Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – New Zealand chapter on the The West Coast has to say about the TranzAlpine Train:
“The TranzAlpine, one of the world’s great train journeys, traverses the Southern Alps between Christchurch and Greymouth, from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea – a sequence of unbelievable landscapes. Leaving Christchurch at 8.15am, it speeds across the flat, alluvial Canterbury Plains to the Alps’ foothills. Here it enters a labyrinth of gorges and hills called the Staircase, a climb made possible by three large viaducts and a plethora of tunnels.
The train emerges into the broad Waimakariri and Bealey Valleys and (on a good day) the vistas from the new carriages with their panoramic windows are stupendous. The beech-forested river valley gives way to the snowcapped peaks of Arthur’s Pass National Park. At Arthur’s Pass itself (a small alpine village), the train enters the longest tunnel, the 8.5km ‘Otira’, burrowing under the mountains to the West Coast.
The western side is just as stunning, with the Otira, Taramakau and Grey River valleys, patches of podocarp forest, and the trout-filled Lake Brunner, fringed with cabbage trees. The train rolls into Greymouth at 12.45pm, heading back to Christchurch an hour later, arriving at 6.05pm. This awesome journey is diminished only when the weather’s bad, but if it’s raining on one coast, it’s probably fine on the other.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We were delighted when we learned that it was possible to rent a car in Christchurch and drop it off in Greymouth. We very much wanted to ride the TransAlpine train, especially when we read about the amazing scenery enroute. I guess the car rental companies offer this option, because many of the tourists who come to the south island want to take the train across to Greymouth and then hire are car there to explore the West Coast. Good for them, good for us too!
Driving on the south island is very easy, once one gets used to driving on the left hand side of the road. The traffic is very light, especially in late February and early March because the students have their summer holidays from the middle of December to the end of January or the beginning of February. We loved having the freedom to plan our trip as we went along and it was only near Queenstown that we ran into a little difficulty finding accommodation. It all worked out for the best in the end though.
I think by the time we arrived in Greymouth, I had had enough driving and I was happy not to have to carry on over the mountains and back to the East Coast. We needed to return to Christchurch because we had booked a flight from there direct to Melbourne. We’d started this trip with a week in Sydney so we didn’t have to return, we’d seen all that we needed to see. There was so much more of Australia to explore.
While the scenery was lovely, I think we’ve both been spoiled by train trips through the Canadian Rockies. They are so much higher and many peaks are snow-capped year round, making for a journey that really does take your breath away.
Our visit to New Zealand was almost coming to an end. We had spent a four weeks trying to see as much as we could of both the North and South Island, and I have to say, we didn’t cover nearly as much as we thought we would. There’s so much more to see, certainly enough to fill another two weeks, or even another month.
With that said, I can’t see us returning though. Time and time again, we were reminded of British Columbia, our new home now that we’ve migrated west from Alberta. It’s such a long, long way to come, only to be reminded of what you’ve left behind. I think we’ll spend more time exploring parts of Canada that we’ve not yet seen, and save ourselves from such long, long flights to such far away places.