TranzAlpine Rail Journey To Arthurs Pass And Beyond In The South Island Of New Zealand

by Mark Perkins

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One of the great New Zealand Train trips is the TranzAlpine Journey which leaves from Christchurch’s Addington Station and travels up into the Southern Alps and Arthurs Pass, arriving in Greymouth for a lunch stop, then returns to Christchurch.

This journey has got to be one of the most popular all year round train excursions in New Zealand. The train leaves Christchurch at approx 8-15 am and travels through the Canterbury plains before following the

Waimakariri river and crossing it in several places before arriving at Arthurs Pass station. This is a popular drop off point for passengers on coach tours, as they disembark here, meet up with their coach and continue their journey. The train leaves Arthurs Pass and immediately enters the Otira  8km Rail Tunnel, exiting on the West Coast side of the Arthurs Pass National Park. It continues down past Lake Brunner and on into Greymouth, where it has an approximate one hour stop for lunch before making the return journey to Christchurch arriving back at about 6-00 pm.

The Waimakarir river translates from Maori to cold wintery water and gets its name because the waters flow down from the glaciated valleys of the southern alps on its way to the sea. Waimakarir was the original Maori name but early settlers changed it to the Courtney River, however the name has now reverted back to the Waimakariri.

Arthurs pass was named after its discoverer Arthur Dudley Dobson, the son of the Surveyor who surveyed the pass in 1864. Due to the desperate need to get gold from the west coast of New Zealand to Christchurch, 12,000 workmen worked all year round to build the pass, though sun, rain and snow. I will do another post later, especially dedicated to Arthurs pass and it history.

The 8km of tunnel through the alps to Otira was a major feat in its day. Being the 3rd longest tunnel in New Zealand it was also the first section of electrified railway in New Zealand. Due to the high cost of producing the electricity at the time, it was later converted to diesel.

Lake Brunner is situated relatively close to the coast and the Tasman Sea and is named after one of the great New Zealand explorers of yesteryear. Thomas Brunner is said to have completed an epic 550 day expedition and even ate his dog as he had run out of food.

Greymouth, on the West Coast, is quite a large town with a population of 10,000. It is best known as a support town for the coal mines that are located up and down the coast. Greymouth takes its name from the Grey River which in turn was named after Sir George Grey who was twice Governor and once Premier of New Zealand.

I highly recommend the TranzAlpine Rail Journey, it provides an excellent driver free day whilst holidaying in New Zealand. If you prefer to drive the route it has equally stunning scenery, but beware the Otira side of Arthurs pass is extremely steep and great care is required.

If you have done this trip please feel free to add your comments below. I would love to hear from you.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Colin Williams February 22, 2011 at 10:14 pm


Budget Carpet Cleaning Sydney February 24, 2011 at 8:29 am

Just wanted to say thanks for this.

ductile July 5, 2012 at 7:07 am

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