From the very start the scenery had me pressing my nose against the window. It wasn't long until the observation carriage was open and I was outside with my camera; witnessing the most breathtaking scenery that I'd ever seen, especially from a train.
The train travels from Christchurch on the east coast of the New Zealand South Island, goes through the flat and fertile Canterbury Plains and alongside the Waimakariri River. There are a couple of stops along the way before the train begins its steep journey into the Alps. Bizarrely, there is no sensation of a steep climb. It seems to be a very level and easy train ride. It seemed like no time at all that the train was up and into the beautiful Southern Alps.
Apart from a couple of quick stops for some photos, you're on the train most of the time. The seats are comfortable and the train is modern and very clean. Large picture windows at every seat means that no one misses the wonderful views of the alpine landscape. Large tables at each seat mean that you can read and relax with something to eat and drink from the on board cafe. The driver also offers an interesting and factual commentary about each area that we pass through as well as giving some historical facts on the building of the railway, it's bridges, tunnels and passes.
Outside, there is an open air observation deck. It's the only place you'll want to be if you're wanting to get photos. Your breath will be taken away, and not all by the spectacular scenes. It's chilly out there - very very chilly, so be sure to cover your bits and dress warmly.
Many travellers do this journey as a day trip. They hop on at Christchurch at 8.15am, get off at Greymouth on the West Coast, where there's an hour to explore while the train prepares for the turn around. Travellers enjoy the great views again and arrive back in Christchurch at 6pm.