RTW Day 31 – Kaikoura
18th March 2018
Our bedroom overlooks the beach so we wake up to the most glorious view of the sun rising over the ocean. I take a stroll along the beach while the old man sleeps.
The plan for today is to drive the 94 miles along the coastal SH1 to Kaikoura, stopping for lunch at a vineyard on the way. SH1 has only recently partially reopened following the huge earthquake which hit the region in 2016, and has been shut again over the past few days following Cyclone Gita. If it’s shut, we will have a 6+ hour detour so we are on tenterhooks awaiting the traffic update.
Luckily the road opens and we set off for the huge wine estate of Yealands. It’s a cutting edge eco friendly vineyard (it even plays classical music to the vines to help them thrive) set on a clifftop. We take a self guided tour through the vineyard which heads out to a lookout past the ‘over friendly chickens’ and back via a wetland and butterfly gully.
We finish off at the cellar door for a tasting and buy a bottle of wine for later. They are very proud of their new invention; a resealable bottle top – not sure it’ll catch on in my house…
On to Kaikoura along the broken highway; it alternates between beautiful scenery and scene from disaster movie and back as we drive along. Sometimes the road disappears completely and we end up picking our way through a dirt track poised precariously on the cliff top with banks of shipping containers holding the mountain debris at bay on the other side.
We arrive at Kaikoura and head for Point Kean which is allegedly a popular place for seal colonies. Unfortunately no one seems to have informed the seals.
We check into our hotel. I can’t make the WiFi work. The old man can make his work and takes great pleasure in telling me this. Multiple times. We return to point Kean. There are plenty of seals on a rock in the distance but too far away to be more than black dots on the horizon. Just as we give up hope and drive off, a seal pops out of the wetlands and wanders down the boardwalk.
We head back into town to get some dinner. I choose an awesome smoked fish pie. Kaikoura is a lovely little seaside town but still bears the scars of the 2016 earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Many of the shops and restaurants are still too damaged to reopen. We eat supper at our motel washed down with the very nice wine we bought earlier. The resealable cork is not required.
RTW Day 32 – Christchurch
19th March 2018
Our motel faces the ocean so I get up early and go for a sunrise run along the coast. It’s very pretty but there’s no footpath so much of my attention is focused on avoiding being run over.
After breakfast we set off for Christchurch. The earthquake damage to the highway out of town is extensive. We have several miles of one way temporary road to negotiate with the help of very smiley ‘stop/go’ ladies. We’re taken through in a convoy led by a pilot vehicle. In several places the road has obviously fallen off the cliff and some of the temporary tunnels are a bit too temporary looking for my liking.
We finally reach Christchurch and head for the gondola ride up Mt Cavendish for a view across the city. It’s a 1 km ride to the summit and it’s a great view. You can see Christchurch and the ocean on one side and mountains and lakes on the other.
There is also a Time Tunnel ride through the history of Christchurch. It’s like an educational ghost train. We reach the 1850s when the ride breaks down and we have to be rescued and escorted to safety. After a brief wait at the Big Bang, we are re-seated and head off into the time tunnel again. We break down just before the present day, lose interest and go in search of lunch. Time travelling is hungry work.
We check into our motel and walk into town. I’m not sure what to expect. My guide book talks a lot about earthquake damage and ruined buildings but has already proven itself to be terribly out of date. For example, it is unclear on the future of the cathedral; there has been a huge debate on whether to replace or rebuild it. Our hotel receptionist explains that the decision has been made to rebuild – taken down stone by stone and built again from scratch.
We start with a walk through the Botanic Gardens. Just the right pretty flora to weird sculpture ratio. There are still some lovely displays of roses and bedding plants despite the fact that autumn is officially only a day away.
Then on to Cathedral Square where the devastation caused by earthquakes of 2011 is very apparent. The cathedral itself, which was badly damaged, doesn’t look too bad as we approach from the side, but when we reach the front there is very little left.
