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 KiwiRail as part of their Great Journeys of New Zealand division, 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 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.

COVID-19 update:  The TranzAlpine resumed running on 4 July, initially weekends only, now on Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon & all week during school holidays.

On this page...

small bullet point  TranzAlpine timetable

small bullet point  TranzAlpine fares

small bullet point  How to buy tickets

small bullet point  What's it like on board?

small bullet point  What to see on the way 

small bullet point  Watch the video...

 

On other pages...

small bullet point  Auckland to Wellington on the Northern Explorer

small bullet point  Wellington to Picton by Interislander ferry

small bullet point  Wellington to Christchurch by ferry & Coastal Pacific

small bullet point  Christchurch-Dunedin-Invercargill by bus

small bullet point  Christchurch-Queenstown bus service

small bullet point  Dunedin-Queenstown train+bus service


Tranz-Alpine train times & fares...

The TranzAlpine is the most successful of all of Kiwi Rail's passenger trains, 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. 

The Man in Seat 61 says:  "It's a fantastic trip that easily lives up to its reputation, but in many ways the TranzAlpine is not as epic or historic as the Auckland-Wellington Northern Explorer, which remains my personal favourite NZ train ride."

 Christchurch Greymouth   

 

 Greymouth Christchurch   

The Tranz-Alpine train

Daily 

The Tranz-Alpine train

Daily 

Depart Christchurch 

08:15

Depart Greymouth

14:05

Arthur's Pass arrive/depart

10:52

Arthur's Pass arrive/depart

16:28

Arrive Greymouth

13:05

Arrive Christchurch

18:31

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)

Starter fare* from NZ$ 119 (62 or US$97)

* Starter fare = limited availability, no refunds, changeable until 24 hours before departure if you pay any difference in fare.

.  These cheap fares disappear from the Kiwi Rail Great 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.

How to buy tickets...

You can buy tickets for the TranzAlpine online at KiwiRail's official passenger train website www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz with print-your-own tickets, but their cheapest Starter & promotional fares will only appear if you give your computer a New Zealand IP address - even though anyone from any country is entitled to buy them.  You could of course just go ahead and buy a $169 or $199 fare (as KiwiRail would of course prefer you to do!), but if you'd rather buy a $99 or $109 or $129 fare if it's available (and who wouldn't?), then that's perfectly legal and it's easy to do.  The necessary workaround to give your PC a New Zealand IP address is explained below...

1.  What you see if you book using your PC normally:

New Zealand ticket booking with UK IP address

2.  What you see if you book with the Hola! extension installed & switched to 'New Zealand', as explained below:  Much cheaper prices magically appear!

New Zealand ticket booking with New Zealand IP address

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

Option 1, use a VPN and simply select New Zealand as your browsing location.  Then go to www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz and book your Kiwirail Great Journey, and be amazed at how cheaper prices magically appear that weren't there when you browsed with your normal IP address which reveals your home country!  Using a VPN is the ideal solution here, but you usually pay a small monthly fee for a VPN.  However, a VPN useful for all sorts of things so worth having one, see more info on VPNs and which one to choose.

Option 2, if you don't want to pay for a VPN, use the free Hola! extension for Chrome.  It's free, but disable Hola when you've finished as if left running it has some vulnerabilities.

(1)  Go to http://hola.org and install the Hola! extension for Google's Chrome browser (obviously, if you don't already use Chrome on your PC, install it first, it's a great browser).  Hola! is a browser extension which allows you to surf using an IP address located in a country of your choice.  I use Hola! to watch BBC iPlayer catch-up TV on my laptop when I'm in the Netherlands at my in-laws, as the BBC annoyingly blocks iPlayer when a computer is located outside the UK.

(2)  Open your Chrome browser, and you should now see the Hola! flaming head logo top right.  If it says 'off', switch it on.  Click it and it should say 'Select A Country'.  Click 'More...', then look down the list and pick 'New Zealand'.  It should briefly say 'Browsing from New Zealand' and then a New Zealand flag should appear top right in place of the Hola! logo.  You are now browsing with an NZ IP address!

(3)  Now go to www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz and book your Kiwirail Great Journey.  Cheaper prices may now magically appear which weren't there when you browsed normally...

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 Great Journeys telesales on + 64 4 495 0775, as all fares are available by phone, potentially saving money even allowing for the cost the call. 

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

From outside New Zealand, call KiwiRail's Great Journeys of New Zealand 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 Starter.  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.

What's it like on board the TranzAlpine?

The TranzAlpine was relaunched with new 'AK' panoramic sightseeing coaches built in Kiwi Rail's Dunedin workshops 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 on the Auckland-Wellington 'Northern Explorer'

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.  All seats in the new 'AK' cars have power sockets for mobiles, laptops or cameras (New Zealand voltage and plug, of course).  Larger photo.

New Premium class...  From 16 October 2020, a new Premium class carriage will be added to the TranzAlpine, with extra-legroom extra-width reclining seats arranged 2+1 across the car width (the usual cars have seats 2+2 across the car) and included food & wine, served at your seat.

Cafe car on the Northern Explorer train from Auckland to Wellington   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.  Larger photo.

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.  The viewing car now has additional rails to prevent people leaning out.

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, 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...   Enjoying a Devonshire cream tea on the Tranz-Alpine train...

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

 

Enjoying a Devonshire cream tea from the cafe-bar.

More scenery from the TranzAlpine train

Fabulous scenery in New Zealand's Southern Alps...

Typical scenery seen from the Tranz Alpine train, arguably New Zealand's most scenic train ride...

More fabulous views in the Southern Alps...

Typical scenery seen from the Tranz Alpine train, arguably New Zealand's most scenic train ride...

...And more.

Scenery from the Tranzalpine   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 ride on the Tranzalpine...

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

Video by Robanca


Holidays to New Zealand

Railbookers logo7-night holiday including TranzAlpine, Coastal Pacific, InterIslander ferry & Northern Explorer...


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...Amazon logo

Lonely Planet New Zealand    Rough Guide to New Zealand

 


Hotels in New Zealand

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites:  HotelsCombined.com is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www.booking.com.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

www.tripadvisor.com is the place to find independent travellers' reviews of all the main hotels.

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.hostelworld.com.


Travel insurance & VPN

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

 

Confused.com logo

Always take out travel insurance...

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 and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  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.

UK flagIn the UK, reliable insurers include Columbus Direct.

UK flagIf you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

UK flagYou can use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

  Australian flag New Zealand flag  Irish flag    If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  US flag If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

A Curve card saves on foreign transaction fees...

 

Curve card

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then charge you a currency conversion fee.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, 500 per month at time of writing.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.

How it works:  1. Download the app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself - I get some commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending it here because it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card - they'll give you 5 cashback through that link, too.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use it myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription, and I get a small commission to help support this site.


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