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The TranzAlpine train travels across the Waimakariri River Railway Bridge in New Zealand's South Island
19 July, 20193 minute read

An adventure through New Zealand's South Island

Travelling around New Zealand is generally a slow affair. The volume of traffic on the country’s roads and rail network is quieter than the UK’s most rural corners, yet the tracks wind slowly around the wonderful hills and mountains that make this country so appealing.

The Fiordlands

A spine of mountains runs the length of New Zealand’s South Island, which lends itself to great adventures. In the south, the fiords beckon you aboard boats, which are dwarfed by the cliffs that soar vertically from the water. Pay attention to the low rock mounds along the water’s edge, where fur seals can be spotted resting. If you’re lucky, you might also glimpse a dolphin breaking through the surface.

The number of tourist boats is limited, so it’s easy to appreciate the serenity of Milford and Doubtful Sound. Rain is common here, but this increases the number and the ferocity of the waterfalls.

Looking across the waters of Milford Sound towards Mitre Peak, South Island, New Zealand

Glacial havens

Continue up the west coast and you’ll find the phenomenal Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, each winding slowly down the carved valleys from its origin in the mountains high above. Being unusually close to sea level, they’re some of the easiest glaciers to visit on this planet, however reaching each glacier does involve a bit of a hike. Nothing shouts adventure like a helicopter experience though! And it means you can view the peak of Mount Cook and two of New Zealand’s most spectacular glaciers with ease (and enjoy the unique experience of landing at the head of either one). 

A hiker walks along a track leading to Franz Josef Glacier in the South Island of New Zealand

The TranzAlpine

Crossing the width of New Zealand’s South Island, the TranzAlpine train clings to mountain sides. The train is regarded as one of the greatest trips you can do through New Zealand - get comfortable in your spacious seat and watch the South Island’s vistas transform. With a 2x2 seating arrangement, a good view is guaranteed. Huge panoramic windows allow you to see from the bottom of the valleys to the tops of the Southern Alps. For reflection-free photos, you may like to spend time in the open air observation carriage, where nothing stands between your camera lens and the wilderness. Be aware, though, that even in the summer months, this alpine region can get pretty chilly.

Arthur’s Pass

Arthur’s Pass National Park is the highest pass over the Southern Alps. The quaint railway station is in the middle of a steep valley, where huge snowy peaks tower over the track. As you head towards Christchurch, smoothly gliding across the extraordinary mountain range, the vista softens. After the rocky terrain, the vast Canterbury Plains are a surprise. The traditionally wetter weather on this side of the island creates gorges filled with aqua-blue rivers, dense rainforest, and a great patchwork of fields.

A live commentary fed through your personal headset will help to put names to mountains and provide interesting information on the impressive landscapes and high viaducts. Arthur’s Pass was used by Maori tribes for centuries, so there are also some wonderful myths, legends and stories to hear about this land.

Arthurs Pass train station in the Southern Alps, New Zealand

Get on board

A journey on the TranzAlpine train is a fantastic addition to any New Zealand itinerary, giving you another perspective on this famously scenic country’s wild, unspoilt landscapes. Take a look at ‘Grand Antipodean Odyssey’ to see how your scenery and culture-filled holiday might look.

Christmas in the sun

If you dream of an unforgettable Christmas and New Year ‘down under’, why not snap up the last places on this year’s ‘Festive New Zealand and Sydney New Year Celebrations’.

Fireworks erupt above Sydney Opera House and Harbour
Image of blog author Jenny Chaplin

Jenny’s passion for culture and wildlife has taken her across the world. Favourite experiences so far have included snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef, sailing on the Ganges in Varanasi, hiking through Norway and spending many hours on safari in Kenya and India spotting a menagerie of wonderful creatures.

Jenny | About the author

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