We return to our motel for a fun evening catching up with our laundry whilst drinking a rather nice bottle of Hawke’s Bay rosé. Due to a number of factors (namely my focus on the rosé combined with my lack of assertiveness in the claiming of tumble dryers) by the time the laundry closes, every piece of clothing we own is clean but wet and we eat our Chinese takeaway in a room which resembles a Chinese laundry.
RTW Day 33 – Christchurch
20th March 2018
Today we have a full day to explore Christchurch. It’s a sadly fascinating experience. Sad because of the destruction caused by the earthquakes but fascinating to see the resilience and creativity employed in attempting to regain some normality. From the ‘cardboard’ transitional cathedral constructed round 96 cardboard tubes, to a shopping mall made out of shipping containers to the various murals painted on derelict buildings.
We start with a return to the botanic gardens to visit the conservatory complex. As well as greenhouses dedicated to cacti, orchids and carnivorous plants, there is a large Victorian greenhouse with an array of tropical plants.
Next to a banana tree is a sign saying ‘Eat Me!’ so the old man helps himself to a banana. Then we hear an angry gardener bemoaning the fact that people keep stealing her bananas. I am tempted to give her a lesson on English grammar regarding the use of the exclamation mark to form the imperative, using Alice in Wonderland as my case in point. But the old man points out that following instructions to ‘Eat Me!’ did not work out well for Alice. So I make do with furtively secreting the contraband in my handbag and beating a hasty retreat to the Canterbury Museum.
The museum has some interesting collections, apparently much of this is down to the first curator’s success in trading moa (a large flightless bird) bones with other museums; it can therefore boast a mummy and various other treasures.
It focuses on the history of the local area and its people. Hence there are sections dedicated to Maori art, a collection of artefacts from Sir Edmund Hillary’s Antarctic expedition, an exhibition documenting Canterbury and its role in WW1, the wonderfully tacky Fred and Myrtle’s paua shell house (a house decorated with shells and other kitsch) and obviously some moa bones.
Next stop Christchurch Art Gallery, which my guide book informs me is bright and bold. The old man only enters art galleries under duress and this one contains a fair number of pieces he feels do not actually count as art. There are a number of (loud) exclamations of “Call that art?!” We do not stay long.
On to the Transitional Cathedral, designed by a Japanese ‘disaster architect’ with its cardboard tube roof and shipping container walls, decorated with colourful triangles of stained glass, it has become an iconic building. Partly because of its uniqueness but mainly because it symbolises a determination to rebuild and move on in the face of adversity.
That’s enough sightseeing for one day, we have walked the entire city from west to east and are exhausted. We return to our motel to refuel and recharge. Then it’s time to stock up, pack up and get ready to move on in the morning.
RTW Day 34 – Oamaru
21st March 2018
Today we head further south along SH1 to Oamaru, which is allegedly popular with penguins. Following our lack of success in finding seals, I have my expectations set to low.
We stop at Timaru, which my guide book describes as a small port city. I have visions of a quaint little fishing town. It’s actually a stonking great container port. We stretch our legs with a wander round Caroline Bay Park with gardens running to sand dunes and the beach. It has a nice rose garden, some weird sculptures and a rather sad aviary. We briefly consider leaving the doors open to liberate the birds.
Timaru also has an art gallery. This has even weirder sculptures but very little art, most of the interior is earthquake damaged and cordoned off. The only exhibition is called blue & gold. All the paintings on one side are blue, all the paintings on the other side are gold. We do not stay long.
We continue to Oamaru. My guide book describes it as NZ’s coolest town. It’s 10 degrees colder than it was in Christchurch yesterday, so I’m inclined to agree. We envisaged a nice picnic on the beach, but end up eating in the car overlooking a windswept, deserted beach before checking into our accommodation, which is basically a shed in someone’s back garden.
There is a brief discussion about paying $60 for the possibility of seeing some penguins. We opt instead for an afternoon nap. Or rather we agree to take a nap, the old man falls asleep and I help myself to the little bottle of complementary fizz our host has left in the fridge.
