Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Steam Train, Day Four: Christchurch to Greymouth

Today's post won't be as long as previous posts because a) it is late and I have to get to bed and b) I am not feeling well, so sleep will do me good.

Today Allan and I sprung the coop, as it were, escaping from the jail :-P and headed back to Christchurch Station to meet up with the rest of the group once again. Our destination: Greymouth, on the west coast of the South Island. Our plains of passage: a 224 km trip through the South Alps, including nineteen tunnels and four viaducts, and some of the most spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer.

I can now say I've woken up in jail... but
I'm not sure that I should brag about that!

My mug shot. Don't I look thrilled...

Al's mug shot

Jb 1236 crosses one of the four
viaducts on the way to Greymouth

I must admit, however, growing up in BC has rather spoiled me to the beauty and majesty of mountains. I can certainly appreciate - and I did - the raw elements and rugged landscapes of the Southern Alps, but a lot of it I found comfortingly familiar... it was as if I was looking at British Columbia's Rocky Mountains through Lewis Carroll's distorted looking glass: the same, and yet fundamentally different. Or perhaps I really had seen those dry grassy mountain top pastures before; they looked suspiciously like the plains of Rohân from The Lord of the Rings.

A field of Canola. "Canadian Oil" in New Zealand!

A unique photo opportunity (fun with reflections)
afforded by the problems the engine
crew were having firing the locie 

Inside the dining car. My seat's on the left,
opposite the two heads belonging to
Mary and Roy from Australia.

Describing what I saw today would be rather silly; after all, a picture is worth a thousand words, so when I finally get enough time and bandwidth to upload some of my photos I will. The main highlights of today:

1. Having Wellington Track Control bungle up shuffling around ourselves and the coal trains that regularly haul back and forth on the line, causing us to wait for half an hour at Springfield Station, and later causing a coal train to have to wait for us to pass through the Otira tunnel.

Jb 1236 stopped at Springfield Station

The horses came out to meet the iron horse

Backing onto the siding at Springfield Station to let the
coal train pass. The Southern Alps are in the background.

Letting a coal train pass at Cass Station

2. "Coal train" sounds like "Coltrane" when one says it out loud. Hence, I have had jazz saxophone playing in my head all day long.

Stunning, 'Super, Natural' New Zealand. Except I think
those are coniferous trees, and they're not native!

The shadows of eager photographers waiting for the train

Jb 1236 dwarfed by the beauty of the Southern Alps

Doesn't this evoke Lord of the Rings?

3. Passing through the Otira tunnel, which passes under the Southern Alps and is over 8 kilometres long, between Arthur's Pass and the town of Otira (yes, Arthur, you have a whole pass named after you). Construction was started in 1907, and the tunnel opened in 1923. It was electrified until 1997, when the loads passing through it became too heavy for the electric trains to handle, and now three DX class diesel locomotives help trains pass through. The diesels provide extra braking capability (the Otira side is 250 m lower than the Arthur's Pass side), and in our case, also helped overcome the slight problem of a steam train hogging all the oxygen within the tunnel for combustion purposes. Because the build-up of CO and CO2 in the tunnel is a potentially lethal health hazard, giant fans at the Otira end extract the fumes to prevent them from building up in the tunnel. This is why the coal train had to wait for us to pass through, as (aside from needing the three DX diesel engines) it takes twenty-five minutes for the fumes to be cleared.

The diesels, coupled up and ready to pull us
through the 8km Otira Tunnel

Notice the sign...

... and our apparent inability to read!

4. I got another cab ride! This time from one of our photo stops up until the end Arthur's Pass just before the Otira tunnel. It was very exciting, especially because we were bounced around like peas in a frying pan several times by bends and twists in the rail.

Teatime in the cab of Jb 1236!

Lamp and radio controls in the cab of Jb 1236

Yes, this is smoke from the locie blotting out the sun.

Right after taking this picture, I switched to video mode.
The train was almost underneath us when I suddenly realised
I was directly in the path of the smokestack. WHOOOSH!

We made it safely to Greymouth (albeit 1 1/2 hours late), and now I am safely sequestered away at Noah's Ark Backpackers, where every room is themed after a different animal, from Penguins to Monkeys to Bears to Giraffes. And I? I am in the sheep room. Of course. It comes with this delightful poem on the wall:

New Zealand
Has lots of SHEEP
Friendly people, clean air,
SHEEP, great weather, SHEEP.
Lovely beaches, SHEEP,
Sparkling waters, 
and more,

Amen to that.

Who doesn't want rugby-playing sheep...

... or bungy-jumping sheep?

A beautiful sunset from the balcony of
Noah's Ark Backpackers

I also met some interesting people tonight down in the common room while I was playing the piano, including two British dentists and an American sculptor, but I really need to lie down and sleep and rest rather than type all night.


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