Travel Tips and Tricks for your own New Zealand Rail Adventure

By Suzanne Brooks

You may have seen our video covering our journey across New Zealand on the world-famous TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific trains.  We have gotten a few questions about logistics and transportation from starting and end points, so wanted to add some more details about how we pulled off this trip if you are thinking about taking this trip yourself.

THE TRAINS AND ROUTING

We rode the two trains on New Zealand’s South Island: the TransAlpine and the Coastal Pacific.  The TranzAlpine runs between Greymouth and Christchurch, and Coastal Pacific between Christchurch and Picton (though we got off at the stop before Blenheim in Marlborough wine country…but more on that later).

Jeb Brooks (from GreenerGrass.com) gazing off into the distance from the train!

We purchased the tickets directly through the Great Journeys of New Zealand website.  We purchased just the two train tickets, although they also sell more complete tour packages.  Here are more details for each train:

  • TranzAlpine: We paid $219 NZD (approx $140 USD) for each TranzAlpine ticket one-way from Greymouth to Christchurch.  At the time we went, the TranzAlpine was running on a limited schedule of Friday through Mondays, but appears to be going to seven days a week starting December 26, 2022.
  • Coastal Pacific: We paid $159 NZD (approx $100 USD) for each Coastal Pacific ticket one-way from Greymouth to Christchurch.  Currently this route is operating Thursdays through Saturdays, leaving Christchurch 7am and arriving at Blenheim 12:10pm.

LOGISTICS AND TRANSPORTATION

So you may be wondering how we got to the train’s starting point (Greymouth) and what we did after getting to the end of our trip (Blenheim).

Getting to Greymouth

Greymouth, on New Zealand’s wild West Coast isn’t the easiest place to get to, but you have a few options.

Greymouth Train Station

FLY

This is the option we decided to take (are you surprised?).  The closest airport with commercial service to Greymouth is Hokitika (HKK). We were coming from Queenstown, so we flew from Queenstown to Christchurch and then connected on to Hokitika.  Currently, Hokitika has two daily flights from Christchurch on Air New Zealand Q300 aircraft.  It is about 35 minutes flying time from Christchurch to Hokitika.  And then from Hokitika, it is about a 30 minute drive to Greymouth.  We arranged transportation through Hokitika Scenic Tours.

DRIVE

Most people might pass through Greymouth on a road trip from Queenstown, through glacier country, up the West Coast, but we were too intimidated at the thought of driving on the “other” side of the road to attempt renting a car.  The drive to Greymouth is about 7 hours from Queenstown or 3.5 hours from Christchurch.

BUS

You could travel to Greymouth via InterCity bus, however during our visit the route between Queenstown and Greymouth had been suspended.  Services between Greymouth and Nelson and Greymouth and Fox Glacier are scheduled to resume December 11, 2022, so this could be an option for you.

TRAIN

If you are fine with more train time, you could do the TranzAlpine as a round-trip from Christchurch.  The train leaves Christchuch at 8:15am and arrives Greymouth around 1:05pm, leaving about an hour to explore before the train departs back for Christchurch at 2:05pm, arriving 7:00pm.  This makes for a very long day trip, or you could choose to spend some time on the West Coast before returning to Christchurch.

Transport Connections from Blenheim/Picton

We chose to end our Coastal Pacific journey in the town of Blenheim, in New Zealand’s world-famous Marlborough wine country.  However, you could also continue the route to Picton, enabling a connection to the Inter-Islander ferry to Wellington.  Of the two, Blenheim is a more charming place to plan an overnight, if you choose.  Plus, wine, enough said.

Jeb walking through a vineyard in Blenheim

FLY

Blenheim has an airport!  Also known as Marlborough Airport (BHE), offering scheduled service to Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland.

TRAIN

Obviously you could return to Christchurch on the Coastal Pacific. The train arrives in Blenheim at 12:10pm and would be back to get you at 2:05pm, giving you enough time for lunch in town before your return to Christchurch at 7:30pm.  Again, makes for a long day and Blenheim is charming enough to warrant an overnight stay if you have the time!

BUS/FERRY

We used this option to carry on with our journey after our time in Blenheim. We took the InterCity bus from Blenheim to Picton.  The bus picks up from the “i-Site” in Blenheim, which is co-located with the train station, about a 10 minute walk from the center of town.  We had booked a bus scheduled to depart at 11:30am for the approximate 30 minute journey, giving us plenty of time before departure of our ferry at 2:15pm.

The bus didn’t actually show up until around 12:10pm, but we still got to Picton in plenty of time to check in for the ferry.  The bus drops off in Picton right outside of the InterIslander passenger ferry terminal, where we caught the boat for Wellington.  It is about a three hour journey across the Cook Strait.

Jeb on the ferry to Wellington

WHERE TO STAY

Greymouth

The trick here is not to stay in Greymouth.  During research before the trip I wasn’t finding many accommodation options in Greymouth.  Once we got there to get on the train, we could see why.  It is an industrial town, more spread out, and not super walkable.

Instead we decided to stay in Hokitika, since we were flying there anyway.  Hokitika is a small and charming seaside town. We stayed at the Hokitika Fire Station, which is a former fire station converted into five apartments.  There are additional motel and hotel options right in the city center.  Hokitika is about 30 minutes by car from Greymouth.

Christchurch

The train station in Christchurch is located in the suburb of Addington, about 3 miles from the city center.  Since we were only in town for a quick overnight between trains we decided to stay closer to the station rather than in the city center, at the Chateau on the Park hotel.  The city center is definitely worthwhile to explore if you have more time, I particularly enjoyed the Riverside Market.

Blenheim

Again, we chose to end our trip in Blenheim to explore New Zealand’s famous Marlborough wine country.  We didn’t spend much time in Picton (which is where the train terminates) but it seemed like an industrial/port city, so Blenheim seems like a better bet if you would like to overnight.

We chose to stay in another boutique accommodation, the 14th Lane Urban Hotel, which had a great location in the heart of Blenheim, and about a 10 min walk to the train station.

** Prices, schedules, and other details were accurate at the time of publishing this article. Neither this article nor our videos were sponsored in any way. For more on that, check out this page.