Mountains and Hills, Buses and Trains – Part 1

On Monday, I took the Tranzalpine train across New Zealand’s Southern Alps, from Christchurch to Greymouth and back again. Doing so took me across the flat Canterbury plains (shaped like a wedge rising imperceptibly but substantially towards the mountains), through the “high country” where merino sheep graze in summer and Alpine tussocks abound, and through vistas of craggy snow-capped peaks (though less snow capped than usual for this time of year). The views between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass were glorious! The train has a viewing car with no windows that I spent some time in despite the cold. The wind from the speed of the train at times brought tears to my eyes, but much of the time I spent out there was exhilarating.

From Arthur’s Pass, we then went through one of the longest tunnels in the world and emerged in a completely different landscape, and on a different tectonic plate. The mountains were covered in different trees on the western half, and shrouded in clouds and rain. Unfortunately I couldn’t really see much of anything due to poor visibility.

I had about thirty minutes in Greymouth, enough time to get some postcards and a pounamu (greenstone, or jade) pendant and to get thoroughly damp walking from the station into the town doing so.

The return was similar in terms of weather. It got dark before we arrived back at Christchurch so some of the viewing was sadly cut short.

I did enjoy seeing the difference between the east and west of the mountains, but if I had had less time in Christchurch, I think I would just have booked from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass. All the way to Greymouth and back does make for a long day. Not that I could tell because of the western clouds and rain in the west, but it also seems that the more dramatic scenery is on the east.

Also, since it is low season, there was plenty of room on the train, window seats to spare. I had booked from the US because I had been worried I wouldn’t get a seat (and therefore payed a premium as anyone without a New Zealand IP address does) but I would have been fine booking here. I am glad I had the security of knowing I had my booking, however, as I would have been dreadfully disappointed not to go. There was some breathtaking scenery!

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