Another big reason I wanted to do a quick trip on the West Coast of the South Island is to catch one of New Zealand’s iconic trains, the TranzAlpine which services a route between Graymouth and Christchurch through the Southern Alps. Rail travel isn’t too wide spread in New Zealand and this route is more for tourists and lots doing a day exercision of going from Christchurch to Graymouth and back, but as soon as I read about it, I knew I wanted to do it. It didn’t fit in well with my families trip, so when I went back and redid all the small parts of country that I missed with them, this was high on my list. And also, in the grand scheme of trying never to backtrack and always use different routes, I knew I only wanted to take the train one way, specifically from Graymouth to Christchurch and boy, I am so glad I did it this way.
Since the train station is right in the middle of Graymouth town and there is only one train a day, when I booked my car and said I wanted to take the train, the guy on the phone knew exactly how to reserve me the car. So easy! I was just to drop it off at the station before the train was to leave and all done. So easy, typical New Zealand. I did, and checked my bag in the same way I did on the ferry, checking it at the counter to pick up on the other end before I relized that the train was going to be delayed. Blah. The train had come into the station and everyone was getting antsy, but it actually gave me time to run near by and grab something to eat as I didn’t have time in the morning and was just planning to eat something on the train, but this was fine. It was a beautiful day and I grabbed a sandwich and ate it on the platform with all the other passengers who were waiting. We finally got moving about an hour later and after all the tickets were taken, the open air platform was open and I made a beeline to the one car with no windows as did it seem like half the train.
It was fantastic! The cool wind blowing in everyones hair and face as some georgous and breathtaking sceanery rode by. Everyone was clammering for the edge to snap million of pictures and I did the same for a bit, even though the sceneary was going by quickly, until after a while I put down my camera and just enjoyed it. It was late December, so the peak of summer weather and it was perfect. I wish they had more open air cars or that half the train had open air seating and you could choose to sit there, if you wanted. I would have gladly sat there. Luckily, the whole train was smoke free, so there was no worry if someones cig smoke would blow in your face as that tends to be a problem in open air cars like that. But for most of the ride, it was packed. I kept jumping back and forth between sides, always moving and giving everyone a shot to get close to the edge as I tried to keep to the edge as much as possible.
The only time I sat in my seat is during the required time when we are going through a tunnel near Arther’s Pass in the heart of the South Alps. The train also stops at Arther’s Pass and we are allowed to get out and walk around the train station for a few moments (a smoke break for the smokers) and it’s lovely, but totally desolate. I actually feel like I was in the middle of the forest in Northern California. We continued on through the mountains before our final decent onto the Canterberry plains into Christchurch and the weather started to fog and the tempature drops and nearly everyone returns to their seat, but I stay outside, to enjoy the now quiet of the open air car.
The train pulls into the station and they unload the luggage the same way you would get it on an airplane, via a baggage carousel except it’s outside. Too funny! I wrote about my trip into town here, so you can reread here if you want.
Moral: I loved the TranzAlpine and would reccomend it over the summer, if it fits into your schedule. I don’t think I would waste a whole day on it from Christchurch, especially if you are short on time, but if spending a lot of time (or living) in town and want to get out for the day, this would be a good day trip. There are really only three long range train routes in New Zealand and this one seems the most senic and I think is the most popular. There was a women on the train, a local, and this was her third time taking this trip, she loved it so much. I loved it too and would take it again when I return (if I have the time).