The view from New Zealand South island's TranzAlpine train
 

The view from the TranzAlpine train...

Christchurch to Greymouth on the scenic TranzAlpine train...

It's perhaps the most scenic train ride in New Zealand, and one of the most scenic train trips anywhere in the world.  The TranzAlpine, run by New Zealand train operator Kiwi Rail, runs once daily between Christchurch, Arthur's Pass and Greymouth on the South Island's west coast, through the amazing misty mountain scenery of the Southern Alps.  The journey takes 4 hours, and if you like you can go there and back in a day with an hour in Greymouth.  Or take the TranzAlpine one-way, and connect with buses down the west coast to Franz Josef Glacier.  Although I rate the North Island's Northern Explorer (formerly Overlander) from Auckland to Wellington as a far more historic and epic route, and in many ways almost equally scenic, you certainly won't regret buying a ticket for the TranzAlpine!  This page explains the TranzAlpine's timetable, fares, how to buy the cheapest tickets, and what there is to see on the journey.

On this page...

  TranzAlpine timetable

  TranzAlpine fares

  How to buy tickets

  What's it like on board?

  What to see on the way 

  Watch the video...

 

On other pages...

  Auckland to Wellington on the Northern Explorer

  Wellington to Picton by Interislander ferry

  Wellington to Christchurch by ferry & Coastal Pacific

  Christchurch-Dunedin-Invercargill by bus

  Christchurch-Queenstown bus service

  Dunedin-Queenstown train+bus service

Sponsored links...

 

Tranz-Alpine train times & fares...

The TranzAlpine is the most successful of all the Kiwi Rail (formerly Tranz Scenic) passenger train services, as it's very popular with tour groups because of the spectacular scenery through the Southern Alps between Christchurch and the South Island's west coast at Greymouth.  It's a fantastic trip that lives up to its reputation, though in many ways the TranzAlpine is not as epic or historic as the Auckland-Wellington Northern Explorer.

 Christchurch Greymouth   

 

 Greymouth Christchurch   

The 'Tranz-Alpine' train

Daily 

The 'Tranz-Alpine' train

Daily 

Depart Christchurch 

08:15

Depart Greymouth

13:45

Arthur's Pass arrive/depart

10:42

Arthur's Pass arrive/depart

15:57

Arrive Greymouth

12:45

Arrive Christchurch

18:05

The TranzAlpine runs daily.  One-class seating, cafe-bar & open air viewing platform.  The journey is 223.8km.

 TranzAlpine fares

 Christchurch - Greymouth

 by TranzAlpine

Flexi fare NZ$ 189 (99 or US$155)

Smart-Saver fare* NZ$159 (83 or $130)

Super-Saver fare* NZ$ 119 (62 or US$97)

Same-day return:  NZ$ 199 (104 or US$162)

* Super-Saver = limited availability, no refunds, no changes.  Smart-Saver = limited availability, $20 for any changes which can only be made more than 48 hours or more before departure.  These cheap fares disappear from the Kiwi Rail Scenic Journeys website when it is viewed from a computer outside NZ, so either book by phone from the Christchurch i-SITE visitor centre on +64 3 379 9629 or use the Tor Browser workaround explained below to buy these fares online.

Children aged 2-14 travel at reduced fare,  Infants under 2 travel free.  New Zealand railpass information.

How to buy tickets online...

Buying your ticket online is simple, but not as simple as it should be.  You can buy tickets for the TranzAlpine at www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz with self-print tickets, but Kiwi Rail have set up their website to hide the cheaper Super-Saver & promotional fares if your computer is located outside New Zealand, even though anyone from any country is entitled to buy them.  The screenshots below speak for themselves.  I was shocked when I first worked out what was going on, but fear not, a clever workaround is explained below...

If you just book using your PC normally:

If you book using the special Tor Browser as explained below:

The workaround:  How to buy cheap tickets online from outside NZ using the Tor browser:  Anyone from any country is entitled to buy the cheaper fares shown in the second screenshot, the only problem is that they don't appear unless you give your PC a New Zealand IP address.  So here's how to do just that:

(1)  Go to the Tor Project's download page and download & install the Tor Project's special Tor browser. 

(2)  Open your PC's file explorer, open the Tor Browser folder, then the Data folder, then the Tor folder and look for a text document called torrc-defaults.

(3)  Open torrc-defaults with Notepad or any suitable text file editor, scroll to the bottom, hit 'return' a couple of times and cut & paste ' ExitNodes {nz} ' into the text document, without the quote marks of course.  This sets up the Tor browser to use a New Zealand IP address.  Save the file after editing.

