Sublime scenery in Waimakariri. © ChristchurchNZ

The Great Alpine Highway: Christchurch to Greymouth


View the map

TAP FOR MORE INFO:

This is a transcendent, transformational traverse whether travelled by train or by road.

If you drive yourself this is probably the most staggering piece of road you'll ever come across, which includes the amazing Ōtira Viaduct and Waimakariri bridge, feats of local engineering that will take you through the most remarkable scenery.

So keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes off the pies. Just stop often. Seriously: this is stunning.

Christchurch

Start with a genteel roam of eclectic, elegant Christchurch, with its great art places, lively outdoor spaces, cafés and English-inspired boat races. Weave out, gently, follow the rambling river, stick to State Highway 73 and let the rugged, wild beauty of this extraordinary place unfold before you.

Canterbury Plains

First, the Canterbury Plains. They go on for miles and miles and mile and miles. Flat but never dull, they are a calming environment within which to tackle, well, a pie, a custard square and a milky tea – before heading for the foothills.

It’s beautiful whatever the season – rugged, eerie and arresting in the winter months; beautiful, majestic yet strangely isolated in summer. Braided, clear cool rivers, the ever-present mountains, the air getting colder... Ultimately, you’re heading for Arthur's Pass and Arthur clearly had a head for heights, for this is the highest and most spectacular pass in the Southern Alps.

Arthur's Pass

Arthur’s Pass is also the peak, in altitude terms, of the journey. But the thrills don’t stop there. The Ōtira Viaduct winds down out of alpine territory into a sudden rush of lushness: aha! The Other Side. The West Coast: wet, plush, all-encompassing. Magnificent.

The West Coast

On your way down to the coast, the road hugs the Ōtira River before you dog-leg it to shadow the beautiful Tamarakau River the rest of the way. Then the Ōtira Highway drops you out at Kūmara Junction where the hush of the bush and the imposing mountains give way to flatland and the wild, windy coast.

You’ve traversed the island and crossed more microclimates and vegetation states than you would consider even possible in such a relatively short drive.

Breathe in the salty air, then head northwards to the dead famous Pancake Rocks at Punakāiki, or turn the bus round and do the traverse in reverse. Same, but different and well, well worth it.

Explore more...

More stories like this

Find out more

Road trips

Alpine Pacific Triangle: Christchurch to Kaikōura (and back again)

The Alpine Pacific Triangle takes you from Christchurch to Kaikōura, to Hanmer Springs and back again. Enjoy whale watching, hot pools and wineries. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Natural attractions

Arthur’s Pass National Park: over the backbone

The high mountains of Arthur’s Pass National Park are the ‘backbone’ of the South Island and the pass itself is the key link between east and west. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Road trips

Central West Coast: the best coastal drive in New Zealand

In this part of the world, civilisation has only chiselled a few narrow paths into the landscape. The elements – the wind, the rain and the ocean – are always trying to claim that land back. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Natural attractions

Christchurch: a city transforming

How often do you get to see a city in the midst of a complete transformation? Christchurch today is different from the experience of Christchurch last month, next month and certainly six years ago. Read the story . . . 

Where to stay in Canterbury Region

Raceway Motel Visit website

Located in the heart of Addington - walk to exciting new bars, cafes and restaurants. Easy access to city centre. Walk across road to Horncastle . . . More . . . 

4.3 /5
From $30
Hanmer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park Visit website

Soak in the surroundings of Hanmer Springs at Hanmer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park, 1.5 hours from Christchurch. Relax in our spacious alpine setting, so . . . More . . . 

From $30
4.9 /5
4.9 /5
Mt Somers Holiday Park

1km off State Highway 72. Christchurch 75 minutes. Closest holiday park to Mt Somers Walkway. 20 minutes from Mt Hutt Skifield, fishing, bushwalks. . . . More . . . 

4.8 /5
Hanmer Springs Scenic Views Motel Visit website

A modern & sunny Motel in the heart of Hanmer Springs, with affordable and comfortable facilities to suit everyone. Hanmer Springs Scenic Views Motel has . . . More . . . 

Where to stay in Greymouth

4.5 /5
From $97
4.5 /5
Aachen Place Motel Visit website

Hosted by Barry and Michelle, we provide friendly West Coast hospitality and go the extra distance to ensure you have an enjoyable stay in Greymouth. . . . More . . . 

From $97
4.4 /5
From $110
4.4 /5
Bella Vista Greymouth Visit website

Bella Vista Motel Greymouth is a great base to explore the beautiful West Coast with activities such as river rafting and scenic glacier flights nearby. . . . More . . . 

From $110
4.7 /5
From $125
4.7 /5
Sundowner Motel Visit website

Closest Motel to Greymouth township offering free transfers from the Tranzalpine train station. Situated on the main by-pass, immediately opposite the station, supermarket and The . . . More . . . 

From $125
Ardwyn House

Nestled in amongst beautiful native trees on a peaceful cul-de-sac but only 5 minute walk to the centre of town, Ardwyn house is the B&B . . . More . . .