Top of the South Island Train Tour

Duration: 7 Days

Price: from NZ$1,369

Departure From: Christchurch

Departure Date: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday*

Tour Type: Independent Tour - Fully Flexible

Tour Operator: LOCO Journeys

Meal Plan: N/A

Physical Grading: 2


It’s time to enjoy the Top of the South Island train tour on this succinct 7 day independent journey that includes the breath-taking TranzAlpine and the wonderful Coastal Explorer scenic rail journeys.

The Top of the South Island train tour will take you from the Sea to the Mountains and back to the Sea, you begin your circle trip in Christchurch with the iconic TranzAlpine train to Greymouth. Discover the West Coasts untamed natural wilderness of rivers, rainforests, and geological treasures, along with its rich mining history as you drive up the West Coast.

A stop at Punakaiki enables you to marvel at the Pancake Rocks and watch as water shoots skyward from the blowholes at high tide. Maybe one of the West Coast’s stunning sunsets will also be on the cards!

Further along its a chance to get amongst the beautiful rainforest of Paparoa National Park onboard the Charleston Nile River Rainforest Train. A short interpretative train ride in open carriages through tranquil rain forest in to the magnificent Nile River Canyon. You pass through the film sites for the “The Lost World” and enjoy a short walk along the towering limestone cliffs to the Nile River Suspension Bridge.

Charleston Nile River Rainforest Train

Westport, is the oldest European town on the West Coast. Established during the gold mining era it is steeped in history from the bygone days through to its present day coal mining industry. Be sure to visit the museum which provides a glimpse of what it’s like to work underground. 

Westport is a great base to seek out the hidden gems of the Buller District, such as Cape Foulwind, home to a seal colony, a lighthouse and a coastal walkway giving panoramic views of mountains and coastline.

The road to Nelson on your Top of the South island rail tour is scenic and interesting, beginning with the steep, bushclad, forbidding Buller Gorge. Its worth a stop at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park – here is New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, standing a clear 17 metres above the Buller River and spans 110m.

In Nelson, your stay includes 2 nights so you can explore the city and its thriving arts and crafts scene. If you would like to add a scenic helicopter flight in the Abel Tasman to Awaroa Lodge where you can indulge in a delicious gourmet lunch, please contact Loco.

Lastly, your final leg of your journey is on the Coastal Pacific Scenic Train from Picton to Christchurch. Time to sit back and relax, enjoy a glass of wine or head into the open-air carriage as you head down the coast. You may even spot some dolphins frolicking in the bays.

Please contact LOCO for any pre/post travel arrangements we can help you with beyond your Top of the South Island train tour.

LOCO Journeys can tailor-make this tour to a journey that delivers to your desired destinations, your time, budget and the train timetable.

Fully Flexible Tour

Top of the South Island Train Tour Highlights

  • The magnificent ride through the Alps on the TranzAlpine Scenic Train
  • Marvel at the limestone formations of the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
  • A ride on the Nile River Rainforest Train
  • The Scenic drive through the Buller Gorge
  • Relax and explore in sunny Nelson
  • The delightful ride along the seaside on the Coastal Explorer Scenic Train
south island train tour loco journeys
TranzAlpine train at Greymouth Station

TranzAlpine Booking Classes

The TranzAlpine has recently brought in two distinct service levels to their train journey. Both classes are worthy of what you pay, and both a thoroughly enjoyable way to make the most of your TranzAlpine train experience.

Scenic Class Experience

Glide through the heart of New Zealand’s beautiful scenery in Scenic Class carriages, with epic landscape views filling your window while you relax in your seat.

In Scenic Class you’ll experience spacious reclined seats with generous amounts of legroom and comfort, panoramic windows, glass shelves and skylights. And to heighten your comfort, state-of-the-art airbag suspension has been used to guarantee a smooth ride across our rugged New Zealand terrain.

While onboard, you might like a stroll to the Scenic Cafe carriage where you’ll find a great selection of hot and cold snacks, drinks and ice creams. Indulge in a freshly brewed specialty tea or barista coffee married with a sumptuous cake? Or perhaps toast your special journey with a bottle of bubbles?

