7. A scenic day trip on the TranzAlpine train
Let us guide you through the best road trip experiences for your New Zealand holiday: here is No. 7 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
A glorious day trip on the TranzAlpine train, 223 kilometres from one side of South Island/Te Waipounamu to the other, is full of contrasts – from the green and gold of Canterbury to the blue and silver of the West Coast.
Leaving Christchurch/ŌTautahi in the morning, you glide across the neatly farmed plains, perhaps stopping at Springfield to stretch your legs and get a glimpse of what lies ahead. It’s spectacular: the Waimakariri Gorge where the river, increasingly far below, changes from its downstream leisurely braided form into a deep and fast-flowing surge of blue. It foams beneath tall cliffs linked by impressive viaducts and drilled through by tunnels.
Then you’re into the mountains proper, snow-capped peaks in every direction, as the train follows the river to its headwaters. You’ll probably stop at the journey’s midpoint: the little settlement of Arthur’s Pass, 739 metres up in the Southern Alps, where you might meet a cheeky kea, or alpine parrot, sitting on the station sign flashing the orange feathers beneath its green wings. Some people get off here to do high-country hikes of varying difficulty or even go mountaineering.
Then you head downwards again, through the hard-won Ōtira Tunnel, 8.5 kilometres through solid rock, to emerge on the West Coast – steep, forested and rugged. It’s a shorter trip then, past quietly lovely lake Brunner and farmland where cattle graze beneath tall kahikatea trees, to pull into Greymouth beside its river. It’s the Coast’s biggest town, where you can leave the train, or just take a break before the return trip. Have some lunch, browse the shops, or walk along the breakwater to the river’s notoriously treacherous entrance, location of many boating disasters. Life on the Coast has always been tough: you’ll find moving memorials here to men lost in the region’s coal-mining tragedies.
Then it’s back on the train again, to relax in the comfortable carriages with their soft roomy seats and high windows, to listen to the headphone commentary, visit the cafe or stand outside in the observation car with nothing between you and that wonderful scenery. That’s 10 hours you’ll never forget.