The Journey

The TranzAlpine's route across the mountainous spine of our South Island is truly spectacular and is rightly described as one of the great train journeys of the world.

Sit back and marvel on this great train journey of the world

Starting at Christchurch on east coast of the South Island, the TranzAlpine begins its journey by roaming across the vast patchwork plains of Canterbury - one of New Zealand's primary agricultural regions. On the far side of the plains you will arrive at Springfield, where the Southern Alps suddenly rise from the plains like megalithic skyscrapers, creating an seemingly impenetrable barrier. 

TranzAlpine Waiting on Platform at Springfield

For many years, Springfield was the end of the line with the Alps forming a formidable blockade. Eventually, a route to the West Coast through the Alps was agreed upon and construction began. This section, between Springfield and the township of Arthur's Pass, is considered a masterpiece of railway engineering and is the section for which the TranzAlpine is most famed.

The route firstly heads north-east to join the Waimakariri River gorge. This aqua-blue river will appear and disappear out of your window several times as the TranzAlpine clings and climbs up the cliffs above it. During the ascent to the high plains of Craigieburn, there are 15 short tunnels and four dramatic viaducts, including the 72 metre high Staircase Viaduct.

View of Mount Binser from the open air carriage on the TranzAlpine

The most iconic views come at the far end of the Cragieburn Straight, where the high plains stretch out to give a stunning view of Mount Binser and the edges of Arthur's Pass National Park. Shortly after, the train meets again with the Wiamakariri River and then crosses it to reach Arthur's Pass. This section is stunningly beautiful and is where the famous views of the TranzAlpine crossing the Waimakariri River are taken.

From Arthur's Pass, the TranzAlpine descends through the 8.5km long Otira Tunnel. This landmark structure was the second longest tunnel in the world when it was completed in 1923. It's historic completion also marked the completion of the Midland Line and the opening of the railway line from Christchurch to Greymouth.

Approaching Otira on the TranzAlpine

The Otira Tunnel marks the transition from Canterbury to West Coast and the landscape becomes remarkably different on the far side. The weather is typically wetter and the scenery more green and vibrant. The TranzAlpine follows a series of river valleys as it descends to Greymouth, starting with the Otira River and the Taramakau River. During these stretches you are nestled intimately between the mountainous hills, with the rugged, broad, riverbeds meandering alongside the tracks.

At Inchbonnie the TranzAlpine loops back on itself to head around the lush lake valleys to Moana, on the banks of the spectacular Lake Brunner. The TranzAlpine then joins the Arnold River valley which spills out into the Grey River valley on its final stretch before finally pulling into Greymouth in perfect time for lunch.

Explore beyond the tracks

The most popular destination is Arthur's Pass. Most people hop off and hike the alpine tracks for a few hours before catching the TranzAlpine back to Christchurch, however there are plenty of places to stay overnight if you want to explore this remarkable region fully. Further west, Moana is also a magnificent place to stay, with fishing and long walks along Arnold Valley just two of the outdoor pursuits you can enjoy in this green and serene haven.

For ideas and information on what you can see beyond the tracks, see our TranzAlpine destinations section and Booking.com's article about the TranzAlpine.

Connect with our scenic network

With our Throughfare tickets, it is possible to travel from Christchurch all the way to the beautiful resort town of Queenstown, the home of bungy jumping and gateway to Milford Sounds.

From Christchurch you can explore the east coast on our Coastal Pacific train service to Picton and then head to the North Island on the Interislander to connect with Wellington and the epic Northern Explorer train service.

For detailed tips on connecting with the South Island, see our TranzAlpine connections section.

Explore our trains

To find out more about the on-board experience, including the seating, panoramic windows, café and open air viewing carriage, please visit our On Board Our Trains page.