Monday, December 7, 2015

TranzAlpine Train - A Scenic Journey from Greymouth to Christchurch

I and my wife along with two of our relative couples were on a sight-seeing trip to New Zealand during November 17-27, 2015. We landed in Auckland and started our trip from Roturua-Waimoto Caves-Auckland. We flew to Queenstown and covered Wanaka, Milford Sound, Fox/Josef Glaciers  before entering our last leg of the trip to Christchurch.

After visiting Fox and Josef glaciers, we drove to Greymouth to board TranzAlpine train to Christchurch run by Kiwi Rails. I had read that this train, passing through Southern Alps, was among  the six best scenic train routes of the world. Having undertaken scenic train journeys from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch in Swiss Alps in 2005 and the Barrack Valley Express in North-East of my home country, India in 2011, I was keen to know as to how TranzAlpine train journey compares with these two scenic train journeys I had undertaken. The travelling from Greymouth to Christchurch meant that we were actually travelling from the shore of Tasman Sea on the west to the shore of South Pacific Ocean on the East.

We reached Greymouth station around 1.00 p.m. by which time the train from Christchurch had already arrived in the station. We checked in our baggage in the baggage car and carried hand baggages to the carriage. Our tickets were already reserved by the tour company. However, seats were allocated to us about 45 minutes before departure. The one-way fare from Greymouth to Christchurch is is flexible and normally ranges from NZ$120 (approx. Rs.5300/-) onwards for super-saver (non-refundable) category. The normal fare is NZ$189.  The train runs on the metre gauge track, hauled by two diesel locomotives. The distance between Greymouth and Christchurch is approximately 230 kms which is covered in 4 hours 30 minutes. 
The route of the TranzAlpine train in blue.

The train left Greymouth  10 minutes late from its  schedule time of 1.45 p.m. Since some seats were still vacant, we occupied window seat facing the direction to which the train was chugging. The glass window was very big to have good view of the sights. Almost all the passengers were tourists, mainly from India and other South-East Asian countries who seem to have taken this train as a part of their tourist circuit. Our carriage was towards the tail end and soon I found to my pleasure that the next carriage was a open air  coach without seats and windows. The tourists  could take photos without having to face the reflections from the glass. I spent most of my 4 hours of journey in the viewing coach for photo shoot. The train has a Cafe carriage with limited seating, serving hot beverages, light snacks, cold and alcoholic drinks etc. We relished coffee with cream.
Inside the carriage. The reclining chairs with sufficient  leg room make the journey very comfortable.

The journey can be divided into three distinct parts - (1) the rain forest area in around Greymouth until mountain climbs start before Arthur's Pass, (2) Over the Southern Alp mountains with the scenes of mountain peaks, valleys, Waimakariri river gorge, a couple of viaducts, many tunnels etc. This part of the journey is the most scenic. And (3) the plains of Canterbury with farmlands. The train stops at Arthur's Pass station for 5 minutes. Waimakariri river was our constant companion during the journey over the Southern Alps.

Wthout going into any more details, let my photos speak of the scenic journey more than me. 
 The passing of train made the herd of cows to run helter shelter just a few kms run from Greymouth.

The train on the first curve on the track. Still the mountains are not visible.

Yacht at the shore of Lake Brunner

Train halted at one of the stations before Arthur's Pass.

Waimakariri river at this point is almost in same level as the train track.

Train on the curve. This time the picture was taken from the open air carriage (partly seen on the left).

Train passes on the bridge over Waimakariri river.

Waimakariri river gets broader at this point.

Waimakariri river with mountain ranges in the background.

Waimakariri river.

A single lane road over Waimakariri river. This portion of the  road is after a rail crossing over the track of TranzAlpine train.

Waimakariri river with mountain background.

Probably a small town seen from the train.

Scene from the train. The inclination of the dry grass should give an indication as to which direction the train is moving.

One of the three viaducts on the route with this one ends at the start of the tunnel.

From the viaduct on the left, the train takes an almost 90 degrees turn over Waimakariri river.

Train enters one of 19 tunnels on this route. The tunnel near Arthur's Pass is the longest in New Zealand with a distance of nearly 7 kms.

Looks like Waimakariri river is encircled by hills.

Waimakariri river. But for the greenery around, I would have mistaken it to be Shyok river in Nubra Valley of Ladakh, India. 

With mountains giving way for hills and meadow, we are about to enter Canterbury plains.

The plains visible at the far end of the picture indicate that we are very close to Christchurch.

Train at Christchurch (Addington). Addington is located about 3 kms from the Christchurch City Centre.

Having completed the journey, the question will be asked as to whether the TranzAlpine train journey was really spectacular to spend about NZ$120. Before boarding the train, I had heard one of the tourists questioning the wisdom of travelling in TransAlpine train when the alternative mode of journey, that is by coach, may be cheaper probably blessed with more or less the same views of the Southern Alps. My view on train journey may be slightly biased as I am a train buff. For me, every train journey is an unique experience. Having said so, let me try to give my considered view on TranzAlpine train journey from a tourist point of view.

The TranzAlpine train journey may not be as spectacular as that of train journey in Swiss Alps from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch. But it is definitely scenic. In fact, those tourists with limited time at their disposal can get glimpses of mountains, river gorge, valleys in the comfort of a train. Since I have not travelled by coach in this route, I may not be able to compare the scenic beauties. But I have a feeling that the perspectives of Waimakariri river and its gorge may not look as beautiful on coach journey than on the train journey because the river flows very close to the train route. Then there is stretch around Waimakariri river  gorge which, in my view, can be seen only by train as there is no way a road can come to that much close. At least, I did not see the road in the vicinity of the gorge.

In any case, for most of the tourists, it is a trade off between cost of tickets and scenic beauties of the route. And this would decide their personal preference. I would  prefer scenic train journey rather than scenic coach journey as long as there is better comforts and  photo opportunities in the train  than in the coach as I experienced in the TranzAlpine train journey. 

1 comment:

KS said...

SK, Great blog post. And as usual great Pics. I had not known about this train journey during our NZ tour, of last year. Looks to be worth doing!