One of the most popular day-trips from Christchurch is to ride the TranzAlpine train (4hr 30min each way; book well ahead for discounted prices; w tranzscenic.co.nz), a tourist-oriented trip across to Greymouth on the West Coast (an extension to Hokitika is under consideration). It’s a gorgeous 231km journey – with numerous viaducts and nineteen tunnels – all seen from the train’s large viewing windows and open-sided observation car. Christchurch’s industrial suburbs give way to the farmland of the Canterbury Plains before climbing through braided river valleys and open tussock country into the Southern Alps. There’s a pause at the beech-forest high point of Arthur’s Pass before descending through the 8.5km-long Otira Tunnel that burrows under the 920m pass itself to the West Coast.
The train leaves Christchurch train station at 8.15am every morning and nominally returns by 6.05pm, though years of under-funding mean that delays are fairly common. Levels of comfort and catering are also below par for what is essentially a tourist attraction, though standards are improving.
If you travel in December you will see red and white rata in bloom, but the trip is at its romantic, snow-cloaked best in the winter months (June–Aug). A good strategy for those with a vehicle is to catch the train at Darfield, 45km west of Christchurch, allowing a later start in return for missing Christchurch’s industrial suburbs and a few farms. It’s also worth considering alighting at Moana for a relaxed three-hour lakeside lunch before boarding for the return journey. It beats a hurried snack in Greymouth.
The trip can also form part of a high-country tour.