The weather is atrocious but we decide to head to Bushy Beach nature reserve which has a hide where you can watch yellow eyed penguins come ashore. We spot four; two in the water, two on the beach. We are very excited and take photos even though they’re obviously too far away. Then pore over the photos trying to pinpoint the penguins which of course we can’t. But we’re excited to have spotted them nonetheless.
Ironically, having failed to spot seals at the seal colony, the beach is teaming with them. They lie there for a while then head into the ocean for some frolicking in the waves.
We planned to explore Oamaru but the weather is getting worse so we return to our shed and spend the evening watching tv.
RTW Day 35 – Dunedin
22nd March 2018
After breakfast (a meal made more dramatic by the old man getting his hot cross bun stuck in the toaster and almost burning down the shed), we venture forth to check out Oamaru. LP claims it to be both Dickensian and hip, cool and freaky. I am intrigued to see how this pans out.
We can’t resist a visit to Steampunk HQ – a museum full of weird stuff. It’s awesomely insane or maybe insanely awesome. It contains all sorts of bizarre contraptions and a seriously strange laboratory.
My favourite is The Portal. It’s a small room of glass and mirrors decorated with strings of lights. You shut yourself in to watch an infinite light show.
Next on my itinerary are the Moeraki Boulders; a collection of spherical boulders on the beach. The old man is not convinced these qualify as a tourist attraction. They are, however, surrounded by a gaggle of tourists taking selfies.
We’ve been travelling long enough now to be able to identify the nationality of tourists by their selfie poses. I start with a very reserved British pose then go for a more German ‘help I’m stuck in a boulder’ pose. I’m not up to attempting the Chinese ‘I ought to be auditioning for a porn movie’ pose.
We take a detour down a dirt track to Katiki Point. It has a pretty lighthouse and a nature reserve. We take a walk along the coastal path, it is littered with seals. The signs advise not to go within 10 metres of a seal but it’s a 10 metre wide peninsula with seals either side. I’m a bit nervous and the old man thinks it’s hilarious to run up behind me making seal noises. He’s not as funny as he thinks he is.
After a brief pit stop for some very tasty Beanos pies (I opt for the butter chicken) we continue to Dunedin. It is said that Scots chose to settle here because they travelled south until the weather was miserable enough to remind them of home. It is, perhaps not surprisingly, raining.
We check into the rather fancifully named Aria on Bank. It’s very nice with the bedroom on a glass fronted mezzanine over the living room. It’s like a little house and such a luxury being able to walk around without tripping over suitcases.
We pop out to visit Dunedin railway station – apparently NZ’s most photographed building. It is beautiful, almost like a church for trains with its train stained glass windows and mosaic floors.
We stop at the supermarket to get dinner. We are staying close to Ortago University, NZ’s oldest university. We are the oldest people in there by 30 years. It makes me feel very old.
RTW Day 36 – Dunedin
23rd March 2018
So much for coming to the Southern Hemisphere to escape the British winter. It’s the same temperature in Dunedin as Bournemouth. First task today is to unpack my fleeces which I put at the bottom of my suitcase thinking they were no longer needed. At least it’s stopped raining, which is good as we have a lot to fit in today.
We start with a whistle stop tour of Dunedin, which has some impressive buildings courtesy of the 19th Century gold rush . We walk round the octagonal city centre dominated by a large Robbie Burns statue (one of the first Scottish settlers was his nephew). We visit the cathedral with its colourful stained glass windows depicting St Paul surrounded by penguins, seals and albatrosses. Not sure about the prevalence of such animals in the Middle East two thousand years ago…
Then on to the art gallery; always a risk with the old man in tow. But they have a surprisingly good collection of pieces he acknowledges as art – there’s Monet, Constable, Lowry. Plus plenty of work by NZ artists. My favourite are Marilynn Webb’s powerful environmental ‘recipes’.
