The view from New Zealand South island's TranzAlpine train
 

The view from the TranzAlpine train...

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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.

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, 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

Fri-Mon* 

The Tranz-Alpine train

Fri-Mon* 

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

Days of operation:  The TranzAlpine has historically run daily all year.  In 2023 it's running on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays & Mondays in each direction until late September, then every day.

Composition:  Scenic class seating, Scenic Plus class seating (with at-seat meal included), cafe-bar & open air viewing platform, .  The journey is 223.8km.

 How much does it cost?

 Christchurch to Greymouth

 by TranzAlpine train

Scenic class

Summer fare NZ$ 239 

Winter fare NZ$ 189

Scenic Plus class  

Summer fare NZ$ 449 

Winter fare NZ$ 379

Children aged 2-14 travel at reduced fare,  Infants under 2 travel free.

1 = 1.9 NZ Dollars.   US$1 = 1.55 NZ$

How to buy tickets

Vacations & tours in New Zealand

Railbookers are train travel specialists with offices in the UK, Australia & United States.  They offer customisable tour packages around New Zealand with travel on some or all of the KiwiRail scenic routes, with trains, stopovers, hotels, transfers and (if necessary) flights sorted for you.

UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600, www.railbookers.co.uk/destinations/new-zealand

US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, www.railbookers.com/destinations/new-zealand.

Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, www.railbookers.ca/destinations/new-zealand.

Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au/destinations/new-zealand

What's it like on 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'

Scenic class 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 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.

Scenic Plus class seats:  A new Scenic Plus class has been added to the TranzAlpine as from April 2023, in a dedicated carriage with extra-legroom extra-width reclining seats arranged 2+1 across the car width (instead of the usual 2+2 arrangement).  A freshly-cooked meal & wine is included, prepared by a chef in the adjacent kitchen car and served at your seat.  If you get any photos of this car and/or of the food provided, please get in touch!

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.  A second open-air car is now provided on the TranzAlpine exclusively for Scenic Plus class guests.

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!

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...


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

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Columbus Direct 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 with Staysure.co.uk myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

UK flagwww.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection & gets 4.7 out of 5 on Trustpilot.

UK flagwww.columbusdirect.com is also a well-know brand.

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

 

Maya.net logo

Get an eSIM with mobile data package

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a mobile data package for the country you're visiting and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM card so you don't need to buy a physical SIM, including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility listMaya.net is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data.

 

Curve card

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  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 money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.

How it works:  1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  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, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than digging a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card, they'll give you 5 cashback through that link.

 

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 encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use 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.  I get a small commission to help support this site.

 

Anker Powerrbank

Always carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, vaccination records and Interrail or Eurail passes are often held digitally on your mobile phone, so it's vital to keep it charged.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over if I can't get to a power outlet.  Buy from Amazon.co.uk or from Buy from Amazon.com.


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