There are a host of exciting TranzAlpine tour destinations you can head to once you have completed your TranzAlpine train journey.
Whether you are using the TranzAlpine as the first day of a longer New Zealand TranzAlpine tour, or maybe it is the last day’s travel before you head to Christchurch airport, whatever your intentions, there are a great number of destinations throughout New Zealand’s South Island worth visiting.
The team at LOCO have a dozen favourite destinations which we have outlined here, so read on to get some inspiration for your great New Zealand rail-based holiday.
Before we highlight the dozen destinations that could feature in your TranzAlpine tour, first up the team at LOCO wanted to offer some TranzAlpine tour itinerary ideas to help you along your way.
TranzAlpine Tour Itinerary Ideas
Using Christchurch as a starting point, if you journey west on the train via Arthur’s Pass, you then have a number of destinations you can choose from beyond Greymouth where the Tranzalpine train terminates.
Here are four popular TranzAlpine tour options having travelled West from Christchurch. These are just some of the many routes you can follow.
TranzAlpine Tour Itinerary Option 1.
From Greymouth, travel south down the stunning West Coast, visiting Glaciers along the way before arriving into the mountainous Southern Lakes region. Here enjoy the delights of Te Anau, Milford Sound and Queenstown before navigating back through the middle of the South Island via Mount Cook and surrounding high country and returning to Christchurch. This itinerary will take a minimum of 5 days but we would recommend allowing at least 7 days.
TranzAlpine Tour Itinerary Option 2.
If you have more time in your holiday, the team at LOCO would recommend following the itinerary above for the first part of the journey but instead of cutting back to Christchurch through the middle of the South Island, you continue on to New Zealand’s east coast. Add in the heritage delights of Dunedin and perhaps Victorian flavoured Oamaru to your itinerary before heading north back to Christchurch. You should allow at least a week to undertake this journey.
For TranzAlpine tour options 1 & 2, you have plenty of options to slow your trip down by adding in additional overnight stops in fantastic destinations such as Lake Wanaka, or explore further south and visit the southern city of Invercargill. The wondrous naturally New Zealand Stewart Island is also close by or experience the delightful Catlins region. LOCO would gladly create an itinerary to suit and allow you to travel off the beaten track and enjoy heartland New Zealand.
TranzAlpine Tour Itinerary Option 3.
If you want to explore the north of the South Island, at the end of your westward Transalpine train trip, simply turn north at Greymouth and head up the spectacular West Coast. Take time to stop at Westport, traverse across to sunny Nelson and then join the Coastal Pacific train back to Christchurch from Picton. This loop would take a minimum of 4 days but we would recommend 5 or 6 days to fully enjoy the journey. Adding in more time will offer you the chance to pause and overnight at Punakaiki or visit Karamea, a popular but incredibly out of the way destination.
Tranzalpine Tour Itinerary Option 4.
If time allows, joining these South Island loops (#2) together will enable you to enjoy a complete TranzAlpine New Zealand South Island tour including all of New Zealand’s South Island highlights. The LOCO team would recommend allowing at least two weeks to truly enjoy your journey.
In addition to the destinations highlighted in the Trans Alpine touring map, there are some less well known Tranzalpine tour destinations that will make for a an enjoyable New Zealand rail tour.
The team at LOCO Journeys have featured a dozen Tranzalpine tour destinations across the South Island below which are well worth inclusion on your itinerary.
TranzAlpine Tour Destinations from Christchurch
A terrifically beautiful location contrasting to expansive Canterbury Plains, Akaroa and Akaroa Harbour sits within the mountainous surrounds of the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula. A 90 minute drive will deliver you to this small village, set beside the striking harbour from which it takes its name (meaning long harbour), it was the region’s first substantial European settlement. In 1840 French settlers arrived here to found a colony for France, only to discover British sovereignty over the South Island had already been established.
Another popular village within easy driving distance from Christchurch, this time to the north, Hanmer is a resort town with an alpine feel. The most popular attraction here is the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools which New Zealander’s flock to all year round. If you’re undertaking a longer road and rail trip, Hanmer Springs is a great place to spend a couple of days to relax and enjoy the many activities on offer.
A must do destination for many, Kaikoura may be a pre-planned stop as part of your Coastal Pacific train trip. It’s a worthwhile destination however you arrive, and certainly one that has countless attractions to see. A sixty-kilometre long offshore trench called the Kaikoura Canyon plunges to a depth of twelve hundred meters and is situated just 500 meters from the shoreline. Tiny krill and plankton flourish here in turn attracting sperm whales, blue whales, humpback and southern right whales to regularly visit to feed here. The giants of the deep are accompanied by countless other sea mammals including dolphins and seals transforming Kaikoura from a sleepy backwater to a must visit destination.