Last stop in Dunedin is the Otago Settlers Museum. It is also surprisingly good, documenting the history the area focusing on its settlers (Maori and European). There’s a reconstruction of the first British settlers’ ship, plenty of old vehicles and machinery and a great collection of retro adverts. I particularly like ‘The Great Henri French Intoxicated Genius’ and ‘Ferry The Human Frog’.
From Dunedin we drive round the bay to the Otago Peninsula. We stop for a picnic at Larnach Castle, dubbed NZ’s only Castle. It’s not really a castle, it’s a mansion built to resemble a castle. It took 200 labourers 3 years to build, then skilled craftsmen spent a further 12 years embellishing it.
It was commissioned by local businessman/MP William Larnach to impress his wife. She hated it and promptly died as did wife number 2 (sister of wife no 1). He added a ballroom in an attempt to persuade his daughters not to leave home. Then wife number 3 had an affair with his son, so he shot himself.
The grounds are very pretty with a great view across the harbour. The house itself is jam packed with 3 bus loads of Chinese tour groups so we lose interest and move on.
The castle is high up in the centre of the peninsula. Reaching the main coastal road requires driving along a 5 mile single track. It’s a steep, winding rollercoaster of a journey. The remainder of the route is along the coast. It’s very scenic and there’s a huge array of birds in the wetlands but it’s only marginally less scary perched precariously on a road above the bay with no barriers.
Otago Peninsula is famed for its wildlife, but it’s not cheap to watch the wildlife around here. Areas are cordoned off and entry fees apply. We opt for the Royal Albatross Centre at $50 dollars each (per person not per albatross). Expense aside, it is a great experience. After a very informative 30 minute presentation we spend 30 minutes in a hide watching the birds. There are 4 babies in their nests awaiting their parents. There is also a group of young birds. Once an albatross learns to fly, it takes off on a 5 year circumnavigation of the globe. It then returns home to pick a mate. These young birds are socialising and showing off as a kind of courtship. They soar in circles overhead. With their 3 metre wingspan it’s an amazing sight.
We return to Dunedin where it’s time for supper and an early night. We have parkrun and a long drive ahead tomorrow.
RTW Day 37 – Te Anau
24th March 2018
We have reached the furthest point of our journey, almost 12,000 miles from home. Today we travel west to Fjordland National Park.
But first, Dunedin parkrun. It has its pros and cons. Con: it starts at 8 am. Pro: it’s in the Botanic Garden so very picturesque. Con: it’s steep and prides itself on being NZ’s toughest parkrun. Pro: the view from the top is spectacular. Con: you have run up there twice.
The old man has done no running and eaten a significant number of chocolate caramel slices since last week so I am hopeful of catching him up. I manage this on the final uphill but am too wussy on the steep, gravelly downhill and finish 5 seconds behind.
We return to the hotel, shower and check out with minutes to spare and set off on the 4 hour drive across South Island. We take a break in Gore, NZ’s home of country music. I’m hoping for a strange guitar shaped sculpture and I’m not disappointed. It’s on the village green next to a huge fish.
We don’t plan to stop again but our attention is drawn to a pristine steam locomotive sitting in a field. Ironically we have accidentally stumbled upon Croydon.
The train is in the Aviation Heritage Centre. It is, not unexpectedly, full of old aeroplanes. Some guy latches onto us to give us an unsolicited guided tour (mainly about him). I attempt an escape bid but get cornered in the car park. Luckily I we escape and continue on our way.
The first half of our journey was through pleasant rolling green hills but the second half is really special. We are surrounded on 3 sides by snow capped mountains, their tips peeping above the clouds.
At the end of the road, Te Anau, a town on the edge of a lake. It’s stunning. Our motel, Lakeside Motel, is opposite the lake, so we check in and go for a walk along the lakeside trail. It’s a pleasant stroll until a weird caterpillar falls down my cleavage. The old man gallantly volunteers to fish it out.
Caterpillar successfully retrieved, we buy a curry and sit on the motel lawn, watching the sun set though a small gap between the mountains and the clouds.
