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. 

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