Why the TranzAlpine is a New Zealand Must Do!

National Geographic listed the TranzAlpine Train Journey from Christchurch to Greymouth as one of the most scenic in the world. Jerry from accounts set out to find out what makes this trip one of NZ’s top experiences, and so much more than just means of transport…

Meet Jerry, our spreadsheet slayer here at Stray: 

Everyone at Stray loves to travel, so we make sure that our office staff get the chance to get off the beaten track and check out some of our top Stray destinations. Jerry from accounts was stoked to have the opportunity to see the South Island on a Long Q pass. After jumping on the TranzAlpine, here’s what he had to say…

Having lived in New Zealand for 10 years, I figured it was time for a break from the office to tick some places off my to-do list in the South Island. On the list this trip were Kaikoura, Franz Josef, and Stewart Island. But first, the TranzAlpine train journey from Christchurch to Greymouth.

What’s the TranzAlpine train, you ask? Well if you like trains and beautiful scenery, then boy do I have news for you. The 223km trip is arguably the best in NZ, in fact it was listed by National Geographic as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. One of the absolute best ways to traverse the Southern Alps!

The Journey

Me and my colleague, Jess, were lucky to be travelling on a beautiful sunny day, perfect for viewing the iconic scenery of the Southern Alps. On that note, here’s my must have items for the trip:

  • Camera – as if you’d go anywhere in NZ without it
  • Warm clothing – there is an outdoor viewing platform where you can get those killer panorama shots, but it can be very fresh out there
  • Snacks – the trip is about 5 hours, and while there is a café on board, the budget conscious traveler would be wise to BYO treats
  • Sunglasses – unless you want to be squinting in all your selfies.

On the train

The cabins were warm and cozy, even though it was -1°C outside. One of the best features is the free history lesson included in the trip – each seat comes with free headphones for you to plug into the audio commentary, where you can learn about the history, myths and fun facts about the places you’re passing. However, The MVP was definitely the viewing deck – I could literally spend the whole journey standing there just taking photos and staring at the remarkable, everchanging landscape because the views are endless.

What will you see?

Starting off, the Canterbury plains dominate the landscape like a massive patchwork quilt. The train follows the braided Waimakariri river up toward the Southern Alps, where you’ll find dramatic views that South Island landscape is famous for.

Arthur’s Pass – Sometimes the train stops here to pick up passengers. This is an ideal opportunity to stretch your legs, snap some more photos, and maybe get the chance to meet NZ’s smartest and cheekiest bird, the Kea. Some say they’re as clever as a 4 year old human, so watch your stuff, they’re very curious!

Otira Tunnel – Get ready to disappear into the abyss, because you are about to enter one of the longest tunnels in New Zealand. This rail tunnel runs over 8.5 kilometres underneath the Southern Alps. Make sure you listen to the audio commentary (there’s not much else to do while you’re sitting in the dark for 20 minutes), to learn some fun facts.

Arriving in Greymouth

Having seen snowy mountains, rivers and plains in the first two hours of our journey, we were surprised to pop out the other side of the tunnel into a completely different world. Misty rainforest dominated the scenery (which felt like something out of a Twilight movie) and of course, the rain that the West Coast is infamous for. This region is actually the wettest in NZ, but don’t let this put you off – there’s no rainforest (or rainbows) without a bit of rain! Supporting characters in this landscape include misty mountains (cue Ed Sheeran’s song in your head) and Lake Brunner.

Where to Stray next

Once we arrived in Greymouth, I looked outside my window and saw my Stray bus driver standing there smiling at me.

Hot tip for young players: If you’re a Stray passenger and you’re wondering how to get on the bus from the TranzAlpine – look for your driver, who will be waiting on the platform to show you the way, wearing Stray gear. If you can’t find the driver for some reason, then just look for the bus! Head to the main road parallel to the train and look out for a mini bus with an orange trailer or a huge orange bus – both are impossible to miss 😉

Overall, it was an awesome experience, way more than just a mode of transport . After 5 hours I didn’t want the trip to end. I’d recommend the TranzAlpine to everyone, including Kiwis, as one of the coolest ways to get from coast to coast. After all, Nat Geo usually knows what they’re talking about, right?

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