RTW Day 38 – Milford Sound
25th March 2018
Today we have booked a cruise round Milford Sound. To reach the sound (which is actually a fjord) we have a 70 mile drive through the mountains – literally, as it includes a 1200 metre mountain tunnel.
According to my guide book, sometimes the destination is the journey. And it is indeed a spectacular drive surrounded by mountains, lakes and waterfalls.
We stop at Mirror Lakes where you can see the reflection of the mountains in the still water. The ducks haven’t read the script and their diving means the water is somewhat more rippled than in the brochure pictures, which obviously involved some serious duck scaring before shooting any photos.
After 60 miles comes the Homer Tunnel, hewn through the mountain. On the other side of the mountain it is raining. Our cruise company has told us how much time to allow for the journey. It is a huge overestimation and we arrive an hour early. We ponder whether to wait in the terminal building or take a walk along the boardwalk and get soaked. We opt for a short walk and a long wait. We are surrounded by clouds so there’s not much to see anyway.
By the time our cruise departs, the rain has abated and the cloud has lifted slightly.
The boat sails the length of the fjord, does a U turn in the Tasman Sea and returns along the Fjord. The mountains rise almost vertically on either side, cloud hangs around their summits and there are dozens of waterfalls cascading down the rocks.
An added bonus on our return, we see a mother seal nursing a new born pup. Now for the captain’s party trick. He rotates the boat through 90 degrees and drives headfirst into a waterfall. This leaves a lot of soaked Chinese people on deck. Whether they wanted to get wet or just didn’t understand the announcement, I’m not sure.
Once ashore we return to Te Anau stopping at a couple of points of interest along the way. First, the Chasm, a huge circular hole in the rock caused by the force of the waterfall running into it. Then the Homer Tunnel, a huge circular hole in the rock caused by men with pick axes.
At the tunnel entrance we find a kea, a large flightless alpine parrot. We also spot another flightless bird, a kea. It has been a good day and we return to Te Anau tired but happy.
RTW Day 39 – Wanaka
26th March 2018
And so our 12,000 mile journey home begins. Today we drive to Wanaka. The GPS can’t cope with the mountainous terrain so I have to resort to old fashioned navigating. We successfully reach our destination despite the old man’s inability to follow basic instructions.
For several miles we drive alongside Lake Wakatipu, also known as Thunderbolt Lake as it resembles a flash of lightning. If Zorro created a lake, it would look like this.
We stop for lunch at Queenstown. My guide book informs me it is NZ’s adrenaline capital and lists various bungee, sky swing and luge opportunities. We have brought up 2 children and spent our working lives in schools, airports and embassies. We don’t feel the need to jump off a bridge attached to a piece of elastic for extra adrenaline.
We opt instead for a walk in the lakeside gardens with the Remarkable mountains in the background. We choose a secluded spot for a picnic but news of the arrival of food soon spreads and we are rapidly surrounded by a gang of ducks.
A quick toilet stop before we set off and a disconcerting first – a time limited toilet. Once you activate the electronic lock, a rather creepy voice tells you that you have ten minutes. I’m not sure what happens after 10 minutes, I don’t stay to find out but it is unsettling knowing you are being timed going about your business.
On the way out of town we stop at Kawarau suspension bridge. It’s a pretty little bridge over an opal blue river. It’s also the original home of bungee. If you have more money than sense, you can jump off the pretty little bridge headfirst towards the opal blue river.
There aren’t actually any jumpers, just a viewing platform where tourists jostle for position to take photos should anyone decide that paying $200 to jump off a bridge is how they want to spend 10 seconds of their Monday afternoon.
We arrive at our motel in Wanaka. It’s on the shore of Lake Wanaka at the foot of Mount Aspiring. It’s very picturesque but I seem to be suffering from sightseeing fatigue. Suddenly it all feels a bit too much too far from home.
RTW Day 40 – Franz Josef
27th March 2018
Day 40 – half way through our trip. Today we have a 180 mile drive north to Franz Josef Glacier. It didn’t sound far when we planned it, but NZ roads are narrow and windy with few passing places. Add in the bus loads of Chinese tourists and the RVs full of British pensioners and basically 180 miles means driving all day.
