National Geographic calls the TranzAlpine train one of the world's greatest scenic train trips. And, so far, no one disagrees! Last winter we put the journey to the test with real New Zealanders who'd had the TranzAlpine train on their must-do lists for a while. We asked the questions you want to know, is it really the journey of a lifetime and did it live up to their expectations?

The Journey

The TranzAlpine train journey is a transcontinental journey across the backbone of Aotearoa from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Tasman Sea in the West. The train runs from Christchurch to Greymouth daily, with the most popular stops at Springfield, Arthurs Pass and Moana.

The TranzAlpine train has been running since 1987 and replaced the old express trains. Before the introduction of the TranzAlpine train, other passenger services travelled the lines. Some of these trains included “The Perishable” an overnight freight service to Greymouth with a passenger car attached, so-called because it carried urgent produce. The “Press Car”, a diesel railcar, leaving Christchurch at 1.50 a.m., which as well as taking passengers, carried all the copies of Christchurch’s morning daily newspaper “The Press” to Greymouth, Hokitika and Ross for distribution up and down the West Coast.

With the introduction of modern carriages, a licenced café car, open-air carriage and panoramic windows, the comfort of the journey has improved dramatically. However, what remains the same, is the magnificent views outside! So what did our passengers have to say and did the TranzAlpine train meet their expectations? 

“The TranzAlpine train trip is the pick of KiwiRail’s Great Journeys of New Zealand ” - says Doug Crowther 

Doug has had a lifetime fascination with trains and says “this fascination remains strong today making this trip most enjoyable for myself.”

Throughout the journey, Doug had his camera in hand, photographing the change in landscape as we travelled across a geologically fascinating area. For photographer Doug, being out on the viewing car was essential to get the perfect shot. Even in winter, albeit “for the hardy” it is an experience not to be missed. Doug’s advice? Wrap up warm, you can delayer in the heated carriages with a coffee later.

Most travellers opt for spring and summer departures due to the warmer climate. However, winter is an unforgettable experience. Richard Bentley enjoyed viewing “the snowy peaks. In the warmth and comfort of the carriage with coffee in hand... by contrast, going to the open-air viewing carriage took my breath away both literally and figuratively – it was very cold but a spectacular encounter with the landscape that allowed me to take photos without reflections off window glass. That was the highlight for me.”

This was a journey of firsts for Richard, the first time journeying over the Alps and the first time in modern rail carriages. He really appreciated “how good an NZ rail journey could be”. With memories of long, slow overnight travel the comfort of the TranzAlpine train was a welcome surprise!

Memories of the railways

If you ever have the opportunity to take a once-in-a-lifetime journey on the TranzAlpine take it says rail enthusiast Lindsay McAra!

Lindsay grew up with aspirations to be a train driver, living near the railway line fuelled his interest. As a first-time TranzAlpine train traveller, he enjoyed the whole “postcard perfect” experience, especially “just being able to sit back and enjoy the ride”.

Mareese Park, also loves train travel with fond childhood memories “spending nights in the sleeper cabin, eating meals in the dining car and I just loved the chugging motion”.  Having travelled on train trips in Europe, Mareese’s highlights were the Alps. “They were snow-covered, and glistening in the crisp blue sky, looking very regal. At times I felt I could touch them, as they seemed so close.”

Visiting the South Island

It is not often that you get to travel from the plains of Canterbury to the rugged West Coast, but that is what Rosie experienced on this epic rail journey. As someone who is “raving about it to others” her highlight was being able to experience the South Island scenery.

Having grown up in the North Island Rosie says “I rode most of the return journey in the observation carriage, returning to my seat to warm up occasionally!” Watching the scenery change for a journey of 230 kilometres “the glacial and snow-fed rivers and lakes, the ribbon stoney rivers and beaches” Rosie had her eyes glued to the world outside. We know she will be one of many who says they want to do it again!

Patsy Hunt and her husband Cecil know the West Coast well, with Cecil being born in the district he travelled from Moana to Greymouth lots as a kid by steam train. A trip down memory lane left Cecil “loving going back over the area. I also enjoy being able to sit back and enjoy the scenery with the snow on the mountains and clear blue rivers with lots of bird life around”. Taking advantage of the panoramic windows meant there was no reason to get out of their seats. “Great comfortable seats, great views and the commentary through the headsets was great, hearing about the area as it is now and was in the past”.  Now wanting to see the landscape change in summer, they would love to journey again on the TranzAlpine train.

So, is the TranzAlpine train the journey of a lifetime?

Unfortunately not, it is a journey you will do once and want to do again!  Spring, summer, winter and autumn give this journey such varied landscapes. It is a scenic feast of surprises and it doesn’t matter if you like to capture every moment on camera, like Doug, or sit back and relax, like Patsy, there will be moments you won’t forget along the way.

Feeling inspired?

The TranzAlpine train is a world-famous journey right on your doorstep; a must-do for your list of local escapes. Seeing is believing so pick a date and book a journey you won’t stop talking about!

Explore our Journeys