New Zealand’s South Island is home to some of the most breathtaking natural scenery in the world, from the rugged Southern Alps to the gorgeous lakes of Christchurch. And with spacious seating, panoramic windows and location-triggered audio commentary, the TranzAlpine scenic train is one of the best ways to experience it all. Travelling from Christchurch to Greymouth daily, this scenic train journey passes through some of southern New Zealand’s most iconic spots.
So why fly right over this world-class scenery, or deal with the hassle of driving, when you could sit back in the luxury and comfort of the TranzAlpine? There’s no better way to see the South Island than a rail journey through the historic and awe-inspiring locations New Zealand is famed for.
Leaving Christchurch at 8:15 am every morning, the TranzAlpine check-in is twenty minutes before departure. So, to avoid early morning stress, why not get to Christchurch a day or two early and explore New Zealand’s oldest city? To help you make the most of your southern adventure, here are a few of the top things to do in Christchurch before you hop aboard.
Looking for free activities in Christchurch? Make the historic Hagley Park your first stop. Established in the 1850s, Hagley Park has been the heart of the city ever since. It’s renowned for wide-open spaces, cosy mature woodlands and an array of picnic facilities – perfect for a day out with family. A walk in this park will give you an appreciation of the city’s history and beginnings. On a sunny day, it’s a great way to set the mood for a fun and adventurous holiday, or simply stretch your legs before you hop on the TranzAlpine.
And it’s not just a walkers’ destination, either. It’s also a dog and cyclist hotspot, boasting facilities for a bunch of sports, from golf to netball, petanque and even sailing model yachts on Lake Victoria.
If you’ve got a few hours before kicking off your journey on the TranzAlpine, the Christchurch Gondola is just the thing. Only a fifteen-minute drive from the city centre, with direct shuttle services available throughout the day, the Gondola will lift you to the top of Port Hills, almost 500m above sea level. It’s a chance to bask in the panoramic views that await you on the train – from the patchwork Canterbury Plains to the peaks of the Southern Alps.
While at the summit, be sure to check out the Time Tunnel ride and soak in over 12 million years of history. Featuring a smouldering volcano, lush native New Zealand Forest and a voyage by ship to early settlements, it’s an educational treat for the whole family. And before you head back down, grab a snack at Red Rock Café or pick up a souvenir from ‘Shop at the Top’.
If you’re after an easy and relaxed way of exploring, Christchurch’s historic trams are one of the city’s best attractions. Each tram is a lovingly restored relic of local heritage and comes with a friendly, all-knowing driver to highlight landmarks and local sites.
The tram tours run every fifteen-twenty minutes, and one ticket will give you and up to three kids the entire day to explore. So hop on and off as much as you want to make the most of it. From punting on the Avon to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens Tour, the seventeen stops along the way are guaranteed highlights of your time in the city.
Sightseeing Tour on a Double Decker Bus
There's nothing quite like the classic red double-decker bus for conjuring up images of our English history. And in Christchurch, you've got your pick of two bus tour routes to explore the Garden City, the perfect way to start your holiday of sightseeing.
The Central Tour Red Loop, operating on both an open-topped double-decker, is a simple one-hour tour. It focuses on how the earthquakes have changed the face of the city centre and how the rebuilding is progressing. You can either stay on the tour for the hour-long loop or spend the day hopping on and off at the various stops along the way.
The Discover Tour Blue Loop, on the other hand, will take you on a two-hour tour into the actual 'red zone', where more than 6,000 homes were demolished after the quake. The knowledgeable guides will be able to answer any questions you might have, plus they’ll take you through all the different ways the area is being redeveloped. The trip rounds out by taking you to the breathtaking seaside of Sumner, then back through the Port Hills, passing majestic views of the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps.
Canterbury Museum and Art Gallery
As the oldest city in our young country, Christchurch is home to many heritage sites. And the Canterbury Museum is one of the best. Having first opened to the public in December of 1867 and residing at its current location since October of 1870, it’s the ideal place to take in both local history and fine art side by side.
The museum always has something special on, such as the ‘Breaking The Ice’ exhibit, displaying rare objects from Antarctica’s first building. Or if you want something to keep the kids happy, head along to one of the themed evenings and explore by torchlight. It’s a great way to finish off a fun family day before a scenic train ride.
And if you’re lucky enough to visit at the right time, you might even catch one of the touring exhibits, such as the current ‘China: Open Empire’, displaying a collection of over 1,400 items that reflect over 4,000 years of Chinese history and culture.
Somewhere to rest your head
Looking for places to stay in Christchurch before your trip with The Great Journeys of New Zealand? There are plenty of great motels and hotels near the TranzAlpine train station. The 2 On Whiteleigh and the Addington Court Motel are both great motels, with 2 On Whiteleigh being only a fifteen-minute walk to the Christchurch train station, while Addington Court Motel offers free transfers.
Or if you're after something more luxurious, the Chateau on the Park offers a tranquil resort-style stay, including full amenities and complimentary shuttles to several places in the city. Of course, if you're more interested in great company than opulence, the Jailhouse Accommodation Christchurch Hostel is the place for you. It’s the perfect choice for a more communal experience, plus it’s the closest hostel to the station, which is ideal for an early start the next day.
Christchurch Station Addington
Located near the city centre, and just a few blocks from the southern end of Hagley Park, the Christchurch train station opens at 6:00am for check in and ticketing. If you haven’t booked your seats online you can purchase your tickets right there on the day – just keep in mind seating is limited.
The station has everything you need to make your journey as smooth as possible, including an information desk, designated smoking areas, and of course ramp accessibility so everyone can easily board.
All aboard the TranzAlpine
From artifacts and architecture of the early European settlers to the sheer natural beauty of the land, there’s no shortage of reasons to spend some time in Christchurch before hopping on the TranzAlpine train. With so much to see and do before you even get on the train, your southern adventure will be an experience the whole family will never forget.