(4) Open the Tor browser.  You are now browsing through a random relay of servers, exiting the relay with an NZ IP address.  The connection naturally works a bit slower than your normal internet connection, but it does work! 

(5)  Go to www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz and buy your tickets.  You should now see the full range of fares (if they are available, obviously). 

Feedback would be appreciated!

Or buy via an international phone call instead:  If you're not sufficiently computer-savvy, you can buy all the cheap prices if you call New Zealand.  Call KiwiRail Scenic Journeys telesales on + 64 4 495 0775, as all fares are available by phone, potentially saving money even allowing for the cost the call. 

Or buy online from Rail New Zealand:  You can also check train times, prices & buy tickets at www.railnewzealand.com, although they say they don't sell Saver fares, only full-price.

How to book by phone:  0800 872 467 (in NZ) or  00 64 4 495 0775 (from outside NZ)...

From outside New Zealand, call Kiwi Rail's Scenic Journeys passenger division on + 64 4 495 0775, remembering that NZ is 13 hours ahead of the UK in the UK's winter, 11 hours in summer - you should be able to buy the full range of fares including Super-Saver and Smart-Saver.  When you're in NZ, call them on their free-phone number, 0800 TRAINS (0800 872 467).

Alternatively, if you live in the UK or Ireland you can arrange New Zealand train tickets or passes & reservations with International Rail, call 0844 248 248 3.  From outside the UK +44 844 248 248 3.  Lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday.

Tailor-made tours of New Zealand with train travel...

Tailor-made holiday specialist Railbookers can arrange tours or holidays around New Zealand using train travel rather than buses or flights.  A 7-night trip from Auckland to Wellington on the Northern Explorer, Wellington to Picton on the inter-island ferry, Picton to Christchurch on the Coastal Pacific, and Christchurch to Greymouth on the TranzAlpine starts at around 799 per person excluding UK-NZ flights.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

US & Canada call toll-free 1-800-408-3280 or www.us.railbookers.com.

  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

What's it like on board the Tranz-Alpine?  New carriages now in service!

The TranzAlpine has been relaunched with brand new 'AK' panoramic sightseeing coaches built in Kiwi Rail's Dunedin workshops in New Zealand in 2011-2012.  These have replaced the old rebuilt 1950s carriages used until late 2012. Photos courtesy of James Chuang

AK carriage, as used on the Christchurch to Greymouth TranzAlpine train   Seats in the new 'AK' carriages, as on the Christchurch to Greymouth TranzAlpine train

Reclining seats, most facing direction of travel, all lining up with huge panoramic windows - note the roof skylights too!.  There's loads of legroom even if you're over six feet tall.  Seats recline to about 40 degrees.  Seats are not allocated at booking, but by the train manager before departure.  However, if you book by phone (or book online then call Kiwi Rail's freephone number when you get to NZ quoting your booking reference) you can make a seating request.  Seats on the right-hand side of the train going to Greymouth probably get the best views, or the left-hand side returning to Christchurch.  Four friends or family travelling together could request one of the few bays of 4 seats facing each other around a table, keen photographers might want to request a seat close to the open-air viewing car.  Requests can't be guaranteed, but it doesn't hurt to ask!  All your heavy baggage is checked in to the baggage van, only hand luggage may be taken into the seating coaches.

Cafe car as used on the TranzAlpine train   New carriages as used on the TranzAlpine train

Cafe-bar:  In the centre of the train is a counter selling tea, coffee, wine, beer, spirits, snacks & light microwaveable meals at reasonable prices.  I can recommend a cream tea in the afternoon, and a glass of Montana Sauvignon Blanc!  You take your food & drink back to your seat. Bring cash if possible as cards are sometimes not accepted if the credit card machine is out of cellphone range.

Viewing car, as used on the TranzAlpine train   Inside the viewing car as used on the TranzAlpine train

Open-air viewing platform:  At one end of the train is a large open-air viewing platform, ideal for seeing and photographing the scenery, with no glass in between you and it.  Children must be accompanied.

Travel tips...

A journey on the Tranz-Alpine...

These photos show the old TranzAlpine train which used rebuilt 1950 coaches until 2012.  You'll now see the same wonderful scenery, but from a far nicer more modern train, see the new train photos above!

The Tranz-Alpine waits to leave Springfield...   Waimakiriri Gorge, seen from the TranzAlpine train

After leaving Christchurch the train stops briefly at Springfield in the Canterbury Plain.  The Southern Alps lie dead ahead...

 

The Waimakiriri Gorge, seen from the TranzAlpine as it starts its steep climb into the Southern Alps...

