Today was our free day in Christchurch, but for those of us who can't get enough of trains Mike organised an excursion out to the Weka Pass Railway, located in Waipara, about 60km north of Christchurch. I met the tour bus downtown in front of the hotel at 9:45am, and we drove for about 45 minutes to reach the station, named Glenmark. On the way there I put on my iPod, something I haven't done very much since arriving in New Zealand... it was fun to watch the countryside flash past to a soundtrack of the Barenaked Ladies, Tragically Hip, Reverend Horton Heat, and AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top".
|Spring is in bloom here down under!|
|Christchurch is indeed 'The Garden City'|
|Queen Victoria surveys her park|
It is somewhat refreshing to be with a group of people such as made up our party today... it makes me feel positively normal in comparison when I see them frantically photographing the train from every angle, fastidiously writing down every engine's number and every station arrival and departure in their notebooks, and chattering intensely about different makes, models of trains, and the railways they have frequented (I think they are all trying to one-up one another). It also reminds me to simply enjoy the moment and to not turn into one of those tourists who photographs absolutely everything and in the end doesn't enjoy the journey... sees all the trees, but has no concept of the forest, as it were.
|The Weka Pass Express heads out of the depot|
|I love the shiny steam dome.|
|It's the expression of the fireman that makes this shot for me.|
The Weka Pass Railway runs a train on 13km of track from Glenmark Station in Waipara to the Waikari Station (in Waikari), over a section of rail known (you guessed it) as Weka Pass. The railway is entirely volunteer-run, and it was volunteers that moved to save and restore the section of railway when it was purchased in 1983. The line closed in 1978, but hadn't seen regular passenger service since 1939. Now steam passenger trains run on Sundays, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
|You can't go to New Zealand and not take a picture of sheep!|
|This looks like the default Windows XP |
background, but it's the real deal!
The steam locomotive that pulls the train is number 428, built here in New Zealand in 1909 by A. & G. Price in Thames. It's a 4-6-2, and if we don't count the bush tram ride at Shantytown, marks my first trip on a coal-fired locomotive! And while it is fascinating to watch the fireman shovel in the coal, and smell the coal smoke in the air, I am certainly glad #25 has been converted to oil; coal dust coats everything, and leaning out the sides of the open car to take pictures I got flecks of soot in my eyes on multiple occasions (ouch). It was worth it though, for some of the pictures I took; the scenery was typical New Zealand vineyards and pastures, but of course when I say "typical" I should say "typically stunning". One notable feature was the clay and limestone the railway was built through (dug out by hand in the 1880s!). There were some unusual rock formations, including one dubbed "Frog Rock". You can read all about Weka Pass Railway and its locies here: http://www.wekapassrailway.co.nz/
|The Weka Pass Express|
|These kids were prepared for the locie's whistle.|
|Does the rock look frog-like?|
|Al checks out the cars and locie|
In the afternoon when we got back to Christchurch I did some wandering around the Garden City. It's kind of like being in Victoria, but with a little more England and a little less ocean (there's the Avon River instead, which flows through the centre). A lot of the architecture in Christchurch is in the Gothic Revival style, resulting in some very beautiful buildings (more than one would think that appear unscathed after the earthquake). I bought an ice cream cone and sat in Cathedral Square, listening to the carillon of the majestic Anglican Christchurch Cathedral chime out over across the city.
|The beautiful Avon River|
|This one's for you, Mom!|
|Christchurch's old railway station. It's now a science centre.|
|A building damaged in the September earthquake|
|All buildings fit for occupancy were prominently displaying|
inspection reports such as this one.
|The Christchurch Cathedral. The west transept window's|
stained glass was damaged in the September earthquake
and is now undergoing repairs.
|The Cathedral's spire|
|War memorial statue|
I then hopped on the city tour tram, which runs in a loop all around in the inner city on specially-laid tracks, with the driver (the "Motorman") giving a brief commentary on some of Christchurch's more famous sites and attractions as we dove past. Like many cities, Christchurch did have a tram network, which was closed in 1954 after the conversion to buses. The current tram system was opened in 1995, strictly as a tourist attraction, but the tram cars are all restored historical pieces, including a 36-seat dinner tram that offers a truly unique dining experience and leaves from Cathedral Square every night at 7:30pm, and contains a bathroom and a kitchen! The Christchurch Tramway website is http://www.tram.co.nz/ .
|One of Christchurch's trams|
|I love this sign. Its literalness makes me laugh.|
|Inside one of the trams|
|No talking to the employees... (not actually followed anymore)|
|... and no opening windows |
(still followed - they snap up violently!)
I got off the tram at the park in Victoria Square, where Diwali - the Indian Festival of Lights - is happening. I took in the music, the smell of the ethnic cuisine, and the beautiful costumes of the dancers... I am going to walk past there on my way back to the hostel tonight and take in the lights (it was still too bright earlier).
|Beautiful street art at the Diwali festival|
|Food, music, dancing, culture... this celebration had it all.|
|A magic show|
Then it is off to bed for me... tomorrow is a marathon travel day, as we travel 414km back to Wellington via rail and ferry. Wish me luck, and let's hope that the ferry ride is a smoother sailing than my first experience on the InterIslander..!