Monday 5th March, 2018
We arise, breakfast and try to condense our belongings back into two suitcases and two back-packs. We have been living out of a car for two weeks and have accumulated cartons, bottles, carrier bags and other “camping” conveniences which are scattered all over it and which do not always come into hotels with us. Ultimately all this must pass the scrutiny of the airline industry as we present our kit for loading, so some discipline is called for. Our train has an airlines-style bag drop, where we witness two stout kiwis in orange day-glow jackets (they are all orange here; I haven’t seen a yellow one) man-handle our kit onto the baggage wagon. David, who always watches these proceedings, just to keep a check on our precious belongings, hears the baggage man utter “Christ almighty” as he loads the first of our bags. I do hope the aeroplane men don’t cut up rough.
The TranzAlpine journey must be among the world’s most scenic and spectacular of rail journeys. The train is the last word in comfort and organisation: allocated comfortable seats; headphones for the commentary – if you are Chinese or if you need it; cafeteria service and, best of all, a viewing car with no window glass for the click-a-holic photographers to lean from. Two mighty throbbing diesel units haul the 15 car train from sea level, up to Arthur’s Pass (737m), through the grand National Park there, and down the other side of the Southern Alps, across the Canterbury Plain and into Christchurch in just about 4 ½ hours.
The Southern Alps are a formidable natural barrier. The mountain range is the back-bone of South Island and is only passable, with wheels, in four places. Lewis pass is the most northern. We did that one, west to east, on our great diversion on Friday 23rd; Arthur’s Pass (which we are about to do, west to east, again; Haast pass which we drove over, east to west, last Friday and the Milford Pass which we did in both directions in our coach trip in one day. Mathematicians among you will be checking that we haven’t ended up on opposite sides at the same time, or via some time–warp. That’s a pretty fine collection of passes for one small family.
David is in his element as photographer-in chief and spends much of the journey standing, and clicking, in the windowless viewing car. It is a fine and sunny day.
A few images:
We de-train, take a taxi to out hotel and dine quietly for this is journey’s end and there is a blog to write up.