Great Journeys took care of the details for us.

- Jon, United States of America


Cascading southbound through beautiful Aotearoa New Zealand, Episode 3 of our touring trilogy follows the glorious passage from Christchurch to Queenstown—the Classic Alpine Highlights tour.

Captivating and exhilarating, this final episode includes the world-famous TranzAlpine train journey. Perhaps, as with most great stories, the best has been saved until last. 

Part 3: Alpine Highlights Tour

Included in the New Zealand Highlights Tour and Southern Highlights Tour


Day 2: Traversing the Southern Alps

Today is one of the highlights of any New Zealand travel itinerary—a stunning passage through the Southern Alps aboard the world-famous TranzAlpine train.

You don't have to do a tour to travel on this jewel of the New Zealand rail network, but travelling as a group sitting together, and feeling the communal excitement and energy certainly heightens this lofty experience. And having a Tour Director pointing out the landmarks and forewarning of upcoming scenic moments along the way means that everyone can sit back and enjoy having a chat knowing that we aren't going to miss a thing.

There is plenty to see on the Christchurch to Greymouth train journey, with an endless stream of scenery rolling by the window. From deep ravines to breathtaking viaducts, rocky gorges to lush hills, braided rivers to huge mountain vistas, you'll see a kaleidoscope of stunning New Zealand scenery on the way. And to add to the excitement, there is also an Open-air Viewing Carriage that enables you to stand outside and breathe in the fresh mountain air whilst rolling through the epic alpine landscapes.


A Wild Afternoon

After a delicious light lunch on the train, the TranzAlpine glides into Greymouth at 1.05pm.

Greymouth is the largest town in the West Coast region and a gateway where the main road and railway meet. And meeting us at the station is a luxurious mini-coach that will take us onward to Punakaiki along an incredibly scenic coastal road.

The afternoon will be spent exploring the wild West Coast, which is renowned for its ruggedly spectacular scenery.


Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Stunning, wild, and one of a kind, the 40-minute journey from Greymouth to Punakaiki Pancake Rocks is a hugely memorable part of the West Coast experience.

The untamed natural wilderness of the coastline with its rugged beaches drifts by through the mini coach's panoramic windows, while the ancient rainforest draws ever closer.

Stepping out of the mini coach at Punakaiki, with the roaring waves crashing into the rugged cliffs, there's a sense of curiosity about how such disorderly natural forces can create such gracefully structured formations. Thankfully, Mark has all the answers as he leads the way around the Punakaiki walking trail with a detailed narrative of the limestone rock formations, birdlife, coastal forest, and marine mammals, such as Hector dolphins, which inhabit the area.

One of the main highlights of Punakaiki is watching the impressive blowholes blasting compressed water and air from the caverns below high into the air. This unique experience is certainly something to write home about, and there are plenty of opportunities to capture supporting photos of this extraordinary event.

Capturing videos of playful Weka frolicking through the bushes is also a fun memento to take away.

Day 3: Exploring the Wild West Coast

With a warm ‘Mōrena!’ and a huge smile, Mark introduces an overview of the day's itinerary over breakfast. 

Today will be a true sensory experience. Heading south along the West Coast to explore Hokitika en route to Franz Josef, it will be a day filled with sea breezes and aromas of ancient forests, whistling birdlife and chirping cicadas, quaint coastal towns and enormous West Coast landscapes. There will also be opportunities to experience the authentic flavours of the West Coast—fresh fish and chips, whitebait fritters, and seafood chowder.

With the towering mountains to the left and the roaring waves to the right, it will be an unforgettable day exploring the West Coast.


Unexpected gems

Spontaneity is Mark’s middle name and, as mentioned before, your Tour Director is always on hand to personalise your Alpine Highlights tour. Interested in driftwood for your garden or curious rocks for your mantelpiece? Or perhaps you want to explore a few shipwrecks? Seemingly, Mark can make anything happen, and magical and interesting stops are all part of this great journey.  

With time in hand, today's unplanned excursion takes us to a seemingly unremarkable stony beach. Following a conversation at breakfast, we are here to forage, or fossick, for geological gems. It turns out that this beach is the perfect spot for finding the perfect West Coast keepsake—pounamu. Also known as jade or greenstone, this rare green rock has been attracting visitors to the region for hundreds of years and can only be found on the West Coast.

