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TranzAlpine Train Journey

Crossing the Southern Alps of New Zealand



<TranzAlpine Train Journey, New Zealand>


Book for the TranzAlpine train journey from Christchurch to Greymouth


Photos and words by Richard Moore


Travelling on Kiwi Rail’s TranzAlpine service should be on everyone’s list of things-to-do and so on a recent tour around the South Island I took advantage of the opportunity to hop aboard the famed train journey.

The TranzAlpine is a slick passenger service that takes you across and up from the lovely plains of Canterbury, through the mighty Southern Alps and on to the rugged shores of the West Coast.

If there is a choice between air travel and taking a train this fellow will always choose the comforts of a rail journey and the magic that is rolling over the countryside relaxed and in comfort.

So excitedly rising early on a cold winter’s morning it was into an Uber and off to Christchurch’s Addington station to meet with the TranzAlpine engine, carriages and crew.

Departure from Christchurch is at 8.15am and the Kiwi Rail asks you turn up at least 20 minutes early to get checked in. Once you have your pass and allotted seat it is up the steps and into your chauffeured, big windowed viewing platform.

Seating has come a long way over the years and the level of comfort is such that you would be forgiven for thinking you had accidently wandered in to an aeroplane’s business cabin by mistake.

Most of the passengers within my earshot are older Kiwis, mixed with a scattering of international visitors who are excited to be on one of the great rail journeys of the world.

I really enjoy travelling by train. It is relaxing and you are given time to actually see the countryside or cityscapes you are traveling through. You usually pass through industrial areas of cities – at least to start with – and the back areas of “storage” or “dumps” are brightened by huge colourful creations by the artists of the spray-paint can.

The gently rocking of trains can be both a blessing and a curse as a number of times while travelling to and from London I have been eased off to sleep by the motion of the carriage.

On a trip to Europe in 2015 I was wanting to write a story on the Chunnel tunnel under the English Channel.

I had travelled by ferry between the United Kingdom and the Continent on several occasions and was excited to actually be heading under that bulwark against old enemies.

I researched distances and brushed up on my history and the various planned invasions of Britain by – the Spanish Armada, Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler. I was ready to write the exciting descriptive tale of how I managed the feat while they did not.

We rolled out of Kings Cross Station and headed off through the fields of England on a beautiful summer’s day.  It could have been the early start, or the late night before, more than likely the somnolent cruising of the train but we both woke up in yet more wonderful countryside, only the fields were filled with les vaches and l’agneaux …

Yup, I’d slept through the under-Channel experience and my story had sunk below the waves.

But back to New Zealand’s Southern Alps …

The mountain range is not the tallest in the world, only rising to a little over 3700 metres at its highest point at Aoraki Mt Cook, but it is beautiful standing majestic above the plains on the eastern side and the Tasman Sea on the sunset coastline.

On a clear day the white of the snows stands out against the blue of the sky and if it is cloudy or wet the mountain peaks and valleys are swaddled in mist or cloud that gives an eerie primordial feel to the scenery.

Either way my shutter finger was ready to capture the moments and hopefully the essence of the TranzAlpine run.

I spent most of the five-hour journey camped out in the open-air car. Being mid-winter I did need to rug up, complete with thermals, sweatshirt, ski jacket, gloves and beanie. I was toastie, but those less fitted out got more than a little cold.

The benefit of being in the open car is that you can get some very good pictures without worrying about annoying reflections in the carriage windows.

The photo area has only just been brought back into service following some idiotic behavior from some folk with cameras who clearly endangered themselves while out there. The hefty bars now come into the carriage area ensuring you cannot put yourself in danger by having body parts outside the carriage.

Safety has limited some angles but, overall, you can get some great shots. Just remember the train is travelling quite quickly and so you need a fast shutter speed to freeze what you want.

The journey over the Alps is frequently packed and so the cafeteria car’s supplies – which are an extensive range that will cover most tastes at reasonable prices - get pretty heavily raided heading to Greymouth.

That can mean the return journey has a more limited spread of foods.  So buy what you want when you leave Christchurch and get enough to last the day or re-supply yourself early on the trip back.
And I must say I was very impressed with both the level of service and the friendliness of KiwiRail’s staff. They made the journey that much better with their genuine smiles and attention to passengers.

A trip across the mountains is a big day out and you arrive back in Christchurch around 6.30pm with the feeling that you have done and seen something special. And you have.


* Richard Moore is the owner of online travel magazine TikiTouring (www.tikitouring.com) and travelled on the TranzAlpine courtesy of KiwiRail.



More TranzAlpine Photos Coming Soon




Copyright Richard Moore 2018 | Contact Us