TranzAlpine is regarded as one of the most scenic train journeys of the world. It is also one of New Zealand's most beautiful train journeys in the South Island. Traveling across the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps, it connects Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island to Greymouth on the west.
The TranzAlpine was my first train journey in New Zealand. I had flown from New Delhi via Singapore and Auckland to Christchurch. In Christchurch, I stayed at the Commodore Airport Hotel for two nights before taking the TranzAlpine to Greymouth. The train is operated by The Great Journeys of New Zealand. I had already purchased my ticket online through www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz.
Starting from Christchurch, the train traversed through the ice-fed Waimakariri River and Arthur's Pass with stunning alpine views of steep mountain ranges and sub-tropical rainforests to arrive at Greymouth on the West Coast. It covered a distance of 223 km in just under 5 hours.
Huge panoramic windows afforded magnificent views of the scenery outside. An outdoor viewing carriage with open sides gave a genuine feeling of being in the outdoors while traveling across the high plains, dense forests, gorgeous coastlines, and spectacular mountain passes. It made an ideal spot for some fantastic photo opportunities. If you're traveling during the winter months be sure to pack a coat and hat as it can get a little chilly, especially in the alpine regions.
I stopped by at the Café Carriage (the café on board that serves food and beverages) a couple of times for croissants and coffee. It is recommended to have cash on you as the train cannot accept credit cards when it passes through areas without any phone line.
An audio commentary system is also available on the train and passengers can tune in with earbuds to hear about the legends and myths of New Zealand. The seats are fitted with power sockets, useful for recharging camera batteries, smartphones, and iPads. Except for a small piece of hand luggage, the baggage has to be checked in at the baggage carriage before the start of the journey. There is no space to store luggage at your seat, because of the large glass windows. Trains are fitted with lifts/hoists for step-free access and have accessible seating.
Located midway between Arthur's Pass and Greymouth, the quaint fishing town of Moana is a great stop for travelers on the TranzAlpine. It is home to the idyllic Lake Brunner and Arnold River Valley.