This week we just been to Christchurch and took the TranzAlpine train ride. We are based in Auckland and would like to share our experience of the trip, hopefully this guide will make you better prepared if you are keen to do the same trip.
How to get to Christchurch?
Since we live in Auckland, the only choice was flying there. We tried to compact the trip by flying in in the morning, take the train ride and then fly out at night, but the flights to suit that timeframe were either too expensive or simply unavailable.
The train starts checking in at 7 which means no flights will be able to connect to it, so we had to fly in a day before. Then the train comes back to Christchurch at 6pm, there is a bit of travel to get to the airport so we had to fly out a day after. So there we had a 3 days trip.
If you start to plan early, like us, 2 months ahead, you can get some cheap flights from such as Jetstar for about $60 per person one way.
For your reference, we chose to fly in at mid day, and flew out at mid day as well.
Where to stay in Christchurch?
The train station is located in Addington, so we chose a motel around that area. For your reference, we chose Arena Motel, it was quite nice and staffs were very friendly, there is a free pick up service to the train station early in the morning at 7:20am and also back to the motel after the train ride (there is a phone connects to a lot of accommodations, simply dial 12 to ask for pickup).
The cost of staying in the motel, if I remember correctly was about $130 a night, you can book your nights via bookings.com but do it as early as you can, because "no vacancies" light was on during our stay.
How to get around in Christchurch?
We thought about taking public transport but the online timetable isn't that intuitive. Taxi fare between airport and motel is about $30 each way. So we decided to rent a car, there are a few car rental services online and they can be quite cheap. We rented a car from Omega rental, for $39 a day, even though our trip is 3 days, but the service count by the hours so only 2 days are chargeable.
When we arrived at the Christchurch airport, we rang the rental service and advised to walk outside the building to get picked up by their courtesy car. For your reference, the pick up point about 50 meters from the door, and has a sign saying something like "rental service pick up".
Omega rental is a wee way to the airport (I guess because of the detour from road works), about 5 minutes drive.
The car we were given was a 2004 Nissan Sunny, was clean and economical, we drove around town and cost about $15 worth of fuel.
The train ride
You can start to checkin at about 7am, and will depart at 8am, if you are a photographer then I suggest you ask for a seat close to the look out cartridge, we did not know about this and had to walk the whole train to take photos.
When you are in the look out cartridge, you are exposed to the cold weather, make sure you wear enough clothes, I suggest a down jacket, inner trousers, beanie, gloves and scarf (which can cover your face when it gets real cold or in tunnels to avoid the CO2 emission).
The scenery was pretty awesome, so get your camera ready. However don't expect to take stunning photos easily, the train will constantly wobble and power lines were pretty low, also you need to fight for a spot with 20 other people 🙂
You have a couple of chances to get of the train, one is Springfield and other one is Arthur's Pass, careful when you get off the train, the floor was cold and slippery.
If you choose same day return, you won't have much time to spend on Greymouth, the train arrives at about 12:45pm and will depart at 1:40pm. There weren't many food places we could find in Greymouth town centre, and we ended up in Maggie's Kitchen to have some fish and chips ($18 for two people).
Where to eat in Christchurch?
There are quite a few restaurants in Addington, so we didn't feel the need to go anywhere further. We chose La Porchetta for our first dinner and Saigon Vietnamese for the second night (although we don't quite recommend it comparing to Auckland).
What to do in your free time?
The red zone is gone, and you can get into the city centre to have a look, but you don't see much except construction sites. You can also see the broken Cathedral, from outside only.
There is an area that some shops are opened in containers, pretty interesting. If you are driving there, there are quite a few places to park, cheap too, $1 per hour. From the Cathedral you can walk to the Botanic Garden in 15 minutes, and we didn't see much there happening in winter plus some construction going on.
I made a small music video from the clips I recorded on the train, enjoy!