The Great Alpine Highway

christchurch-canterbury

Explore the Tranz Alpine train route by road

3 Days

245 km

Highlights

  • Christchurch city and surrounds
  • Arthur's Pass National Park
  • West Coast glaciers

Explore the route

View map below

This beautifully scenic route will carry you through charming historic towns and dramatic changing landscapes from one side of the South Island to the other.

Take your car or sit back and enjoy the ever-changing scenery by train. Travel west across the Canterbury river plains before rising to traverse Arthur’s Pass, which leads you over the Alps and down to the West Coast.

Day 1: Bike along Port Hills crater in Christchurch

christchurch-canterbury

Christchurch - Canterbury

Stretching from the ocean to the Southern Alps

Highlights

  • Old English gardens
  • Punting on the Avon River (Ōtakaro)
  • Biking in the Port Hills

TOP EXPERIENCES IN CHRISTCHURCH

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Spend a day exploring fast-changing and funky Christchurch, the South Island's largest city.

Old English gardens contrast with quirky bars and a vibrant art centre in this enduring city. Travel the city by heritage tram or hire a bike and cycle around the flat city centre.

Favourite activities include punting down the Avon River/Ōtakaro Awa, biking in the Port Hills, visiting Sumner Beach, or taking a day trip out to the French colonial settlement of Akaroa.

The stunning patchwork of Canterbury Plains set against the Southern Alps also make this a great place for scenic flights whether it's from a helicopter or a hot air balloon.

Day 2: View the Southern Alps in Arthur's Pass

christchurch-canterbury

Unforgettable sceneries of the Southern Alps

Highlights

  • Castle Hill rock formations
  • Walking and hiking trails
  • Cheeky native wildlife

ARTHUR'S PASS NATIONAL PARK

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Travel west across the expansive Canterbury Plains, which stretch from north to south as far as the eye can see. 

As the road winds slowly up into the foothills of the Southern Alps, the scenery changes constantly from mountain pass to rivers, lakes, and unique geological features.

Don’t miss the ancient monolithic limestone rock formations at Castle Hill, just a short walk from the road. These giant boulders are a favourite with rock climbers and photographers.

The little village of Arthur’s Pass is your halfway point to the West Coast. Nestled in alpine grandeur it is the departure point for a whole range of hiking trails through the Southern Alps. 

Day 3: Pounamu carving and arts in Greymouth

west-coast

West Coast

Rainforests, glaciers and geological treasures

Highlights

  • Pounamu carving
  • Gold mining heritage
  • Native forest and birdlife

Top things to do in the West Coast

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Not far from Arthur's Pass Village, you will come to the extraordinary Otira Viaduct that spans a long stretch of unstable terrain. As you descend toward the coast, the landscape becomes greener with lush rainforests replacing the barren eastern side of the divide. You’re now on the West Coast – a region of dramatic wilderness.

In the late 1860s, gold attracted settlers to this wild coast. Shantytown Heritage Park offers a fascinating glimpse into the era.

Elsewhere workshops and galleries display pounamu (NZ Jade), the other precious mineral of the region. Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast is known for its awesome seascapes, local brewery tours, white-water rafting and sea kayaking.

 View the route below

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