Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Christchurch to Greymouth on the train: Sunday June 22, 2014

Today we are taking a train ride across the South Island, west to east and back again, all in one day. We are leaving Christchurch and riding the train west across the Southern Alps to the town of Greymouth located on the Tasman Sea.  The area outside Christchurch, west of the city, is called the Canterbury Plains.  This is definitely a Plain - it is absolutely flat. Trees are used as wind breaks to protect homesteads as well as the paddocks where the sheep and cattle graze. They also grow large amounts of grain crops on these Plains, especially wheat. It is a beautiful productive area.

The train is not full of passengers on the westbound route, but we understand the eastbound train will be full.  There is only one train per day per direction. It has lovely modern coach cars, a cafĂ© car, and an open-sided car from where it is best to take photos (no window reflections) - however it is rather cold today when you are outside. Cal is spending a lot of his time out there.
The KiwiRail Train for Today

Very Comfortable Seating

Open windows (no glass) for the Observation Car

Due to other fibers used for making clothes, the use of wool has decreased over the years therefore the production of sheep is down in comparison to years ago.  However saying this, there are many sheep Stations in the high country.  A Station/ranch is a huge area and has a minimum of 20,000 sheep on it.          

After we left the Canterbury Plains, the train began climbing and climbing. This higher land is only good for grazing. The train tracks often follow rivers, and we crossed gorges on several high trestle bridges. We also went through tunnel after tunnel, climbing and climbing, until we reached Arthur’s Pass. Along the way we could see snowed mountain peaks. It is a beautiful ride.  You would see one lovely peak and then another one would appear. Due to the mountains there are lots of rivers, and the ones at the lower levels are braided. We also stopped at several rail stations to pick up people and drop others off. 

Beginning of the River Gorge

Lonely Country House

Snow on the Mountains

Bridge Across the River
The final tunnel was 8 km long, taking 15 minutes to get to the other end.  It was 12:45 when we arrived at our destination, Greymouth, on the west coast.  We had an hour to grab a bite to eat and be ready for the return trip. We ignored taking several photos on our way west due to lighting, so we should get them on the return trip. Also on the return trip we needed an extra engine to get us over the mountain pass. The mountain is steeper on the eastbound tracks.  Also we have seen many high country lakes along the way, met a coal train in each direction, and saw huts along the way that we assume may be used during the summer months when sheep are on these hills.  At this time of year most of the sheep are brought down to the lower level of the Station.      

The Absolute Beauty of New Zealand

Train coming out of a Tunnel

Oh to be 4WDing on this road

This would be a wonderful area in which to have a jeep. You could go for days on off-roads.  In 1996 when we were on the east side of the North Island we visited a Rotarian who owned a sheep station that over looked the Pacific Ocean. Stations are usually very self-supporting entities, as they are so remote – Many of the areas we have driven through on this trip are so remote that it would be at least a 2 hour drive to town.  The Stations are often 5 miles off the main road on winding gravel roads.  In other words, ‘going to town’ would be an all-day event.
The Highest Elevation on the Route (1200 ft.)

Houses at Arthur's Pass

Back down on the Canterbury Plains you feel like you are in civilization again!!  It is dark by the time we get back to the Rail Station in Christchurch.

Our host booked a lovely restaurant for dinner last night. Then it was back to their home for tea/coffee and dessert.  Final packing is on our mind as well as calling a taxi for the morning ride to the airport. 

Christchurch, New Zealand to Mt Pleasant, Iowa - Monday & Tuesday June 23 & 24, 2014

Christchurch airport: Monday, June 23, 2014

The alarm went off at 3:45am!! The taxi came a 4:08am!  We were on a flight to Sydney, AU by 6:20am for a 3 ½ hour fight. The night was too short!!  And you have that ‘too early’ morning feeling.  It was 0 Celsius or 32 deg. Fahrenheit when we got up in Christchurch.

It was so sad to say goodbye to our friends we learned to know in 1996 (we had spent 2 weeks with her at that point).  It was wonderful to pick up with them again – do not know if either one of us will travel to the others country again – it is simply too far! 
Sunrise over the Pacific at 32,000 ft.

Sydney Airport to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport: Monday, June 23, 2014 – A LOOOOONG DAY!!

Due to time change we had a 5 hour layover in Sydney! We left Sydney at 1:20pm, and after flying 14hr & 30 minutes we arrived in Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW), TX at 1:45pm the same day!!  Immigration and customs took a long time as several other fights were also arriving.   Originally we had booked a flight to go on to Cedar Rapids, Iowa yet today, but that flight was deleted and we would have had another 6 hour layover in DFW, plus a 2 hour flight to Cedar Rapids, with another hour to drive home.  We decided we are simply too old for that kind of schedule and booked a motel here in DFW for tonight.  Thank goodness we did – we are tired.  We never sleep well on those long flights, plus the flight back to the US was FULL in comparison to the one going to AU.

The biggest shock, and we knew that it would be, is the daylight hours.  We came from the extremes of the shortest day to the longest day of daylight.  After a shower and nap we found a restaurant.  Due to the placement of the sun in the sky we were thinking it was probably 4:00, but here it was 6:30 and there was still plenty of sunlight in the day!  This will take a few days of reorientation!      

It is always good to arrive back in the “Good Old USA”, as it is home, but traveling to AU & NZ are the easiest places to travel for Americans (other than Canada).  We simply had a wonderful time making new friends, seeing old friends, seeing new sights and experiencing new things. We enjoyed the brief visits to the cities, but we loved the countryside, agriculture areas , and remote areas the most – pure raw nature at its best. We thought we would twist off the steering wheel in some situations, but it was beauty or beach around the next corner. Each one of our host along the way were special and we did unique things with everyone – a wide variety of experiences. Thanks to everyone we have fond memories of each and all of you. You have made this a memorable wonderful 7 weeks that we are sad to see come to an end.  Immigrating to either of your countries would be no problem for us!! However we are not thinking of it!!