After collecting a handful of gemstones and listening to a fascinating lesson from Mark on rock formations and Māori culture, we leave the beach slightly richer and much wiser. With the buzz of excited conversation filling the coach, it's time to head on to the morning's main attraction, the West Coast Treetop Walk

West Coast Treetop Walk

Ancient trees and native wildlife—this experience is like stepping into another world. Wander up a slight gradient and be immersed in a canopy of mature Rimu trees 25 metres (82 feet) above the ground.

Native birds including kererū (wood pigeon) and fantail dance and swoop around you as you follow the walkway and read the stories included in the self-guided brochure. Informative panels and interactive displays also provide an astonishing array of facts about the history, culture, wildlife, and forest habitat which Māori tribes still use for medicinal purposes.

Wandering amidst the native canopy is curiously inspiring and energising. And when it comes to exhilarating, climbing the 104 steps to the top of the tower for an impeccable view of Lake Mahinapua and the Southern Alps is breathtaking—on multiple levels.

Nuggets along the way

Continuing south, the coach tour passes through the historic town of Ross. Although this isn't a place the tour officially visits, Mark provides an engaging history lesson as we pass slowly through what could easily be the set of an American Western film. 

Ross was at the heart of the gold rush that gripped the West Coast during the 1860s—and not much has changed since those heady days. In fact, the area is still a popular destination for gold hunters, and you can stop here to pan for gold in the local creeks and rivers. 


Entering Glacier Country

Approaching Franz Josef, the scenic coach's windows are filled with spectacular views of Westland Tai Poutini National Park and the Franz Josef Glacier.

The final treat for the day is a glorious 20-minute walk along a well-maintained nature trail to the Franz Josef viewing platform. With Mark providing a running narrative of the wildlife we encounter along the way, the walk is thoroughly rewarding. It is a genuine joy to be outside enjoying such inspiring scenery, and the views from the viewing platform are genuinely breathtaking.

Relaxing in Franz Josef

This afternoon and evening are free with no scheduled activities. And if you don't fancy taking flight on a helicopter tour, then there are plenty of other ways to fill your afternoon. Taking one of the many scenic walks into the surrounding rainforest is both easy and rewarding. Even easier, is simply strolling around the quaint and divinely scenic little town, enjoying the shops and local hospitality. 

Ever the entertainer, Mark suggests meeting at the pub across the road from the hotel for happy hour drinks. It proves to be a popular choice, with everyone from the tour joining the party. Now more friends than strangers, everyone feels at ease and well-humoured. “Great people, great places, great journeys” becomes the slogan as another great evening ensues.

Day 4: Haast Pass to Queenstown

It's a nice early start on Day 4, with breakfast finished and bags packed for departure at 8:00am. Today will be one of the most spectacular days on our New Zealand tour, as we continue south through the stunning Haast Pass.

Mountains, beaches, glaciers, alpine faults, rivers, native bush, lakes, wine valleys; the list of things to see on today's itinerary sounds exhausting. However, when all you have to do is sit back and admire the views while Mark tells you everything worth knowing (and much more), this is set to be another energising day of dazzling sightseeing at its best.

Lakes, cafes, and fruit

Next on day four's itinerary is lunch. Today's stop is a typical roadside Kiwi café—which maybe an oxymoron because a typical Kiwi café is uniquely bizarre.

From Cape Reinga to Invercargill, the highways are dotted with quirky cafés filled with curiosities. Today's café has a kind of American prairie feel to it, with a big open fire, picnic dining tables, mid-century armchairs, and an astonishing collection of American number plates. As is expected, the food is immensely satisfying.

Refreshed and recharged, it is time to continue exploring small-town New Zealand, and the next stop is another stalwart of Kiwi culture—a roadside fruit market. 

Family-owned Mrs Jones fruit stall offers an excellent variety of locally grown produce, from cherries to peaches, kiwi fruit, nuts, and all manner of honey products.

There’s something fruity for everyone, but the most popular choice is the indulgent real fruit ice-cream. This is another classic kiwi tradition that is simply made by whisking together fresh fruit and vanilla ice-cream on request. You can savour this experience while walking through the rose and lavender gardens  surrounding the fruit stall.



