There’s something magical for me about getting on a train for a long journey. You get to see how the landscape gradually changes around you, you can walk around and the sound of a train on the tracks is one I have always found comforting. I feel like flying is sometimes too fast and airports are hectic in a way that train stations aren’t for me.
Long journeys have a particular attraction for me. One of my biggest travel dreams is to cross Russia on the Transsiberian Express. Whenever I travel to a new place, apart from checking for local milongas, I ask myself “What train journeys could I take there?” And it was no different when I visited New Zealand.
During the first ten days of my trip, I spent more than ten hours in buses, making my way from Queenstown (not counting the travel time for the detour to Te Anau and Milford Sound) to Greymouth. So I was really looking forward to spending time on a train.
Greymouth to Christchurch on the Tranzalpine
It was sunny as I waited on the platform for a first glimpse of the train. A blue sky had replaced the dreariness of yesterday. The TranzAlpine runs daily between Greymouth on the west coast and Christchurch on the east. It starts in Christchurch around 8am, arriving in Greymouth at lunchtime, where it stays for for one hour before heading back to Christchurch in the afternoon.
The journey takes just over four hours and really allows the traveller to get the most out of the beautiful scenery it passes through. I spent quite a bit of time in the viewing carriage at the back of the train. The windows have no glass panes so that passengers can take photographs. It did get a bit crowded, expecially when there was an announcement that a particularly stunning scenery was coming up. I tried to hang out there for a bit longer to enjoy the quieter moments and I was lucky that the day we travelled was gorgeous. I can imagine that it could get a bit chilly on windier days.
Back in the seated area, you can tune into commentary which is available for much of the journey through headphones which are provided at each seat. This tells you all about the places you are passing and their names and significance in Māori culture.
There was a slightly longer stop at Arthur’s pass, which is about halfway, where we could get out, stretch our legs and take some photographs. If you want to break your journey along the way, you can book stopovers for NZD 10, but these need to be booked in advance. Some fares include free stopovers. See here for the different fare options.
While I generally found that the bus is the best (and cheapest) way to get around New Zealand, I do think it was worthwhile to take the TranzAlpine. It definitely was more relaxed and comfortable than the bus and was a great way to appreciate the amazing landscapes in this beautiful part of the world.
For more information on getting around New Zealand by train, check out my earlier post on car-free travel in New Zealand!