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The TranzAlpine Scenic Railway

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by Paula McManus (subscribe)
Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published November 12th 2015
Beautiful views of a beautiful country
The TranzAlpine railway from Christchurch to Greymouth and back again is regarded as one of the Top 5 rail journeys in the world.

Tranz Alpine TranzAlpine train
Southern Alps from the TranzAlpine train (©paula mcmanus)

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.

Tranz Alpine TranzAalpine train
Southern Alps from the TranzAlpine train (©paula mcmanus)

My 2 journeys on the train were so very different scenery-wise. I went over in a beautiful snowy white out and came back in crisp and clear blue skies. I really think I got the best of both worlds.

Tranz Alpine TranzAlpine train
Southern Alps from the TranzAlpine train (©paula mcmanus)

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.

Tranz Alpine Tranzalpine train
from the TranzAlpine train (©paula mcmanus)

The journey is 223 kilometres (139 miles) and takes approximately four and a half hours each way. The train effortlessly passes through 19 tunnels and four viaducts.

Tranz Alpine Tranzalpine train
The TranzAlpine train, New Zealand (©paula mcmanus)

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.

lake brunner yacht club
Lake Brunner views from the TranzAlpine Train, New Zealand (©paula mcmanus)

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.

Tranz Alpine TranzAlpine train
Southern Alps from the TranzAlpine train (©paula mcmanus)

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.

Tranz Alpine TranzAlpine train
Southern Alps from the TranzAlpine train (©paula mcmanus)

I did the return journey but separated the rides by 2 weeks while I travelled the South Island.

This rail journey really is an extraordinary experience and if you're travelling to the South Island of New Zealand you really must put it onto your To Do list.

If there is one very special thing that you do while in NZ, this is it. It is truly the trip of a lifetime and I promise that you will never forget it.

waimakariri river
Waimakariri River from TranzAlpine Train, New Zealand (©paula mcmanus)

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Why? travel on one of the worlds most scenic railways
When: daily
Where: Christchurch New Zealand
Your Comment
Thank you Paula. I really enjoyed reading your article. I am going on this trip from Greymouth tomorrow (can’t wait) and found your account of the trip great info in preparation.
by Karen Ross (score: 2|332) 218 days ago
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