The gentle clackety-clack of track against wheel beats a soothing soulful rhythm as passengers relax and enjoy a panorama of vibrant colour and sparkling contrast. Deep gorges whiz by, with glimpses of clear mountain water rushing through wide shingle riverbeds below. Dark-green broom forms a rich backdrop to shaggy cinnamon-brown tussock, while snow-frosted mountains of all shapes and sizes are dramatic bystanders in every scene. It’s just another clear sunny day on TranzAlpine, rated as one of the world’s top six scenic train journeys, and an unforgettable way to traverse the Southern Alps from Christchurch to Greymouth.
The TranzAlpine rail journey is 231 kilometres long and it takes four and a half-hours to travel one way. There’s plenty of excitement both there and back with 16 rather close-fitting tunnels, and an open air viewing carriage allowing passengers to get even closer to the stunning scenery as well as providing fantastic photo opportunities at key points en route. Most carriages hold a maximum of 50 people and include both one-way seating and tabled group seating allowing passengers to experience the amazing views whilst enjoying the company of others.
An hour after departure a stop is made at Springfield, where more passengers are collected before the TranzAlpine continues on, leaving the productive farmland and fields of the Canterbury Plains behind and climbing through the foothills of the Southern Alps, through the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. Another stop is made at Arthur’s Pass, where time is allowed to stretch your legs and take photos of this quaint alpine village, 737 metres above sea level.
Then the whistle sounds and the train departs, winding its way through majestic mountains before slowly descending through lush beech rainforest to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast.
Established beside the mouth of the Grey River and built on an old gold mining site, Greymouth has an interesting history and it is well worth visiting the local museum. One hour is provided to explore the museum and some of the town’s arts and crafts stores including greenstone sculptures, gold jewellery, hand knits and pottery, before boarding the TranzAlpine for the return trip to Christchurch.