The Tranz-Alpine crossing a major viaduct on the Christchurch-Greymouth line...   The river gorge from the TranzAlpine train as it climbs into the Southern Alps

The Tranz-Alpine train ascends into the Southern Alps over a series of girder bridges and tunnels...

 

The river is now in a gorge way below the railway...

The Tranz Alpine on one of its many river crossings...   Typical scenery seen from the Tranz Alpine train, arguably New Zealand's most scenic train ride...

The train reaches a plateau, crossing and re-crossing a board shallow river...

More scenery from the TranzAlpine train   Enjoying a Devonshire cream tea on the Tranz-Alpine train...

More scenery in the Southern Alps...

 

Enjoying a Devonshire cream tea from the cafe-bar.

  The Tranz Alpine at Arthurs Pass in the heart of the Southern Alps...

Yet more beautiful scenery...

 

Arthur's Pass, just before the Otira Tunnel

Taking photos from the open-air viewing platform on the Tranz-Alpine train   New Zealand's most scenic train ride...

After Otira, the TranzAlpine train snakes its way through the Misty Mountains, which live up to their name.  The open-air viewing car allows you to get up close and personal with the outdoors, great for photography...

River approaching Greymouth   The Brunner Mine site, seen from the train...

The train is still alongside a river, now with thick green bush on either bank.  Near Greymouth the TranzAlpine passes the Brunner Mine, site of New Zealand's worst mining disaster in 1896 (above right)...

The TranzAlpine train arrives at Greymouth...   Town clock next to the Grey River, Greymouth, New Zealand

Journey's end:  The TranzAlpine arrived at Greymouth station on the rainy west coast of NZ's south island.

 

The town clock at Greymouth.  The sign on the right warns you not to eat fish caught next to the sewer outlet!

Watch the video - A journey on the Tranzalpine...

This video gives an excellent idea of just how good the TranzAlpine train ride can be!

Video by Robanca

 


Railpasses for New Zealand

New Zealand Scenic Railpass:  Check prices & buy online in UK...

There is an excellent New Zealand Scenic Railpass giving unlimited travel on all Kiwi Rail Scenic trains including the TranzAlpine, and (if you buy the ferry-inclusive version), the Interislander Ferry between Wellington and Picton.  If you're going to travel on all 3 trains from Auckland to Wellington, across on the ferry, down to Christchurch and on to Greymouth, the 7-day pass is cheaper than buying normal tickets.  Note that you still need to make free seat reservations, you cannot just hop on any train without a reservation.  To buy online in the UK, see www.internationalrail.com or call 0844 248 248 3, lines open 0900-1700 Monday-Friday.  For more information, see www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz.  Once you have a railpass, it's easy to make seat reservations to go with it simply by calling Kiwi Rail Scenic Journeys on 0800 TRAINS (0800 872 467) when you're in New Zealand, or in advance from outside New Zealand by calling 00 64 4 495 0775.


Holidays to New Zealand using train travel

7-night holiday including TranzAlpine, Coastal Pacific, InterIslander ferry & Northern Explorer...

Tailor-made holiday specialist Railbookers (www.railbookers.com, in the UK call 020 3327 0761) can arrange holidays around New Zealand using train travel rather than buses or flights.  A 7-night trip from Auckland to Wellington on the Northern Explorer, Wellington to Picton on the inter-island ferry, Picton to Christchurch on the Coastal Pacific, and Christchurch to Greymouth on the 'TranzAlpine' starts at around 799 per person excluding flights.


Recommended guidebooks

Lonely Planet New Zealand - click to buy onlineRough Guide to New Zealand - click to buy onlineMake sure you take a good guidebook.  The Lonely Planets and Rough Guides are easily the best out there for the independent traveller.  Both guides provide an excellent level of practical information and historical and cultural background.  You won't regret buying one of these guides..!

Click to buy online at Amazon.co.uk...

Lonely Planet New Zealand    Rough Guide to New Zealand

 


Hotels in New Zealand

Find a hotel in Christchurch, Greymouth or anywhere else in New Zealand...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...

If you're on a tight budget, don't forget the hostels.  For a dorm bed or an ultra-cheap private room in backpacker hostels in most European cities use www.hostelbookers.com.


Travel insurance...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you're resident in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you're resident in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find some huge bills waiting for you.  I've known people run up a 1,000 bill in data charges just by leaving their iPhone connected during a simple trip to Europe.  However, if you buy a global SIM card for your mobile phone from a company such as www.Go-Sim.com you can slash the cost by up to 85% and limit any damage to the amount you have pre-paid.  It cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also works for laptop or PDA data access.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.


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