A few miles north of Queenstown, the final stop for the day is Arrowtown. Like Ross, Arrowtown was founded in the 1860s when the gold rush gripped the region. Many of the town's original buildings still stand, giving the town a boutique charm and making it a great place to visit for a spot of shopping.

However, those interested in learning first-hand about New Zealand's gold rush history should head to the north end of town and explore the Historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. Amidst the renovated buildings, you'll find the hastily erected single-room homes and shacks that housed gold prospectors and miners in the town's heyday. Not that Arrowtown really had a heyday—the gold rush flopped, leaving the town's population impoverished and stranded. It's a poignant story that is well worth exploring.

Day 5 & 6: Discovering Queenstown

The Alpine Highlights Tour includes two full days to explore Queenstown—and you'll need every second!

When it comes to deciding what to do, you can work with the Travel Centre to build and pre-book your Queenstown itinerary, or you can decide on the day with the help of your Tour Director.

With the aromas of rich coffee, fresh pastries, and brisk mountain air filling the senses, breakfast is the perfect time to make plans. Between the pepper and salt shakers, Mark spreads his Queenstown map across the table. His vast knowledge and expert understanding of each member's interests commands the group's full attention—even neighbouring tables seem to hush. With so much to do and see in Queenstown, there is a communal sense of excitement as Mark runs through the optional activities in detail, one-by-one.

A morning stroll

A twenty-minute morning stroll from the hotel along Sunshine Bay Track brings you to the centre of Queenstown. Here you'll find everything from high-end fashion to souvenir shops, cafés to fine dining. 

With the sun shining down, warming your face, this leisurely perambulation amidst the stunning Queenstown scenery will be a highlight of your stay. Breathe in the brisk morning air, surrounded by birdsong, while walking along the water to the beach. Why not grab a coffee from The Bathhouse Café before heading into Queenstown Gardens?

Before you know it, you've discovered the entirety of this grand garden. With a morning of exploring behind you, wander through the shops before indulging in the famous, and irresistible, Fergburger

Getting the heart pumping

There appears to be an adventure around every corner in Queenstown. Wonderfully crafted for every thrill type, this town has thought of it all. 

For the light thrill seeker, there is no better adventure than Gibbston Valley. Discover this mouth-watering destination aboard an e-bike, peddling through to a gourmet cheesery, numerous breweries, and endless wineries. 

For the mid-thrill seeker, the skyline is beckoning. Jump aboard Skyline Queenstown, the Southern Hemisphere's steepest cable car, to reach Bob's Peak. The best way back down the peak is the luge, so channel your inner race car driver and fly down the mountain on this gravity-fuelled activity. 

For the high-thrill seeker, take to the skies for paragliding, skydiving, or free fall for a full 8.5 seconds on the Nevis bungee jump! If you like the wind through your hair, mountain biking, jet boating on the Shotover Jet, and white-water rafting may be to your liking. 

The last supper

To celebrate new friendships and the completion of a truly great journey, one final dinner is organised on the last night of the tour. 

After two days of Queenstown adventure, there is much to catch up on. While some of the group decided to explore the foodie path through Queenstown's boutique eateries and craft breweries, the truly adventurous have been working up an appetite on the adrenaline fuelled route. What they both had in common was enjoying the luxuries at the hotel, soaking in the hot tub under the starry night and calling upon the room service.

Savouring the last supper and reminiscing on inside jokes, Mark’s silly moments, amazing sights and wonderful stories, all of which have already become fond memories. Luckily, a group photo savours the moment. Tomorrow everyone will be on their way.

Day 7: Haere rā, haere haumaru

Day 7 begins with one last breakfast and a final opportunity to exchange emails and phone numbers. As always, Mark is on hand to make final arrangements and close the tour with a "Haere rā, haere haumaru"—farewell, and safe travels!

With flights departing Queenstown throughout the day, most of the group are flying away, experiencing the astonishing Queenstown scenery one last time from the plane window as they leave.

But this doesn't need to be the end, and a few of the new travel companions have decided to continue their journey onwards by road, extending their great journey together.


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