What a day yesterday !! I never expected this to be one of my greatest train journeys, and to be parochial, in my own country. Over the years I have been up to Dajeeling in the Himalaya by train, crossed the Andes from Araquepa to Juliaca then on to Cuzco, from Bangkok to Penang in Malaysia, cris-crossed Switzerland by rail, so yesterday when I left Christchurch by rail on the Tranz Alpine, I had non expecations whatsoever.
I now rate this as one of the world's most spectacular rail journeys. The TranzAlpine Express runs across the Southern Alps between Christchurch and Greymouth. The trip is 223km long, lasts 4 1/2 hours and includes 16 tunnels and five viaducts.
Heading out of Christchurch the train first speeds across the farmlands and fields of the Canterbury Plains, through Rolleston and Darfield and the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri region. The views down into the Waimakariri river through most of its course, are spectacular. I recognised many of the rapids as I have kayaked it a number of times when competing in the endurance event, the Coast to Coast.
When you reach Springfield the train begins the climb into the Southern Alps headed for Arthur's Pass.
About here you part company with State Highway 73, which shadows the railway from Aylesbury, and your journey suddenly feels fantastically remote. As the train climbs toward Cass and Arthurs Pass it crosses the famous Staircase Viaduct which, at 73m, is the highest in the South Island. It was good to spy Paddy Freane As you travel through Craigieburn Station which has over 12,000 merino sheep, you run alongside the original coach tracks which Cobb and Company ran a regular service between east and west. As we passed Bealey Spur I could see Paddy Freaney's pub at the Bealey. Paddy was a great mountaineer and to some, the rediscoverer of the extinct Moa, NZ large flightless bird.
Keen trampers can break their trip at Arthur's Pass and visit the national park - the spectacular Bridal Veil track is especially popular. From Arthur's Pass station I could see many peaks I climbed some years ago: Mt. Rolleston and Rome Ridge, Avalanche Peak and Mt. Phillistine. Past Arthurs Pass the train reaches its highest point on the trip before heading into the Otira tunnel, one of the longest in the country. I was so excited to enter the tunnel I had written about in my book, and the making of the Otira Tunnel in my book Ebenezer Teichelmann-Cutting across Continents- but I had never been through
the tunnel. (To read about this check my blog out)
http://ebenezerteichelmann.blogspot.com/What an engineering feet, 7km long and built by pick, shovel and wheel barrows.
From there the gradual descent begins down through beech rainforest, past picturesque Moana on the shores of Lake Brunner, pictured above, and on to Greymouth.
Kira my daughter, and Leith my grandson were there to meet me. Kira, a jeweller, lives with her husband Paul in Ross. His father and mother are gold and coal miners, traditional occupations on the coast.
Kira drove me through Kumara junction, Hokitika to Ross, getting more of a fill of spectacular sea, mountains to sky scenery, as the Southern Alps were visible all the way.
The spectacular coastline of South Westland. Photo: Bob McKerrow
A Church in the snow, or near the snow.. Hopefully we will be travelling to Franz Josef tomorrow. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The Waiho River which drains the Franz Josef neve and glacier. Photo: Bob McKerrow
I have four days on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand before returning to Indonesia. I must write about meeting Margaret Mahy last Saturday in her home in Governors Bay. Margaret is one of the world's greatest children's writers and a wonderful human being. This is turning out to be an amazing holiday with meeting family, warm people and viewing spectacular scenery.
The highest peaks in New Zealand. Mt.Tasman and Mount Cook Aoraki. Photo: Bob McKerrow