Saturday, October 16, 2010

Steam Train, Day Seven: Greymouth to Christchurch

Today's post could prove a little interesting, as I am at an internet café, being deprived of wireless internet at the hostel I am staying at (which isn't at all what I expected it to be - thank you very much, misleading website!), and I don't have access to any of the pictures I took today to help me recall the day's events... I'll do my best.

I bid a fond adieu to the Penguin Room at Noah's Ark Backpackers in Greymouth and headed on down to catch the train at 9:10am this morning. We headed southeast on the day-long trek back to Christchurch, retracing our steps through the Southern Alps via Arthur's Pass. (Arthur's Pass is named after Arthur Dobson, the first European to traverse the pass in 1864.) Once again the weather decided to co-operate, and we had beautiful sunny skies (almost) all day (a few clouds in the mid-morning). The scenery was as stunning as it had been on Wednesday: if you ever go to New Zealand and go to the South Island, you *must* either drive or take the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth. Those of us from BC might be a little spoiled... more than one fellow passenger remarked to me today that they think Banff is more stunning than Arthur's Pass, but I think that is a case of the grass being greener on the other side. Either way, yes, there are mountains and glacial rivers and trains, but they have a strange and alien beauty to anyone from BC... similar, but different.

Jb 1236 all steamed up at Greymouth Station

Jb 1236 waiting in a passing loop for a coal train

We stopped for at least five photo stops today in various locations, including a few stunners where I shot video of Jb 1236 racing across one viaduct, down a straight stretch, than across another before disappearing around a corner. Another site earlier in the day before Otira wasn't much for visuals, but the echo of the steam train resonating from the far side of the valley was magnificent... I hope my little camera's video mode was able to do it justice. (By the way, I am suffering from extreme camera envy on this trip; everyone is walking around with these hugely impressive lenses and filters and camera bags and speaking of ISOs and obscure settings I have never heard of... but I guess the proof will be in the pudding. That, and I don't have a neckache.)

The photographers were all eager for a shot of Jb 1236
in the beautiful morning sunshine

Jb 1236 stopped in a passing loop for servicing and
to let another coal train pass


Jb 1236's air compressor

The diesels getting ready to couple up and
pull us through the Otira Tunnel

In the pedestrian subway at Otira Station

When we reached Otira and they were coupling up the three diesels to pull us through the Otira tunnel, I opted to hop on the tour bus (which has been following us the whole trip with most of the passengers' luggage, etc.) and take State Highway 73 through the pass instead of going through the Otira tunnel on the Midland Line with the train. A decision I will never regret: rather than 15 minutes of darkness, I instead experienced stunning views of the mountains, waterfalls, snow-covered peaks, glacial rivers, and the remarkable feat of engineering that is the Otira Viaduct. Opened in 1999, it replaces a section of the highway that was continually closed due to landslides; the area is very unstable, and as a result the most structurally sound solution was to build the road above the riverbed. You can see a picture here: . It is recognised as a significant achievement in New Zealand environmental engineering. From the lookout where we stopped we could see where the old road used to be; not only was it steep and windy (not so surprising, as my heart was in my throat a few times on the remaining sections of highway, as there are many steep grades and hairpin turns), but it was mostly obscured by rock and gravel from slides!

State Highway 73. Note the elabourate tunnel and
waterfall-diverting structures

The Otira Viaduct

A fairly recent feat of engineering, being opened in 1999!

The remains of the old highway, in use before construction
of the viaduct. They weren't kidding about
 it being prone to landslides...

A cheeky Kea (wild parrot)

We rejoined the train at Arthur's Pass, and I managed to fall off a curb and twist my ankle walking to the platform (ouch... but the swelling is going down now), and headed back across the plains of Rohân (ha ha) toward Springfield, Sheffield, and the eventual suburbs of Christchurch. Some people started to get a little persnickety on photo stops; yelling at others to get out of the way, complaining they were ruining shots, etc. Sheesh. As I remarked to one of the other tour members, "What are they going to be like during Armageddon when there is one sack of wheat that we're all fighting over?"

Arthur's Pass Station

Beautiful artwork inside Arthur's Pass Station


Once again, beautiful NZ reminds me of beautiful BC.

As we headed into Christchurch we went past the Mainline Steam depot, where they were steaming up the locie that will be taking us on some excursions on the North Island next week, Ab 663. Jb 1236 tooted her whistle, and we got a resounding answer from Ab 663 in return. She will be coming over to the North Island with us on one of the InterIslander ferries.

The remains of old telegraph poles

The stunning blue colour of a glacier-fed river...
complimented by the yellow of introduced broom

Jb 1236 makes her way west to Christchurch

Due to unusually good (ha) coordination with the TranzAlpine and coal trains on the rail line by rail control in Wellington, we made it into Christchurch early, and I took a shuttle bus from the railway station to downtown Christchurch and then walked to my hostel. The city seems to be coping remarkably well with the damage; some roads are closed, and there is a lot of scaffolding up around buildings, while others are crumbling and vacant (and still others look like nothing ever happened!), but it appears to be business as usual... certainly I was able to find this internet café with minimal hassle.

Tomorrow I am joining other tour members for an optional trip out to the Weka Pass Railway to see their locies and take a ride on their coal-fired locomotive (oh yes, more trains, even on our free day in Christchurch!). However, my internet situation may continue to be sporadic... so we shall see when the next post gets written.


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