TranzAlpine alps to ocean, subtropical Punakaiki plus an iconic work of art

From alps to ocean on the TranzAlpine, the subtropical paradise of Paparoa and step into an iconic New Zealand work of art - Arthur's Pass to Punakaiki.

Over the past 14 years or so guiding visitors in New Zealand, one comment that I have heard many many times is that there is so much variety to be seen without having to travel far. Just take a short drive and soon you feel like you are in a totally different country.  This describes the journey from Arthur's Pass to Punakaiki perfectly - start the day in the heart of the Southern Alps and finish up in the (almost) subtropical coast and forest of Paparoa National Park and getting there is all part of the fun as you ride the world famous TranzAlpine train from mountains to sea.

Step into the landscape of Rita Angus' 'Cass'

Before we board our TranzAlpine for the coast, let’s take a break to step right into the world of one of New Zealand’s best loved works of art, the 1936 ‘Cass’ by Rita Angus.  Active and influential at a time (the 1930s and 1940s) when New Zealand artists were trying to establish their own place in the world. Cass is one of Rita Angus’ most famous works.  A tiny country railway station, the barren Canterbury high country landscape, a solitary figure waiting for a train and even some rugby posts in the background - this as a quintessential snapshot of rural of New Zealand.

Cass is literally a speck on the map, with a current population of one person, but still on the TranzAlpine route and this is where we jump aboard to start our day’s journey.

The TranzAlpine

Rated as one of the world’s great short train trips, the TranzAlpine is a favourite with both New Zealanders and overseas visitors alike, for good reason. 

Here’s what recent guests have said about their TranzAlpine experience:

Highly Recommended - Georgina, Australia.
“I was on the TranzAlpine on my birthday treat and was delighted by the experience and we celebrated with a small bottle of wine from the buffet car.  Wonderful scenery through the Southern Alps with some snow still on the mountains.   Our group got off train at Moana (Lake Brunner), about 40 minutes short of Greymouth which was an excellent decision and we spent the time doing a short walk in the rainforest, admiring the beautiful lake and having a delicious coffee and lunch at the Stationhouse Cafe.  The staff were helpful and friendly and the on board commentary was excellent and the viewing carriages are a great idea and celebrating my birthday with a small bottle of wine from the buffet car was a great touch.”

An excellent, relaxing, informative journey - Colette, USA.
“Very comfortable journey with fantastic brand new carriages - you can get a great view from your very cosy seat and visit the viewing deck too, either way it’s so easy to enjoy the wondeful views.. As we were 4 people travelling, we had seats with a table in between us, which was very handy. The carriages were clean and the staff were regularly removing the rubbish. Viewing platform had easy access and staff would advise of the times when it needed to be closed when approaching the long Otira tunnel, due to fumes. Headsets are handed out at the beginning of the journey providing you with intermittent commentary about various points of interest (really well done).  Last but not least - the purpose of the journey is generally to see close up some of the wonderful views, all the way the wow moments continued. A must do on our list, now ticked off. A fantastic day out, very relaxing with world class views and wonderful staff.” 

We recommend something a little different on the TranzAlpine - ride rom Cass to Moana, both of these are small rural stations with a real Kiwi feel to them.  You arrive in Moana right on time for lunch in the Stationhouse cafe, the perfect setting and just what we need to help you relax into New Zealsnd time.

Punakaiki and Paparoa National Park

Punakaiki is one of those places that just gets under your skin; I first visited as a guide in 1999 and it has always been one of my favourite spots in New Zealand.  Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of introducing many guests to Punakaiki and everyone has the same impression - wow!  I think it’s a combination of travelling over the mountains to get there, the rainforest right down to white sandy beaches and the absolute laid back nature of the people and place.  In our initial itinerary for our New Zealand hiking tour we were only going to stay here one night but when we did a road trip to finalize the itinerary we knew we had to make it two nights.  Funny as it may sound but we think it’s got something to do with the palm trees, you don’t see the native Nikau palms any further south on the West Coast and there’s just something about these trees and the whole place that puts you in a good mood!

After lunch at Moana you'll arrive mid afternoon with plenty of time to discover the Pancake Rocks, some of the short tracks in the Paparoa national park or even enjoy a gentle kayak on the river or horseride on the beach.  Worth a mention here is also the Punakaiki pub, complete with the friendly locals who are more than happy to pass the time of day chatting to you!

These two days travel I've described in this and the previous article personify what we think makes New Zealand such a great place for an active, easygoing outdoor travel experience.  Within hours of departing New Zealand’s second largest city you’re hiking in the Southern Alps, spend the night in comfort in the heart of  the high country before a relaxing rail journey on the famous TranzAlpine to unwind amongst the pristine coastline and rainforest of an idyllic little west coast township.  Not bad for the first two days of your journey and there’s a lot more to come.

These are the highlights of day two of our 13 or 11 day New Zealand Hiking Tour - a fully guided small group tour starting in Christchurch and finishing in either Queenstown or Christchurch.  We have carefully planned this itinerary to include some of the best walks in New Zealand, iconic activities you’ll never forget and accommodation offering all the comforts of home.  Hiking highlights are day walks on the Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford Tracks plus in Mount Cook and Arthur’s Pass National Parks.  Your tour includes bucket list activities such as the TranzAlpine, Nile River glowworm caves, Fox Glacier hiking, Okarito Lagoon kayak, Lake Wanaka cruise, Queenstown winery walk, helicopter flight from Milford Sound to Martins Bay, Hollyford river jetboat and Mt John observatory in Tekapo.  There is no camping or staying in huts on this tour, accommodation is at a four star standard to ensure you ahve all the comforts of home.  For more information please contact us now or download our New Zealand Trails Walking Tour 2013 2014 Season Brochure.

by Andrew Wells - New Zealand Trails

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