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How to cross Arthur’s Pass

Arthur’s Pass drive is a stunning route through New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

Connecting Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city, and the rugged West Coast, you’ll marvel at towering mountains, dense forests, crystal-clear rivers, impressive bridges (like the Otira Viaduct) and lots of beautiful waterfalls.

You’ll have three choices to cross Arthur’s Pass – by shuttle, car or train.

By road, you’ll travel along State Highway 73 – the highest of only three roads crossing the Southern Alps.

Or, sit back and relax, enjoying the views from the TranzAlpine – our most famous (and spectacular) train journey.

Whatever you decide, it will be a great way to see the wild beauty of New Zealand’s landscapes.

But which is best for you, and should you use the same mode of transport if crossing twice?

Let’s find out…

A beautiful cascading waterfall at Arthur's Pass.
Arthur’s Pass. Photo: Larissa Hubbard, NZTT member.

How to cross Arthur’s Pass

Train

The TranzAlpine train, run by Great Journeys NZ, connects Christchurch and Greymouth by rail.

This incredible trip takes approximately 5 hours one way, and is ranked in the top 10 train trips globally – it is absolutely stunning!

With comfortable seats, panoramic windows, an onboard cafe and an open-air viewing carriage, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the journey.

Though most people board in Christchurch or Greymouth, and ride all the way to the end, it’s also possible to stop along the way at any of these stations:

  • Christchurch – the largest city in the South Island
  • Rolleston – the closest station to Christchurch Airport – by request
  • Darfield – by request
  • Springfield – a great base for horse riding and hiking – by request
  • Arthurs Pass – the highest operational train station in New Zealand and a popular stop for hikers/kea spotting.
  • Moana – access beautiful Lake Brunner
  • Greymouth – the gateway to the West Coast.

This train is, of course, especially well suited to those that don’t drive.

It’s also a great way to start your journey when you’re still a little jet lagged – perfect for people short on time and keen to begin their itinerary a little faster (without compromising safety).

Whether you ride the train one way, continuing the trip to another part of the South Island, or you ride it there and back, it’s a spectacular trip.

A view of a river and its stiff and rocky banks while riding Tranzalpine train.

Rental car

If you’d like total flexibility for your trip across Arthur’s Pass then a rental car is the best option for you.

Rental cars are easily available from Christchurch and Greymouth, allowing you to stop while driving SH73.

Popular stops include Arthur’s Pass Village (where we love the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall walk) and Castle Hill (with its unique rock formations).

Be sure to stop at different scenic lookouts too – to enjoy the views but also to spot the cheeky kea. These alpine parrots are the most intelligent birds in the world and they’re such characters! Just be sure not to feed them.

❄️ Pro tip: Keep an eye on the weather forecast and NZTA website if driving Arthur’s Pass – it is occasionally closed due to snowfall in the wintertime.

Some people drive one way through Arthur’s pass, looping around the West Coast and Aoraki Mount Cook/Tekapo, while others catch the train one way, returning by car.

Shuttle

East West Coaches offers a daily shuttle between the West Coast and Christchurch (and back again).

Travelling by road, they offer a number of opportunities to hop off – perfect if you’d like to spend time somewhere on the route, for example, Arthur’s Pass Village.

The shuttle is great for people that don’t want to drive themselves but that would like to experience the views from the road (which are different from those seen on the train).

Like the train, it’s also good for travellers that would like to start their journey while jetlagged, without the safety issues that come with driving yourself when tired.

The road through Arthur's Pass with snow covered mountains.
Arthur’s Pass, connecting Christchurch and the West Coast. Photo: Aerard van Daalen, NZTT member.

And there you have it – three popular ways to travel between Christchurch and the West Coast via Arthur’s Pass.

Which appeals most to you?

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