First I go for a jog round Lake Wanaka. I plan to run to Wanaka’s top attraction; #ThatWanakaTree – it’s a tree growing in the middle of the lake. I wonder if I will be able to locate a lone tree in the dawn half-light but I needn’t have worried, it’s easy to spot the ring of photographers on the bank.
The wind blowing across the lake is intense. A century ago some settler decided to deal with the issue by planting a row of oak trees so I am subjected to an aerial bombardment of acorns.
Wanaka tree photographed, it’s an uphill run back to the hotel. The tiles along the footpath have been numbered and turned into a huge timeline. I’m so engrossed I almost forget I’m running up a hill and I hate hills.
We check out and have a sausage sandwich by the lake before setting off. The weather forecast is for heavy rain and 120 kph winds. At our our first stop, Lake Hawea, we can see the rain falling at the far side of the lake which makes a great atmospheric photo. Minutes later we reach the rain, which is less great.
At least the wet weather adds to the appeal of our next two stops; Fantail Falls (several falls joining together forming a fan shape) and Thunder Creek Falls (a waterfall thundering vertically down the rock face) are in full flow.
But the next part of our journey, which is supposed to be a spectacular mountain pass, is pretty much just a drive through a cloud. The rain is torrential, which is weird because I thought rain fell out of clouds, yet we’re actually in the clouds and it’s still raining.
After 5 hours driving in heavy rain, we reach the turnoff for our final planned destination. It’s 5 miles along an unsealed road to a lookout offering views of Fox Glacier and Mount Cook. I suggest giving it a miss as visibility is only a few metres. But the old man is determined. He has a joke about mints planned for his FB status. He says we should go there anyway (to be precise, he says we should ‘suck it and see’). Obviously I don’t laugh. Also, obviously there is no view of glaciers or mountains. We can’t even work out which direction we’re supposed to be looking in.
We give up and head for our hostel in Franz Josef; Glow Worm. Expectations are low, the most recent review says merely; “I survived”. But, weird stuff on the bathroom roof aside, it’s not too bad. It has dorms and private rooms – so maybe the dorms suck.
Finally the rain abates and we go for a walk round the village. The clouds are still too low to see any glacier. That will have to wait till tomorrow.
RTW Day 41 – Franz Josef
28th March 2018
Not a great start to the day. The bed is ridiculously uncomfortable so I have not slept well and I wake to find my children have been fighting. Quite a feat as they are 7000 miles apart. However, we can hear from the buzzing of helicopters overhead, that the weather has lifted.
Helicopter is the only way to access the glaciers. We opt instead for a 90 minute walk up the retreating glacial bed to the bottom of Franz Josef Glacier. It’s a pretty walk alongside and across the river. Information panels explain how the vegetation changes the closer you get to the retreating glacier.
In the afternoon we return to the Fox Glacier lookout. From the same spot we sat at yesterday, wondering which way was up, you do indeed get a terrific view of the glacier and Mount Cook, NZ’s highest mountain.
Last stop, Lake Matheson. It’s a lake where you can see a reflection of Mount Cook in the water. It’s strange how we can’t really see the mountain on the water, yet in the photos the reflection looks pretty cool. We walk the 90 minute lakeside circuit, meaning we have covered a good 10 miles today. We retreat to the motel to rest and refuel.
RTW Day 42 – Greymouth
29th March 2018
Our last driving day in NZ as we head 100 miles north to Greymouth. Our motel for the past 2 nights was all the reviews promised; damp, smelly and uncomfortable and it’s a relief to be on the road again. We leave North Southland and enter South Westland, or something like that, it’s all starting to blur a little.
We take a break in Hokitika a small town at the mouth of the River Hokitika. A hundred plus years ago it was a boom town, epicentre of the gold rush. Now it’s struggling to find some sort of raison d’être. It seems to have settled with being a pleasant place to stop on the way to/from somewhere else and has rebranded itself coollittletown.com. We take a walk along the beach, where someone has made the word Hokitika out of driftwood. Then back through the quaint town centre for elevenses on a bench by the river.
