Book a TranzAlpine train journey
One of the world's great train journeys
Weaving coast-to-coast through the stunning Southern Alps, the TranzAlpine journey is one of a kind. Ranked amongst the best train journeys in the world, the TranzAlpine route is truly stunning. Cutting through the mountainous spine of New Zealand's South Island, the railway weaves through cliff-lined river gorges, over high mountain plains, over braided rivers and around pristine mountain lakes.
The Tranzalpine journey follows two railways on its journey from east to west. Starting in Christchurch, the journey rumbles across the expansive Canterbury Plains on the South Island Main Trunk line (SIMT). Then at Rolleston, the TranzAlpine train turns north onto the Midland Line. Following an ancient Maori trail through the mountains that was later plotted by engineer Arthur Dobson, it is the Midland Line's passage through the Southern Alps that astounds the senses.
On your journey today, you will understand why this route was so hard to build - and why it remains a treacherous railway to maintain. And that is what makes it so spectacular.
Patchwork Canterbury Plains
From Christchurch, the TranzAlpine begins its journey by roaming across the vast patchwork plains of Canterbury. Measuring 200km from north to south and 70km across, the Canterbury Plains are one of New Zealand's primary agricultural regions - and one of the original attractions for European settlers.
On the western side of the plains, the Torlesse mountains rise plains like megalithic skyscrapers, creating a seemingly impenetrable barrier. It is through these mountains the TranzAlpine will cut its path.
On the western edge of the Canterbury Plains, the small town of Springfield is the last stop before entering the mountains.
For many years, Springfield was the end of the line with the Alps forming a formidable blockade. Eventually, a route to the West Coast through the Alps was agreed upon, and construction began. The section, between Springfield and the township of Arthur's Pass, is considered a masterpiece of railway engineering and is the section for which the TranzAlpine is most famed.
Gorges & horseshoe bends
Entering the mountains from the east, the TranzAlpine journey follows the winding Waimakariri River gorge.
With its steep banks cutting a spectacular looping channel into the mountains, this aqua-blue river will appear and disappear out of your window several times as the TranzAlpine train clings and climbs up the cliffs above it.
Bridges & Viaducts
The ascent from Kowai to the high plains of Craigieburn presents some of the trickiest terrain facing New Zealand's railway engineers. Following the pre-cut channels of the Waimakariri and Broken Rivers was the simplest route through the mountains, but the steep rocky banks and tributaries required 15 short tunnels and four dramatic viaducts to be built.
The most dramatic of these viaducts crosses the Staircase Gully / Otarama Steam. Wedged between tunnels, the Staircase Viaduct towers a breathtaking 72-metres over the stream below.
One of the most iconic moments on the TranzAlpine journey comes at Cass. Here, at the top of the world, the views open out to the north with broad Mount Binser rising above the Waimakariri River in the distance.
This stretch of the journey is profoundly scenic, and it is well-worth strolling to the Open-air viewing carriage to take in the sheer magnificence of this mountain landscape.
Another natural icon of the TranzAlpine journey is Lake Sarah. It doesn't matter from which direction you are approaching, this is a view that will leave you speechless. Heading west from Christchurch, you see mount Horrible and the mountains of Arthur's Pass National Park framing the skyline above the lake. Heading east from Arthur's Pass, you have Mount Binser and the Puketeraki Range rising over the lake.
You might also spot fishermen on the banks of the lake, as it is a well-known spot for trout.
At the peak of the TranzAlpine train's ascent, the journey once again follows the pristine ice-fed waters of the Waimakariri River.
Travelling through the heart of the Southern Alps between Cass and Arthur's Pass, the braided river is broad and spectacular, but it is while crossing the Waimakariri River Bridge that views open - this is a genuine Instagram moment, so have your camera ready.
Lush green valleys of Otira
The Otira Tunnel marks the transition from Canterbury to West Coast. Sometimes called the Great Divide or Main Divide, the mountains under which the Otira Tunnel travels stand in the way of the weather. As a result, the weather is typically wetter on the west side - and the scenery is noticeably more vibrant.
Following a series of river valleys that descend to Greymouth, the TranzAlpine journey is nestled intimately between the mountainous hills, with the rugged, broad, riverbeds meandering alongside the tracks.
Moana & Lake Brunner
Surrounded by swampland and eerie ancient forest, Lake Brunner is the largest lake on West Coast - and the view from the TranzAlpine train is phenomenal.
Few people stop here, despite the charming town of Moana being the perfect place to relax and breathe in the beautiful scenery. Fishermen should take note, for Lake Brunner is one of the West Coast region's best brown trout fishing locations.
Choose your TranzAlpine experience
Choose from a day trip on the TranzAlpine train, a short break to the West Coast, or a full 17-day tour of New Zealand. All of the following experiences include the TranzAlpine journey.