The Southern Alps is the exquisite mountain range that stretches almost the entire length of the South Island. Running approximately 500 kilometres (310.7 miles) northeast to southwest, this is also where you’ll find The Great Divide, which forms the boundary between the West Coast and Canterbury regions. On the TranzAlpine, it’s the town of Springfield that provides the best views of the Southern Alps: as the train arrives onto its station, the mountains rise to form what appears to be an impassable barrier.
Arthur’s Pass village and its national park are arguably the most popular tourist attraction on the TranzAlpine route. Many people get off the train at this station, which lies right at the heart of the Southern Alps, to explore the park’s expansive walking trails and admire the natural highlights on show. Braided rivers, steep alpine ranges and the breathtaking Devil’s Punch Waterfall are some of the wonders the area’s visitors are lucky enough to view for themselves.
Waimakariri River is one of the first natural attractions that passengers will see upon departing Christchurch. The ice-fed river rises on the Southern Alps’ eastern flanks just southwest of Arthur’s Pass, passing through a belt of mountains and the narrow Waimakariri Gorge as it braids its way across the Canterbury Plains. Its brilliant blue waters appear and disappear from view several times as the train ascends the pasture-lined cliffs before reaching Craigieburn and Arthur’s Pass.
The Craigieburn Range is set within the southern banks of the Waimakariri River and also forms part of the Southern Alps. Amid its stunning mountainous plains you’ll find the Craigieburn locality and Craigieburn Forest Park, a protected area that’s also home to two ski fields. A trove of soaring mountain peaks, some reaching heights of more than 2,000 metres (6,562 feet), also abound: Mount Cheeseman, Mount Olympus, Baldy Hill, Hamilton Peak, Mount Izard and Mount Enys are just a few of the summits tucked within the range.
Lake Brunner lies 37 kilometres (23 miles) southeast of Greymouth and is the largest lake in the northwestern South Island. It was carved out of a branch of the Taramakau Glacier and flows out to the Arnold River. Those on the TranzAlpine train will need to hop off at the town of Moana to immerse themselves in the area’s exquisite wetlands and vibrant waters. The lake is quite popular for boating and fishing, and there’s a handful of walking tracks around it.
The Otira River sits right in the centre of the South Island, rising on the slopes of Mount Rolleston in the Southern Alps before flowing north into the town Otira and joining the Taramakau River some 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) south of Greymouth. The river and its awe-inspiring viaduct can be seen as the TranzAlpine departs Arthur’s Pass and ventures into the Otira Tunnel – the longest of the 16 tunnels on the trip and the main passageway that connects the Canterbury region to the West Coast.
Rising from the Southern Alps and draining into the Tasman Sea, the Grey River is one of the final attractions passengers get to marvel at during the TranzAlpine journey. The river, also known by the Māori name Māwheranui, runs across 120 kilometres (75 miles) and is composed of numerous tributaries, small rivers and drain lakes. The Grey River itself is a popular spot for camping and fishing, and offers a good base for those wanting to climb the summit of Mount Grey/Maukatere and revel in its spectacular forested vistas.