It’s a picturesque drive up the rugged coast on a ledge between the mountains and the ocean. As we head north, the temperature starts to rise and the vegetation becomes less alpine, giving way to gorse and flax.
The approach to Greymouth is interesting. The road bridge across a rather wide river is out of action, so we are diverted across the ancient wooden railway bridge. It’s very narrow and driving a car on a railway line is a slippery, bone shaking affair.
We detour 30 miles up the coast to Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks; a layered rock formation (formed by stylobedding) which resemble a stack of pancakes. The old man is still grumbling about being taken to see rocks that resembled marbles a week ago. But he cheers up when he realises he change his FB status to ‘Rocky 2’.
The Pancake Rocks have been incorporated into a nice circular walk, lined with native plants with viewing platforms and information about the area’s geology and wildlife. We have missed high tide so the blow hole is only spitting but the rocks themselves are quite a sight. A sign says scientists can’t explain how the rocks were formed. We suspect we know one who can!
We return and check into our motel in Greymouth. It’s clean and comfortable and doesn’t smell. And it’s huge. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to reach the toilet without tackling an assault course of my own belongings.
In the evening we head for the breakwater to watch the sunset. The old man is convinced he knows the way and heads towards a deserted dock. We spend some time climbing through an industrial wasteland. On the other side of the river, glinting in the setting sun, is a row of hire cars and RVs of tourists enjoying the view but we still have some cranes and a disused railway siding to explore before he admits defeat.
We make it to the breakwater just in time to see the sunset. An added bonus; there are dolphins chasing the surf just offshore. Once the sun has set, we head back to luxuriate in our enormous motel suite with dinner and some mighty fine Harrington’s beer.
RTW Day 43 – TranzAlpine Railway
30th March 2018
I have been looking forward to today. We are taking the TranzAlpine train – a 150 mile coast to coast journey through the Southern Alps to Christchurch.
Time to pack. We don’t have much stuff; there are 15 occasions on this trip when we are restricted to one case and one piece of hand luggage. But in between, it seems to grow and fill every available space.
Our train is at 2 pm, so we have 4 hours to kill in Greymouth. This would be a challenge on a normal day, but today is Good Friday. LP lists two things to do and they’re both shut. Greymouth made its wealth from coal mining but the mines are closed now so it’s rather a sorry place. We head for Coal Heritage Park. There are a selection of coal wagons and mining equipment, a drill bit sculpture and a memorial to those who died in mining accidents. After an hour, we have exhausted all that the town has to offer and retreat to McDonald’s for free WiFi.
After lunch we head for the station to board our train on what is billed as one of the great railway journeys of the world. It’s quite spectacular: from the west coast, along rivers, past lakes, parallel to the Alpine Fault, up into the mountains and down through the Canterbury Plains. You can enjoy the scenery from the comfort of your seat or an open viewing platform.
Least favourite part is an 8.5 km mountain tunnel. It takes some preparation. We have to stop to add extra engines, we are locked into our carriages and the buffet is closed because the staff have ‘other duties’ to attend to. It’s a nerve racking few minutes, tunnelling through a mountain in an area renowned for its earthquakes, but we make it without event.
On the other side, at Arthur’s Pass we are allowed off the train briefly. We are now in the Alps, 920 m above sea level. We descend through sheep and cattle stations, passing dozens of bridges and viaducts towards Canterbury. It’s awesome scenery but my attempts at photography are a failure. Most of my pictures are blurred and almost all contain a telegraph pole and/or a Chinese tourist who has launched themself in front of me at the opportune moment.
I return from the viewing carriage to find the old man experimenting with taking photos of his reflection in the window so that there are two of him in one shot.
We reach Christchurch by 7 pm and check into an airport hotel. Our NZ adventure is at an end. Tomorrow we fly to Australia.