Fifty shades of green
HAVE never seen so many shades of green. The bucolic vista filling my window has more tones than the green portion of a paint chart, with every hue from emerald and jade to mint, khaki and lime combining in a scene that deserves to be captured in a whimsical watercolour.
I’m so close to the hillside paddocks in this swath of fertile Waipara Valley farmland that I can pick out the individual shades of vegetation, from the olive clumps of dry grass sprouting around the bleached fenceposts to the vibrant teal blades growing beneath the feet of grazing sheep.
From my seat on the Coastal Pacific – the scenic train that travels between Christchurch and Picton on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island – the shades outside the glass are so vibrant it looks like the rolling hills are hiding below an oversized sheet of the fabric used to create Kermit the Frog. Were I making this journey by road, perched behind a wheel concentrating, I wouldn’t notice the subtleties in this marvellous palette of colours. We pass beaches covered by stones weathered a handsome gunmetal grey, sand that looks like saffron powder, pastures bursting with wildflowers that drop a carpet of blushing pink to the ground, vintage churches with weathered boards painted the shade of snow and an old barn dressed a fetching fireengine red.
The Coastal Pacific breezes between paddocks dotted with hay bales the colour of honey, hills turning a buttercup yellow by delicate blooms blossoming on the steep slopes, and the native grass on a riverbank takes on a shimmering caramel lustre as it dances in gusts swooping down from the mountains. The full journey takes a little over five hours, beginning and ending in pastoral land that’s home to farms and vineyards, with the middle section following the coast in the shadows of a mighty mountain range. I break the journey for a one-night stop in Kaikoura to go whalewatching and stay in a luxury treehouse at Hapuku Lodge.
Some of my fellow passengers are also lingering in Kaikoura but they will only visit for a few hours and catch the train back to Christchurch in the afternoon, when it makes the return journey from the Marlborough Sounds to the South Island city. But even those not disembarking in Kaikoura indulge in a spot of wildlife-watching from the carriages as the train follows the lazy curves of the scallopshaped bays. We see a whale lolling on the surface before the flick of a tail propels it into a dive to the deep, watch a playful pod of Hector’s dolphins racing the waves and spy an army of New Zealand fur seals near Ohau Point, some baking on