Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Mon July 20 2015

TranzAlpine Rates Among Top Scenic Rail Journeys

Car Rental & Rail | James Ruggia | July 20, 2015

TranzAlpine Rates Among Top Scenic Rail Journeys

Photo courtesy of KiwiRail

Usually when we think of crossing the Alps on a thrilling and jaw droppingly beautiful train we immediately think of Switzerland’s Glacier Express or the Bernina Express, but south of the equator, New Zealand’s TranzAlpine train crosses South Island from coast to coast on a run that crosses the Southern Alps, from Christchurch to Greymouth on a 4.5-hour journey that blazes through the clouds at its apex. The TranzAlpine is used as the core component in seven different packages offered by KiwiRail Scenic Journeys, which is part of KiwiRail, the government owned national rail operator.

One of those packages, the Greymouth Break, priced from NZ$210 ($138) per person double includes one way travel (NZ$338 with return or $222) on the TranzAlpine between Christchurch and Greymouth; a night at the Kingsgate Greymouth Hotel, breakfast and rail station transfers. Greymouth is an ideal location from which to explore the South Island’s scenic West Coast. The West Coast is a land of glaciers, rivers raging down from great heights and the Punakaiki pancake rocks. An extra night at the Kingsgate is also available.

In 2011, KiwiRail launched a new fleet of world-class scenic railcars on all of its long-distance passenger services. The cars were designed “to showcase our fantastic landscape, with the phrase ‘the view is paramount’ becoming the guiding principle behind the designs.” Panoramic side and roof windows with un-tinted and non-reflective glass (for photo purposes) as well as open air viewing decks were part of the design that put the TranzAlpine among the top scenic rides in the world.

KiwiRail also improved coach comfort by adding more spacious seating, heated cars, electrical access at each seat as well as cafés serving hot and cold meals and local beer and wine. Wheelchair access also part of the new design.

The TranzAlpine is one of KiwiRail’s three long-distance services. In its variety of package options, KiwiRail has made itself more flexible, by giving passengers a host of options so that they can build a comprehensive New Zealand itinerary around rail or use rail as a component in their itineraries. Remember, New Zealand uses the British side of the road in its driving.

KiwiRail offers two options for traveling between the North and South Islands: the Interislander Ferry and Sounds Air Scenic Flights.

KiwiRail’s other signature services include the Coastal Pacific and the Northern Explorer. The Coastal Pacific runs daily between Christchurch and Picton with connections to the InterIslander ferry to and from Wellington. British rail critic Mark Smith describes the Northern Explorer as “an epic 681 kilometre (423 mile) journey across the whole interior of the North Island, taking you in a single day past every kind of scenery there is, from coastline to volcanoes to mountains, from lush green farmland to thick New Zealand bush.” The Northern Explorer operates six days a week between Auckland and Wellington.

KiwiRail defines its mission as being to make itself “a must-do tourism experience in New Zealand.” For American travelers, adding rail components or just building your visit around rail makes sense. Driving on the British side of the road can be a dicey proposition especially in cities and especially when you’re jet lagged. Besides after that long flight, even just a rail component will give you a chance to relax and acclimate.

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