The Scenic Cafe opens for coffee and breakfast before the train departs and continues serving throughout the day. You can take a seat in the Scenic Cafe carriage and feast upon the views whilst eating. But you are also welcome to return to your seat to dine and drink if you would prefer. The day is yours to do as you choose! 

During the hot summer months, the Open-air Viewing Carriage is a great place to get some fresh air and enjoy the great outdoors while on the move. You can whittle away the hours chatting and gazing out upon spectacular scenery and wildlife. It is also that perfect place for capturing those magical views on camera.

Learn the stories of our land while you travel by plugging into the Scenic Class Audio Commentary at your seat. The commentary provides a seamless stream of stories, narratives and facts about the places outside your window and is available on all three Scenic Class services, including the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine.

Scenic Plus Class Experience

Inside the refined Scenic Plus Class carriages, it’s more than just a journey. You’ll be treated to fresh food, captivating commentary, great hosting and spectacular views, all delivered to your seat while you ease back and enjoy the journey. There really is no better way to discover New Zealand. 

At the heart of the Scenic Plus experience is the refined Scenic Plus Class carriage, with huge panoramic windows, glass shelves and skylights, bathing you in those gorgeous coastal and mountain landscapes. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TranzAlpine-Train-LOCO-Journeys.jpg

With freshly prepared food inspired by the fields that glide past your window and regional wines to match, you’ll be immersed in the flavours of our land. As you admire the views our Scenic Plus hosts will recount the stories and histories of the passing landscapes and landmarks. 

When you step off the train, you will have experienced some of the best New Zealand has to offer. 

Top of the South Island train tour accommodation

Your accommodation for the Top of the South self-drive tour has been based at high quality, comfortable motels and hotels.

For a detailed itinerary, the TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific timetable, departure days, and fare conditions, please see below.

Departure Dates & Timetable

  • This tour has been based on departures on the TranzAlpine to meet with the Coastal Pacific operating days.
  • TranzAlpine operating days are Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday until 30 April 2023
  • There is one departure from Christchurch on operating days.
  • The TranzAlpine departs Christchurch at 08.15 arriving into Greymouth at 13.05.
  • There is one departure from Picton on operating days.
  • The Coastal Pacific departs Picton at 13.40 arriving into Christchurch at 19.20.
  • You must be at the station at least 30 minutes prior to departure.
  • Extra nights can be added to accommodate departures any day of the week.

Tour Inclusions

  • 1 night pre and post accommodation at the Tower Junction Motor Lodge Christchurch in a King Studio
  • Oneway train journey on the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth
  • Car Hire based on Compact SUV Mitsubishi ASX or similar from Greymouth Railway Station to Picton Depot – please contact LOCO for nil excess option.
  • 1 nights accommodation at the Punakaiki Resort in a Standard Seaview Room
  • The Nile River Rainforest Train Tour (min 2 people)
  • 1 nights accommodation at the Bella Vista Motel Westport in a Superior Studio
  • 2 nights accommodation at the Rutherford Hotel Nelson in a Premium Double Room
  • Oneway train journey on the Coastal Pacific from Picton to Christchurch

Pricing Notes

  • Advertised from price based on per person twin share, subject to availability
  • Accommodation is based on room only
  • Single supplements available on request
  • The Nile River Rainforest Train Tour is for a minimum of 2 people
    • Trips depart 9am & 11.30am Summer (October to April) and 10:00 am Winter (May to September)
    • Upgrade to the Train and Glowworm Tour for NZD$108 per person (min 2 people).
  • Add a Nelson and Abel Tasman Heli Tour including lunch at Awaroa Lodge for NZD$1126 (1-2pax).  Duration 2-3 hours.
  • Pre/post flights or other travel arrangements are available on request
  • Accommodation may be changed at LOCO Journeys discretion depending on availability
  • Price is subject to change unless paid in full