Both AU & NZ are wonderful countries.  We know there is rivalry among the two countries, but the spirit of the people is so similar. They each have their own accent, but they speak English and most of the time we have no problem understanding them. In comparison to us Americans they do have different ways of expressing themselves, which we find so enjoyable and interesting, ie   “Good on you”; “Bugga”, “bugga me”; “as you go”, etc. Also for the most part, their food is very similar and finding things to eat is absolutely no problem – in fact we love the quiches – I need to make more of them at home.  

The biggest difference is the side of the road on which they drive!  We have been so accustomed to driving on the left side of the road for the past 7 weeks that today when we rode on the shuttle bus and taxi, we had second thought!!  It is funny seeing drivers sitting on the other side of the car and crawling into the vehicle on the other side!!  As to who is ‘right’, we will not pass judgment!!

We just wish AU & NZ were not so far away!!         

Tuesday, June 24, 2014: Arriving Home

We are taking the 2 hour flight from DFW to Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CID) this morning and should be home around 12:00 noon. It was great to relax and sleep last night at a motel in Dallas. It will make the rest of the day enjoyable.         

Monday, June 23, 2014

Christchurch, New Zealand: Saturday June 21, 2014:

Today is the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere!!

Today we explored Christchurch which has suffered from two large earthquakes within 6 months.  The first one was on September 4, 2010, then a second one on Feb 22, 2011.  They were different types of earthquakes and even though the second one was not as great on the Richter scale as the first, it did the most damage.  They have had many small quakes and aftershocks since then (14,000 recorded movements)!!

Parking where Buildings were before the Earthquake

Beautiful Vacant Building, unsafe to occupy

Badly damaged Christchurch Anglican Cathedral

Playing Chess in front of Christchurch Cathedral

Was a Seven story building, now vacant soon to be demolished
Christchurch Cathedral - 1996

Playing Chess on Cathedral Square - 1996
(Notice the now damaged, soon to be razed, seven story building in the Background)

In 1996 we visited downtown Christchurch so we were anxious to see it again.  The debris from damaged buildings is gone causing many empty lots. Some buildings have been repaired and are occupied again, but there are many building not occupied.  Several interesting/creative things have occurred.  They have taken used shipping containers, cut in windows and doors, insulated them, finished the insides, painted the outside, and are using them for upscale shops, coffee shops and all sorts of shops. Some are even stacked so they are two stories high. Last week they moved these portable shops to another location so they could start a building where they were located, so they just picked them up with cranes and moved them to the new location!! How unique!   

Shipping Container Shopping Mall

The central Cathedral located in Cathedral Square was severely damaged – see photos.  A Japanese architect designed and has built a Cathedral using of cardboard tubes! We definitely wanted to see this.  Incredible what he has done! Look at the photos. 

Empty Chairs remembering those who died during the earthquake

The Cardboard Cathedral - Expected to last 50 years

CTV Building where 118 lost their lives because of a fire after the quake

We also drove down to one of the beaches.  Houses built on the cliffs above had a scary time during the earth quakes.  Some of the homes are now closer to the cliff, and some are uninhabitable.

When we return home we want to look at our photo from 1996 to refresh our memory of downtown Christchurch – what it looked like in 1996. 

Our host invited two local Rotarian couples to join us for dinner tonight.  It was a delightful evening with good food and great conversation. 

Maruia Springs to Christchurch: Friday, June 20, 2014

It was after 8:00 before we were awake.  It is just dawn.  We walked to the thermal hot rock mineral pools. It is cold outside but what a beautiful spot!  The longer we sat in the pools the more we saw the sun coming up over the mountains.  We could not see all of the mountains last night due to the mist and fog, but also the darkness.  By this morning there were snow-capped mountain peaks all around us – amazing spot.  Plus last night when we were sitting in the pools in a mist, it was actually snowing at higher altitudes.  The snow covered the peaks as well as at some spots the snow came down into the tree-line level. I was taking so many photos that Cal finally said, “You act like you have never seen snow-capped mountains before here”!! Well it was beautiful. But it was cold when you were out of the pools. By 10:30 we checked out of our room and were on our way to the city of Christchurch. 

Maruia Springs

Walkway to the Hot Springs

Maruia Hot Springs Rock Baths

Rachel in the Hot Spring Rock Bath

Snow Capped Mountains in the Distance

We drove the only road available through the mountains, and it goes over Lewis Pass.  The whole mountain range and Lewis Pass had snow covered mountains.  It was a drive we would not have wanted to miss.  We are so glad that we stayed where we did last night, first to enjoy the mineral springs and second so we did not miss the beautiful views we enjoyed this morning.

Snow Capped Mountains near Lewis Pass

After driving an hour we drove into the village of Hamner Springs for a cup of coffee.  This village also has hot spring and spas, but it was crowded with weekend guests. We were again glad we had stopped at Maruia Springs last night.  

Stone Built Farmstead

Brown Sheep

Vineyards near Christchurch

Beach Near Christchurch

We arrived at our friends in Christchurch at approximate 3:00, after another stop at a beach just north of Christchurch.  It was great to see these friends again. She played such a key role in 1996 when the Friendship Exchange team was visiting/traveling in the South Island.  It was great to catch-up with them – we chatted all evening! We also booked a train trip on Sunday. We are taking a scenic train from Christchurch (located on the east coast of New Zealand) directly west across the mountains to Greymouth which is located in the west coast of New Zealand. We will be crossing the country and returning all in one day!

Tomorrow we will be visiting downtown Christchurch that suffered such devastation from an earth quake in September 2011. They are still very much in the rebuilding mode.