My trip to Christchurch wouldn’t be complete without a ride to Greymouth on Kiwirail. This road was opened a while a go, but during the earthquake in 2011 it was significantly damaged, especially the tunnel. This tunnel is 8.5 km long and the roof has collapsed in a few places. Some repair works are still happening, but only on certain dates. Luckily, on the day I went it was all good.
We left Christchurch about half past seven and it was still dark outside.
The interesting thing about this train is that there are only three passenger carriages, an open carriage and a restaurant. The locomotive in the photo is the smallest of three different types arranged by pulling force. On the plains, the small one is good, but half way through at one of the stations, a different locomotive was connected instead. This had to happen because we started to climb the hills up to 2000 m above sea level, and this section of the way needed much more power.
This is NOT our train. This is a freight train, which we saw on one of the stations.
This is our train.
And this carriage is without the widows, more like a viewing platform. It was great, of course, but extremely cold and windy. To get a breath, I had to turn my head back from the window.
Inside the carriage is like a plane, but even more comfortable as there are large seats arranged in twos, and lots of space between the seats. Some compartments include four seats facing each other (for family or group of friends) with a table in between. However, a majority of seats are behind each other.
Those huge widows allow passengers to enjoy the views without any interruption and all them to take good photos. Half of my photos were taken by iPhone at great speed through the windows.
It was a very cold morning. When we left it was zero degrees, and the temperature did not rise by much. There was frost on the grass and little bit of snow on the trees. It was very very beautiful.
This house looks completely frozen.
Not far from Christchurch, the small hills became large and slowly turn into snow-capped mountains. The highest mountain on the North Island in NZ is just over 2700 m, which is pretty high, but I’ve seen the Himalayas (much taller).
Time and time again we would have a glimpse of a river, which snaked through the valley below.
We were flying past some solitary standing farmhouses and tiny villages.
This is a small village, the name of which I can’t remember. And there would be nothing remarkable about it, if not for this imprisoned gorilla in a cage. I actually had to look twice to make sure it was not real.
Next to the “prisoner” there is a spunky looking vintage car. I wish I could offer an explanation, but unfortunately I have no idea. However, it can’t stop me from making up some story. How about this – the poor gorilla was in love with a farmers daughter. The girl, of course, couldn’t or wouldn’t consider the gorilla as a suitable admirer, even if there were no Prince Charming around. Desperate for love and attention, the gorilla stole this car from a rich miner. When the luxurious (then) car arrived with the gorilla behind the wheel, the poor girl fainted on the spot (probably from excitement). Her father thought she was dead and called police. Stealing is an offence in any book, even if it’s in the name of love. Of course, poor heart broken monkey (or should I say primate), was caught and put in a cage to take it to the prison. The girl, however, recovered from that little moment and realised that she managed to fall in love with a chivalrous gorilla. The news about capturing and imprisoning the love of her life broke her heart and she died for real. Now we have 2 heartbroken creatures, one dead body, and gorilla in a cage. What a melodrama!
But it did not stop there. The policemen decided not to send the gorilla away, because the father saw him as his “almost” son-in-law and sometimes came to talk to Gerry (nickname for the offender). And a car stayed there as a symbol of the tragic love story and a reminder that stealing is a punishable offence.
About two hours later we reached Arthur’s Pass. Here they changed our locomotive for the more powerful one. We got about 15-20 minutes to stretch our legs and take some photos. It was pretty cold and windy.
Some people decided to stay overnight and explore the National Park. A few took a walk to the nearby hills and caught our train on the way back. But I wanted to go through the famous tunnel straight to Greymouth.
This is the great 8.5 km long tunnel.
Further down own we saw a huge lake.
The mountain behind it make it look like a beautiful postcard.
This lake was so big, that people were sailing their boats.
When we arrived in Greymouth it was midday. Some people went for lunch to local restaurants, but I didn’t want to waste my one hour, so I tried to see as much as possible. This is a Town Hall where a few government agencies reside.
This is Custom Street and an Esplanade behind it. Those half-pipes behind the street sign are actually huge flower pots. I couldn’t have thought up this idea myself, but it actually looked very stylish.
This is a memorial to the miners, who died during mining incidents. There are 147 names on the list and it goes back to the beginning of the last century.
In Greymouth I realised that New Zealenders really like graffiti. In the beginning I thought that they use it as a cover-up for the bare walls in Christchurch. But no, there were a few places where graffiti was used for the decoration. In the window shop…
On the wall…
One hour didn’t stretch too long, and soon I had to rush back to my train. On the platform I noticed a charity stall selling homemade biscuits and these cute swans. I didn’t have any money and they didn’t have credit card facilities. Since I couldn’t buy any sweets, I asked to take photo at least. The guy had pity on me and gave me one for free. That can happen only in small country towns.
We left on time and I was very I pleased, as my flight was leaving in 2 hours after coming back by train. But I simply didn’t have time to worry as I admired the scenery behind the windows.
Since I decided not to waste my precious hour on eating lunch in the town, I was pretty hungry by this time. Luckily, our train had a restaurant. It was such a great, quiet place. I had a nice big salad, tea and ice cream (not at once, no. I stretched it for well over an hour, just to stay there). We were lucky to have a great crew, who looked after the passengers needs and the restaurant. Thank you Jo, William and Anite for making this trip so memorable and pleasurable.
The scenery around us was so beautiful, that people just couldn’t stop taking photos.
This is a bridge where in old times trains were crossing the Grey rivet to get to the coal mines in the mountains.
I know this photo isn’t really good, but I wanted to show a paradox of life. On the way there I saw this herd and wondered why all cows look the same with a wide white band across the middle section. Very strange colouring, right? On the way back, I solved the riddle. Those cows were “wearing” coats made from sheep skin.
Snow capped mountains.
We stopped at Arthur’s Pass to collect our passengers, who left the train previously to explore the area. They were very-very cold and jumped inside in a record time. But we all had to wait till the locomotives were swapped again. Looks like I was the only one out.
More beautiful views.
If “Tracks are for trains” wouldn’t stop you from playing there, the fine of $10000 definitely would.
When we arrived to Christchurch, it was completely dark. The train was late by 30 minutes, but it was still plenty of time to get to my plane. I collected my bag from the main office (they were nice enough to keep it there, so I didn’t have to drag it with me) and called a taxi. The NZ adventure was over.
In the end, I would like to give some practical financial advice. When you decide to buy tickets for this trip, don’t do it from outside of NZ. For me in Australia, the system was showing the only one option of $448 per this trip. I am not kidding, this is the right amount. I really wanted to go, but to pay almost $500 was too much. To save money I was prepared to go there by train for $240 and back by tourist bus for $45. But then I postponed again and decided to buy while in NZ. Just imagine my surprise, when I opened the same website in NZ and found out that I can go there for $119 ( the cheapest fixed fare), and back for $129. So, overall I paid $248, that’s less for going there and back by train, as if I went for my second option with a bus trip buying from Australia. I also sent an email asking for a window seat and I was granted it both ways.
Video: Spectacular footage Train plowing through deep snow Arthurs Pass by geoffmackley
Music: Vashti Bunyan – Train Song by Ray Murray