Christchurch to Franz Josef New Zealand – Trains, Glaciers and Spas

It was rainy, cold and a little dreary as I waited for my cab to the Addington railway station in Christchurch to start the fourth day of my introduction to New Zealand. I wasn’t going on just any train, I was about to embark on one of the best train journeys in the world – the TranzAlpine.

The TranzAlpine is a four-hour journey from the east coast of the South Island to Greymouth on the west coast. I knew it was going to be spectacular, I just wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the beauty.

I’m going to write about the trip in much more detail, so I’ll just hit the highlights in this post. Throughout the entire ride, I was glued to the windows of the train, trying to comprehend the sites we were racing past. The fields of the Canterbury Plains slowly turned into the spectacular gorges of the Waimakariri River and eventually the Southern Alps.

I fear this is one of those occasions where any photo, not just mine, will fail to do the landscape justice. Snowcapped peaks, blue water glacial rivers and dramatic gorges flashed by as we made the trip to Greymouth.

Franz Josef

After arriving in the old gold mining town of Greymouth, I came off of my scenery high, jumped in the rental car and drove south towards Franz Josef and its famous glacier. The drive is also an iconic one, skimming the coast and the Tasman Sea before climbing into the chilly rainforests abutting the glacier. It’s one of the few places in the world where this phenomenon exists, and it’s bizarre driving through forests dense with foliage on the way to the mountain peaks.

Franz Josef itself is small, very small, but I fell in love with it almost immediately. The glacier looms high above and the town is surrounded by the same rainforest I had spent hours driving through. I enjoyed a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools, a remarkable facility that has created a relaxing, thermal spa experience in the middle of the forest.

Glacier Hot Pools

As I walked back to my hotel, you can walk everywhere in Franz Josef, I looked up and for the thousandth time in New Zealand, my jaw hung slack in shock. Above me was not just an expansive night’s sky, but a blanket of Southern Hemisphere stars in their full glory. It’s almost impossible for me to see the night’s sky without light pollution, and I didn’t stop staring until I noticed my fingers going a bit numb.

Once again, Mother Nature was the star of the show as I continued my journey through New Zealand.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

6 thoughts on “Christchurch to Franz Josef New Zealand – Trains, Glaciers and Spas”

  1. Glad to see there’s finally some snow on those mountains! They were bare when I did the TranzAlpine last month. But it was still just as beautiful.

    And lucky you, hitting the West Coast on a clear night! I can only imagine how amazing the stars are from there.

  2. The train rides in NZ are epic, I did the TranzPacific from Picton to Christchurch and spent the whole train ride in the viewing car.

    Great pictures again Matt.

  3. I’ve always said the best way to travel through New Zealand is by car, in my opinion. But after reading both your and Amanda’s posts about the TranzAlpine I reckon it’s a must on my next trip to take at least one train trip.

  4. The sights from the comfortable seat of the Tranzalpine train were absolutely fantastic! I loved combining the comfort of the train with the beauty and diversity of the New Zealand landscape. The open-air carriage was excellent! I loved the trip so much that I actually followed a similar route by car to soak in the sights once again at my own pace. Doing both these trips inspired me to write an article comparing the pros and cons of each journey.

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