TranzAlpine Tour Destinations North from Greymouth
Just a short 40 minute road journey north of Greymouth along a terrifically scenic stretch of coastal highway, you will arrive in Punakaiki, best known for the nearby Pancake Rocks and the associated blowholes at Dolomite Point. Now encompassed by the Paparoa National Park, this strangely stacked and sculpted collection of limestone columns spectacularly traps the surf and funnels it explosively. Punakaiki is not so much a destination, more a place to be, to experience staying in amongst the bush, to view the Tasman Sea and to experience West Coast life.
With a population of just under 4,000, Westport is Westland’s second commercial centre after Greymouth and a was once a major port. Its lasting asset is coal, supplemented by limestone quarries, cement works and fishing industries. The town makes an excellent base for visiting old mining areas such as Denniston or Stockton. There is wildlife to be seen too with the seal colony at Cape Foulwind or just enjoy the safe surf at Carter’s Beach. From Westport you can explore the Paparoa National Park and enjoy the Buller Gorge. Further north is the small settlement of Karamea an interesting destination on any TranzAlpine tour.
The West Coast’s northernmost reach, 98 kilometres north of Westport along a scenic road, Karamea is a community of less than 450 located in a fertile setting, gently contrasting to the rest of Westland, Subtropical fruits flourish here in a mild, sunny micro-climate. Kahurangi National Park backs on to the settlement and so Karamea is popular with holiday-makers, particularly for walks and hikes. The local highlight is the Oparara valley, a landscape of limestone canyons, caves and arches where you can undertake guided cave and kayak tours.
TranzAlpine Tour Destinations South from Greymouth
Hokitika’s earliest years truly represented the West Coast’s pioneering days. In the mid 19th Century, Hokitika was the second busiest port in the country, as Gold diggers disembarked to find their fortune with over one hundred hotels, casinos and an opera house to host them. Today Hokitika still represents the West Coast, but now this sleepy beach-side town prefers the promotion of arts and crafts including plenty of green jade/pounamu workshops and galleries. Surrounding Hokitika are the the scenic delights of Lake Kaniere and the Hokitika Gorge. Hokitika is well worth taking the time to stop and stay and is one of the LOCO teams favourite TranzAlpine tour destinations. View our TranzAlpine Explore Hokitika to find out more.
Fox Glacier & Franz Josef Glacier
When travelling south from Greymouth, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are obvious points of interest and worthy of inclusion on your TranzAlpine tour. From Greymouth a 2-3 hour journey will deliver you right into the heart of Glacier Country. These mighty rivers of ice are natural spectacles of unimaginable scale, and the only way to really experience the Glaciers is to either take a scenic helicopter flight that will also include view of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, or enjoy a unique heli-hike that combines helicopter transfers onto the ice and a guided ice walk.
For those wishing to stay on terra firma, the small township of Fox offers a wonderful scenic walk around the perimeter of Lake Matheson with a stunning backdrop of the Southern Alps, or explore the glow worm dell just on the edge of town.
Franz Josef, the slightly larger of the two settlements is a great base to explore the regions further including Gillespie’s Beach, the scenic waterways of Okarito Lagoon, or just take some time to enjoy one of the towns restaurants and enjoy a soak in the very popular bush-clad Hot Tubs.
Made up of a small group of communities clustered around the Haast River, the town was not linked by road to the rest of the West Coast until 1965. The peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park, a UNESCO world heritage area form a dramatic backdrop and the coastal scenery is equally spectacular. If you are seeking a true West Coast wilderness experience as part of your TranzAlpine tour, this could be the destination for you. Don’t expect to find much, except nature at its absolute finest.
Having travelled the length of the West Coast from Greymouth and traversed the spectacular Haast Pass, you have now entered a region known as the Southern Lakes. One of the finest of these lakes is the scenic Lake Wanaka. Fed by the ice-melt waters of the peaks of the Aspiring National Park, Lake Wanaka is many travellers favourite destination. The fast-growing Wanaka is a wonderful setting to spend a few days, enjoying water excursions, one of the many superb scenic walks or just taking time and enjoying the peace of lakeside living.
So named because it grew on a site fit for Queen Victoria, this lovely year-round mountain resort is regally set on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, nestled among dramatic ranges and is particularly striking in autumn. Visitors from all over the world are attracted by its scenic beauty across all seasons. The cosmopolitan town retains a special character and within easy distance of all hotels are terrific activities that will suit every traveller. Back-country tours, water-based excursions, the delightful gold-mining settlement of Arrowtown and a range of walks makes Queenstown a place you won’t want to leave.
The township on the shore of the South Island’s largest lake has become a major Fiordland tourist resort but still retains a quiet, relaxed, even indifferent ambience to the internation clamour that the nearby Milford Sound creates. Set on the fringe of the Fiordland National Park, Te Anau has long been used as a starting point to undertake some of New Zealand’s greatest multi-day hikes, or as a means to access the wondrous fiords such as Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and more.
Among many local highlights is the water excursion across the lake to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves which, lost for generations, were finally relocated in 1948. If you are searching for the essence of scenic New Zealand, spend a few days in Te Anau, you won’t regret it.