Is the TranzAlpine train on your must do list this winter?
The TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth is a world-class journey through one of the most striking natural landscapes on the planet. And winter is a great time to do it. From the comfort of the carriage, passengers are treated to exceptional views of snow-dusted mountain ranges, forests and lakes. And whether you’re wanting to stop and explore, or you’d rather enjoy the sights from the warmth of the train, this journey has something for everyone.
To give you an idea of the magic you can experience along the way, we’ve highlighted our top sights from aboard the train, and beyond. So check out the TranzAlpine fares, and start planning your travel adventure through a true winter wonderland.
TranzAlpine Day Trip
When the weather’s nipping, you may be more inclined to stay aboard the train for the majority of the journey. The complete excursion there-and-back can be done in a day, leaving Christchurch at 8 am, and arriving back in the garden city at 6:30 pm – making the TranzAlpine a perfect day trip. So here’s how you can make the most of your journey.
Aboard the train
With roomy seating, wide windows and a licensed café, you’ll be in complete comfort from the moment you hop aboard. Sit back, order a freshly brewed hot drink (or a scrumptious mulled wine) browse the selection of hot food and watch the winter wonderland roll by your window.
From the arm of your chair, you can tune in to our audio commentary – a medley of myths, facts and interesting anecdotes. You’ll step off the train with an abundance of freshly acquired insider knowledge about the various peaks, national parks and viaducts along the track.
Now that you’re comfortable, here are a couple of the best scenes you can catch from the comfort of your chair.
Passengers can enjoy the iconic Canterbury Plains within minutes of getting on-board. The plains sprawl like a magnificent patchwork quilt from Christchurch all the way to Springfield.
You’ll be on the edge of your seat when you reach the end of the seemingly endless plains, where the monumental Southern Alps tower above the small town of Springfield. But it’s the panoramic scenes between Springfield and Arthur’s Pass that really embody all things winter wonderland.
As you leave Springfield behind and start the traverse into the snowy mountain territory, you’ll eventually reach the majestic Waimakariri Gorge. With the striking aqua river contrasting with the ashy ridges on either side, this is a photographer’s dream come true. Your journey takes you over the Staircase Gully Viaduct, a vibrant red structure standing boldly against the earthy tones of the gorge, 240 feet above the bed of the stream. And when you’re travelling that high up on the tracks, there are gorgeous photo opportunities around every bend.
Stopping along the way
The TranzAlpine rolls through the popular destinations of Arthur's Pass and Moana. And depending on your fare type, passengers can hop off at any of these stations – then hop back on when it returns. Just be sure to schedule your stop when you book your ticket. Here are a few of our favourite winter-friendly stops worth taking the time to enjoy along the way.
Ascending more than 900 metres through the National Park, this is the highest and most breathtaking pass across the Southern Alps. The train stops here at around 10:52 am for just 15 minutes before continuing the journey. So if you’re planning on staying on the train for the entire journey, this is your chance to wrap up, hop off and stretch your legs. But if you’re planning on staying until the train returns at 4:28 pm, make sure you bring your winter-woollies. Many of the best things to do here are outdoorsy-activities.
There are several bush tracks within walking distance of the Arthur’s Pass train station, making it an ideal day stop to explore the natural beauty the South Island is famous for.
At 2km, the Devil’s Punchbowl takes only an hour there and back, so it’s perfect for walkers of all ages and abilities. Across bridges, through beech forests and up 240 steps will take you to the mammoth falls the walk is named after. You’ll be stunned at the sheer force of the fresh mountain water powering from the 131m falls. Click here for instructions on getting there from the station so you’re ready to go. And in between walks, warm up again with a lovely lunch at the Wobbly Kea. With a delicious range of home-made cakes and local coffee, you’ll be snug, recharged and ready to brace another nature walk in no time, before hopping back on the train later in the afternoon.
Kim from Tripadvisor loved experiencing Arthur’s Pass in winter:
“My Mother and I booked the Christchurch to Greymouth one way trip, there was snow on the ground at Arthur’s Pass and every tree, bush and blade of grass was covered with ice and Ice crystals through the middle of the trip. The time went really quickly and it was a Bucket List item that we are both really glad we were able to share together”
Moana and Lake Brunner
Another stop worth hopping off to explore is the quaint fishing town of Moana. With the gorgeous snowy mountains reflecting in the expansive Lake Brunner, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a spot of lunch and some sightseeing.
There are plenty of beautiful walks within metres of the train station, ranging from a 20-minute track right through to an hour-long loop. The Rakaitane Track takes walkers across a long suspension footbridge. Then through a forest coated with a spongy floor of native moss and ferns, protected by the canopy of slender kahikatea trees. This track takes around 30-minutes’ return at just 1.2km, so it’s the perfect length for a winter stroll.
After you’ve finished walking around the lake, it might be time for a bite. We recommend the Kingfisher Restaurant and bar, located in the original historic hotel just a couple of minutes’ walk from the train station. With a spectacular view of the lake, delicious pizzas and burgers on the menu and an array of local wines and beers on tap, it’s a great spot to have a meal and a drink while you wait for the return train at 3:03 pm. They even offer accommodation if you want to stay the night. Plus, if you need to warm up after your walk, they have a fireplace which is almost always roaring.
Overnight in Greymouth
If you are completing the TranzAlpine journey you will arrive in the old mining town of Greymouth on the wild-west coast, at 1:05 pm. The train does stop here for an hour before taking passengers back to Christchurch at 2:05 pm, but this one might be worth staying overnight for. And if you’re spending the night we recommend looking into car hire companies, conveniently located at Greymouth Train Station.
Just a 45-minute drive north of Greymouth takes you to Punakaiki on the edge of the Paparoa National Park. This is a great base to experience the sublime natural forces of the wild West Coast. See the unique stacked layers of the Punakaiki pancake rocks and the dynamic blowholes surging jets of water high into the sky.
It’s no secret New Zealander’s love their beer, and the West Coast is home to Monteith’s brewery, one of the biggest and most popular beer producers. So why not take a tour? It’s a chance to see the beer-making process up close and personal and learn the art of tap pouring without all the froth.
Toasty travels on the TranzAlpine train
Famed for being one of the South Island’s greatest attractions, the TranzAlpine is a treat for the soul the whole ride through. And winter is the prime time to experience it all. Ticking all the boxes for comfort and entertainment, this is the perfect trip if you’re planning on travelling New Zealand during winter. So pack your warmest wearables. These snowy sights will warm your heart long after you’ve hopped off the train.