strolling to the open-air viewing carriage to take in the sheer magnificence of this mountain landscape. 

Lake Sarah

Another natural icon of the TranzAlpine journey is Lake Sarah. It doesn't matter from which direction you are approaching, this is a view that will leave you speechless. Heading west from Christchurch, you see Mount Horrible (yes that really is its name!) and the mountains of Arthur's Pass National Park framing the skyline above the lake. Heading east from Arthur's Pass, you have Mount Binser and the Puketeraki Range rising over the lake. 

Keep an eye out for fishermen on the banks of the lake, as it is a well-known spot for trout.


Otira Viaduct Lookout

The Otira Tunnel marks the transition from Canterbury to West Coast. Sometimes called the Great Divide or Main Divide, the mountains under which the Otira Tunnel travels stand in the way of the weather. As a result, the weather is typically wetter on the west side - and the scenery is noticeably more vibrant.

Following a series of river valleys that descend to Greymouth, the TranzAlpine journey is nestled intimately between the mountainous hills, with the rugged, broad, riverbeds meandering alongside the tracks. If you decide to depart the train at Otira then you can check out Arthur's Pass National Park, Hokitika Gorge and admire the view from Otira Viaduct Lookout!

Moana & Lake Brunner

Surrounded by swampland and eerie ancient forest largest lake on West Coast - and the view from the TranzAlpine train is phenomenal.

Few people stop here, despite the charming town of Moana being the perfect place to relax and breathe in the beautiful scenery. Fishermen should take note, for Lake Brunner is one of the West Coast region's best brown trout fishing locations. This is the final destination before the train ends its journey at Greymouth.

Starting from Skratch? Here are some links to help you get started:

Great Journeys New Zealand

New Zealand Rail

Want to discover some more amazing journeys? Check out our series here.

TranzAlpine Train - Facts Before You Go

Is it accessible to those with disabilities?

🦽 Yes! The carriages have space for wheelchair access, as well as disabled bathrooms. For those with hearing impairments, there is a hearing loop which covers the carriages.

How much does the train cost?

💰 Prices start at NZ$229.

How long does the journey take?

⌛ The journey takes just under five hours.

Do I need to book in advance?

🗓️ Yes, you have to have a ticket in order to board.

Year-round availability?

⛄The TranzAlpine runs seven days a week until 1 May 2023. From 5 May, the TranzAlpine will travel from Friday to Monday. The TranzAlpine service will resume running seven days a week from 22 September 2023.

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Ellie Ring
August 30, 2023
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