South Island scenic train journey marks 30 years on the tracks

One of New Zealand’s most beloved tourism experiences, the iconic TranzAlpine train journey celebrates 30 years of operation this month.

One of New Zealand’s most beloved tourism experiences, the iconic TranzAlpine train journey celebrates 30 years of operation this month.

Lauded as one of the most scenic train rides in the world by international publications such as National Geographic Traveler magazine, the TranzAlpine is one of New Zealand’s three great rail journeys operated by KiwiRail.

The route from Christchurch to Greymouth travels east – west across the South Island from coast to coast taking in some of the most spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer.

The TranzAlpine - one of the Great Journeys of New Zealand - had grown from humble beginnings to become one of the country’s most popular attractions with local and overseas tourists, KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy said.

“The idea for the TranzAlpine was born more than 30 years ago, after it became clear how much passengers on our Christchurch-to-Greymouth service enjoyed the scenery on their journey.”

The TranzAlpine Express took its maiden voyage in November 1987 and it wasn’t long before carriages were refurbished, a buffet service and alcove-style seating were introduced, and the viewing experience was enhanced with panoramic windows.

Today’s train has evolved to feature an open-air viewing carriage, a self-service buffet car and commentary for those looking for a more educational experience.

The TranzAlpine was named in July 2017 among the world’s 16 top train journeys by National Geographic.

Starting in Christchurch the train travels across the Canterbury Plains alongside braided rivers, and through dramatic river valleys and gorges. As the train heads for higher ground, the route passes through high country sheep stations, past beech forests, lakes and the Southern Alps. Covering 223km (140miles) one-way, the trip takes just under five hours passing through 16 tunnels (the longest at 8.5km or 5 miles) and across four viaducts.

Passengers who travel from Christchurch to Greymouth or vice versa on the TranzAlpine on 1 and 22 November will receive a special limited edition gift. On-board the TranzAlpine is also serving a special Monteith’s TranzAlpine beer which has been brewed for the occasion.

Fast Facts: The TranzAlpine rail journey

  • First TranzAlpine service departed Christchurch on 22 November 1987.
  • Named as one of the world’s top scenic train journeys by National Geographic Traveler.
  • The TranzAlpine has travelled around 5 million kilometres since 1987.
  • The one-way Christchurch and Greymouth journey travels 223 km.
  • The journey takes just under five hours.
  • The route passes through 16 tunnels - the longest is the Otira Tunnel at 8.5km.
  • The route crosses four viaducts, including the 75m Staircase Viaduct.
  • Most popular photo opportunities include Lake Sarah, the station at Cass, Arthur’s Pass.
  • The first open-air observation platform was added in 1991.
  • In the 12 months to June 2017, the TranzAlpine carried approximately 110,000 passengers, served 45,500 hot drinks, 6300 Monteith’s beers and 2150 cheese platters.
  • Celebrities who have travelled on the TranzAlpine include John Travolta, Kate Winslet, Bart and Homer Simpson, Phil Keoghan, Jenny Agutter, Billy Bush and numerous All Blacks.