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TranzAlpine Train review: One of the most scenic railways in the world, right here in Aotearoa

The TranzAlpine train is widely recognised as one of the most scenic in the world and having recently undertaken this incredible journey, we couldn’t agree more.  Connecting Christchurch with Greymouth, it glides up and over the Southern Alps, taking in a stunning array of scenery all whilst offering world-renowned Kiwi hospitality.

To make life easy, we’ve written this review explaining why we recommend catching the TranzAlpine train across the South Island and what you can expect when doing so.

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Train stops by the Greymouth Station.

Christchurch to Greymouth on the TranzAlpine Train: What to Expect

Travelling from East to West (and back again), the TranzAlpine connects the largest city in New Zealand’s South Island with the rugged and beautiful West Coast.

After traversing the Canterbury Plains, the train begins its climb through some of the most incredible scenery in the country.  You’ll skirt alongside the beautiful Waimakariri River, head towards the Southern Alps (and the charming alpine village of Arthur’s Pass) before heading through the Otira Tunnel (which is an astonishing 8.5km long). 

Emerging on the other side of the Alps, the train continues through vast regions of alpine rainforest and farmland whilst snaking alongside crystal-clear rivers and deep sapphire lakes before delivering guests to their final destination, Greymouth.

From Greymouth, you’ll be perfectly located to explore some of the best things in the area, such as heading both up and down the West Coast. You could book a guided nature walk or heli glacier hike at the ever-beautiful Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, visit Punakaiki or even go caving and tubing with glow worms!

A train crossing a small river below a mountain.

Throughout your journey, you’ll soak in the view of towering gorges, expansive graded rivers, snow-covered mountain peaks and mile after mile of pristine farmland and native forest, whilst snuggled up warm inside (or for the brave, out on the open observation cart – trust me, it’s worth getting a little windswept for those views).

Comfort Whilst Aboard New Zealand’s Only Alpine Train

We were amazed by just how smooth and quiet the TranzAlpine was!

With an air bag suspension system that clearly does an incredible job, the train practically floats along the tracks making for an incredible comfortable journey.  Combine that with peace and quiet and comfy seats and you’ll be hard pressed not to doze off – not that you’d be able to with such incredible views out the window!

Views to Boot

Thanks to the TranzAlpine’s massive un-tinted panoramic windows (which even extend up onto the ceiling), you’ll enjoy unobstructed views throughout the journey.

As we mentioned earlier though, if you’d like to feel the wind in your hair, you’re welcome to move up through the cabins to the open-air carriage for that perfect photo op.

Practical Information About Riding the TranzAlpine

Booking and riding the TranzAlpine is incredibly straight forward.

Boarding:  Christchurch Railway Station, Troup Drive, Addington, Christchurch 8011 (in the shopping mall carpark).

Check-inTime: Check-in begins at 7am and closes 20 minutes before departure.

Which Are the Best Seats?

They’re all incredible!

Seats onboard the TranzAlpine come in one of two forms and though they’ll be automatically allocated based on your group side (and the seats left available), it’s good to know what you’ll be in for.

If you’re travelling as a couple or by yourself, you’ll likely be given a forward facing seat.  This way you’ll have the stunning views in front of you every step of the way (and you’ll also be able to recline and put your feet up should you want a rest).

If you’re travelling in a larger group, chances are that your group will receive tickets for table seating.  This will allow your group to relax together around a table (with two facing forward and two facing back).

Seating arrangements with the bathroom and exit of an onboard carriage.

Can I Take My Own Food on the Train?  Is There Food Onboard to Purchase?

You’re welcome to take your own food aboard the train but because it holds a liquor license, you’re only able to drink alcohol that you’ve purchased on the train.

We were pleasantly surprised both by the price and quality of the food on the TranzAlpine though.  They had a range of recognisable Kiwi brands (like Whittaker’s chocolate and Kāpiti ice cream) all available at prices on par with local cafés.

If you’re running short on time or just want to treat yourself, there’s certainly no need to come prepared with a big bundle of snacks – you’ll find everything you could need in the cafe.

What Else Should I Take?

If you plan on heading out onto the viewing carriage, then we’d recommend you take a warm jacket.  Other than that, there’s nothing specific that you’ll need to take aboard the TranzAlpine train – just the gear you’ll need for your day out (or better yet, your suitcase with your gear for a week’s worth of adventure!) and your camera.

Taking a selfie inside the TranzAlpine Train.

How Does the TranzAlpine Cater to People with Disabilities?

Mobility-Impaired Passengers

Wheelchair hoists are provided at all main stations allowing access from the track into the café carriage – from there, passengers are free to move about the train.  Suitable spaces are provided for wheelchairs (including chair locks) and disabled toilets are also available onboard the train.

Hearing-Impaired Passengers

A hearing loop is available in the café and serving area.  Instructions for those wearing hearing aids are also provided.

Tranz Alpine train on a sunny day.

The TranzAlpine offers visitors and Kiwis alike some of the best views in the country in areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.  When you arrive, you’ll have the West Coast right at your feet and trust me when I say, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be right now!

Next time you’re in the South Island, skip the plane and travel by train – you’ll see the side of New Zealand you’ve been dreaming of.

We travelled on the TranzAlpine train as part of our stay with West Coast NZ.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  Thank you to TranzAlpine for granting the use of three photographs used above.

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