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 | Christchurch
On arrival into Christchurch you will make your way to the Tower Junction Motor Lodge which is located close to the Christchuch Railway Station. Please let Loco Journeys if you would like airport transfers added to your itinerary.
This morning you depart on the TranzAlpine Scenic Train to Greymouth. A stunning ride that takes you along the Canterbury Plains, through the dramatic scenery of the steep-sided drama Waimakariri Gorge and up into the Southern Alps to Arthurs Pass. From here, the train ducks into the the Otira Tunnel to emerge out to the lush rainforest of the the West Coast. Arriving into Greymouth Railway Station around 1.05pm, you will pick up your rental car. Punakaiki is only a 40 minute drive away so you have a bit of time to explore Greymouth or grab a cuppa before you head off. On arrival into Punakaiki, its time to visit the the striking limestone formations know as Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Formed 30 million years ago, these layers of rock are fascinating to see, made even more spectacular when the sea bursts up from a number of blowholes at high tide. The easy access walk takes about 20 mins and the views are just wonderful. Tonight your accommodation is at the Punakaiki Resort located just 300m away. Be sure to check out the famous West Coast sunset if weather permits or walk along the beach and collect pieces of perfectly polished, pure white quartz.
Today you only have a short 47 min scenic drive to Westport . About half way you will make a stop at Underworld Adventures for a short interpretive train ride in open air carriages through primeval rainforest. The Nile River Rainforest Train is a fantastic way for you to experience the wilderness of Paparoa National Park. The train meanders through the rainforest before arriving at 'Soft Rock' Station amidst towerings limestone bluffs. A short walk brings you to the Nile River Suspension Bridge before you return to Festival Station. If you are feeling a little more adventurous ask us at Loco Journeys about upgrading to include a Glowworm Cave Tour. After being equipped with a caving helmet and torch, you board the Nile River Rainforest Train with your professional guide. Its then a short walk to Te Aranui Caves, for one of the best glowworm displays in the world. Underground you will visit formations such as 'The Altar' and "Hall of Refugees' before sighting the wonderland of the glistening glowworms. This is a unique journey that takes you into one of the few cave systems still publicly accessible in its natural, unspoiled beauty! In Westport, soak up the mining history by visiting the museum or take a drive to Cape Foulwind to see the seal colony. Your accommodation tonight is at the Bella Vista Westport.
Westport to Nelson is a beautiful scenic drive that takes approximately 3 hours, but its worth a stop along the way to visit New Zealand's longest swingbridge at Buller. The Adventure Park is also home to a thrilling jetboat or cometline ride, gold panning and nature walks. Further along the road, the quaint town of Murchison makes for a great lunch stop. Your accommodation tonight is at The Rutherford Hotel Nelson.
Today is yours to explore at leisure. Nelson is famous for its Art and Crafts scene and the Nelson/Tasman region is home to all of New Zealand's hops and known as the craft brewery capital of the country. You can delve into this by following the Nelson craft beer trail. If you happen to be in Nelson on a Saturday its well worth visiting the world recognized Nelson Market, where you can connect with the local artisans and sample gourmet delights. If you want to explore Abel Tasman or have a special occasion to celebrate, you may want to add a Scenic Heli Tour of Nelson and Abel Tasman with a stop for lunch at Awaroa Lodge!
Your last day of adventure begins with a 2 hour drive to the Picton, a pretty port town in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds. Here you will drop off your rental car and board the Coastal Pacific Scenic Train to Christchurch. A perfect way to end your journey on the Top of the South Rail Tour - as the train meanders down the coastline, keep a watch out for dolphins, enjoy the views from the open-air carriage, relax in the cafe carriage or listen to the onboard commentary from the comfort of your seat. The train departs at 12.40pm and arrives into Christchurch at 7.00pm. Your accommodation for the night is at Tower Junction Motor Lodge.
After checking out of your accommodation this morning your tour ends. Please advise LOCO if you need return flights or other onward travel arrangements.

For more information about this tour, price queries and updates on specials, please Enquire Now.