With its reputation for being a must-do travel experience, the TranzAlpine journey through the South Island stays in the hearts of all its passengers long after they’ve hopped off the train. Starting in Christchurch on the East Coast and taking travellers all the way to the untamed natural wilderness on the West Coast, you won’t want to miss any of the magic. So, we’ve narrowed down the top spots you can stop at along the way— either overnight or just for the day.
Start Your TranzAlpine Journey in Christchurch
TranzAlpine currently operates a daily return service from Christchurch on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. The train leaves Christchurch station at 8:15 am, so you may want to get to Christchurch the day before to avoid setting the alarm too early. And before you set off on your journey by train, it’s well worth seeing what the Garden City has to offer. Set in the heart of the stunning Canterbury Plains, Christchurch is equally as charming as it is exciting. You’ll love strolling the city streets, with their medley of historical and modern architecture infused with creative flair.
Once you’re out of the picturesque Waimakariri Gorge, you’ll reach Arthur’s Pass at 10:51 am. This really is the perfect playground for mountaineers, snowboarders, hikers and nature lovers of all kinds. And the TranzAlpine is the best way to get there. While you can witness the raw beauty of the area from the comfort of the train, this is one you should consider taking your time at. So, if you’re up for some memorable hikes through beautiful native New Zealand bush to reach a myriad of waterfalls, here are a couple of great ones. Just be sure to be back at the station at 4:27 pm to get the train back if you aren’t spending the night.
Arthur’s Pass Walking Tracks
Planning on staying in Arthur's Pass for the night? Challenge yourself to reach the summit of Arthur’s Pass, and you’ll be rewarded with an amazing 360° view of one of New Zealand’s most spectacular national parks. It will take you around three and a half hours to get there, following a track through Beech forests, past the Bridal Veil Falls and into the alpine wetlands. And with a range of smaller walks all within the same area, you’re sure to find Arthur’s Pass walking track a satisfying one to conquer or explore.
Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall
It might sound daunting, but fear not, this 2km nature track takes only an hour there and back. Follow the trail over bridges and through fantail filled forests to reach the powerful fresh mountain falls the track is named after. The falls are so big they can be seen from the distant highway. But it’s only after climbing the 240 steps to see it up close that you can really appreciate its majesty. And because the walk is easy, it’s one of the best things to do with family, suiting nearly all ages.
Click here for instructions on getting there from town, so you’re ready to go before you get off the train. This could be a great day trip from Christchurch if you only want to go as far as Arthur's Pass on your journey.
We consider the whole region a top spot to visit on your TranzAlpine journey, so make sure you take the time to explore the trove of natural treasures Arthur’s Pass is home to.
Moana and Lake Brunner
The next stop on this incredible journey is an ideal spot for those who love the water. You’ll arrive in the endearing little fishing town of Moana at 12:05 pm, located on the edge of the expansive Lake Brunner. This is the real drawcard of this leg of the track; worth getting out and exploring on foot.
Whether you’re up for a bit of pottery, a spot of trout fishing or a walk around the lake, Moana has a hub of peaceful activities to enjoy. And if you can’t get enough of the tranquillity before you get back on the train at 3 pm, perhaps stay for a couple of nights to soak it all in. Here are a couple of the best things to do in Moana if you plan to stay overnight.
Moana Trout Fishing Safaris
Lake Brunner is chock-full of wild brown trout, averaging at least four pounds. And because it’s such a vast lake, your boat will likely be the only one you see out there. Brent Beadle is an expert fisherman and the longest serving local guide in the area, with 22 years of experience taking tourists on all sorts of serene adventures. Book in your trip with him before you go, so you don’t miss out on an expedition with the lake’s expert.
Lake Brunner and Brunner Mine Site Tour
Explore some of Moana’s highlights all in one package. On a gentle boat cruise, your guide will take you to the most scenic spots around the lake, telling you stories of the Maori tribe that occupied the land. Next, you’ll be taken to Brunner Mine, one of New Zealand’s earliest industrial sites. If you’re after a relaxing and educational excursion, this tour is the perfect way to spend a day (or half day) in Moana.
Greymouth and the West Coast
You’ve reached the last destination of our awe-inspiring adventure. The South Island’s sublime West Coast is your chance to explore the untamed wilderness the region is best known for. Whether you’re hopping off for a one-hour stop, or you choose to stay for a couple of days, there’s plenty to wow you on the wild West Coast.
The train reaches the old mining town at approximately 1:05pm, just in time for lunch (be sure to get back on board before it leaves again at 2:05pm). If you’re only staying for an hour, we’d recommend having a bite at the local pub—the Speights Ale House. It’s considered a category one historic building, built back in 1909. With a wholesome menu and tours of the brewery behind “the pride of the south” on offer, the Speights Ale House Greymouth is always a people pleaser.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
If you decide to stay in Greymouth or in the surrounding area, it’s best to hire a car so you can get out of town and see the famed dramatic beauty of the West Coast. And seeing the famous pancake rocks and blowholes should be at the top of your to-do list.
After a scenic 45-minute drive north, you’ll reach the town of Punakaiki. From here you can follow the easy walking loop, weaving around the coast until you reach the final sight on our list. You’ll marvel at the unique geology of the pancake rocks, before being blown away (almost literally) when you witness the dynamic forces of nature, bringing the blowholes and surge pools to life.
Where will you stop?
Known as one of the great train journeys of the world, the TranzAlpine is a treat for the eyes the entire journey through. Now you know all the best bits, you’ll know exactly where to stop and explore, or even spend a couple of nights. So, have a look at the route map, check out our fares, plan what areas you want to see more of and make your booking. The places you will see on your journey will stay with you well beyond your final stop.