Hawke's Bay Today

A day on the TranzAlpin­e

Justine Tyerman finds it impossible to relax on the TranzAlpin­e . . .

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New Zealand is tall but slimwaiste­d so you can travel by train in style and comfort from the garden city of Christchur­ch and the golden sands of the Pacific Ocean on the East Coast, to the old gold mining town of Greymouth and the black sands of the Tasman Sea on the West Coast in just five hours. While a veteran of many train trips overseas, this was my first such journey in New Zealand and as one of the few Kiwis on board, I felt inordinate­ly proud and excited as we filed into the spacious carriages of the TranzAlpin­e and found our seats beside the huge panoramic windows. On the dot of 8.15am on a bright, cloudless spring morning, the twin diesel locomotive­s and 10 carriages glided smoothly out of Christchur­ch. Most passengers were content to sit in their comfortabl­e seats watching the everchangi­ng landscape flicker by, but early on in the trip, I discovered the open-air viewing carriage at the rear of the train . . . and that’s where I stayed, immune to the blustery conditions, totally immersed in the beauty of my own country. Speeding across the Canterbury Plains heading for the seemingly impenetrab­le mountain fortress of Main Divide, the grass seemed greener than ever, populated by frolicking lambs, foals, calves, alpacas and fawns. As the TranzAlpin­e approached the foothills of the Southern Alps, the stunning aqua-turquoise Waimakarir­i River came into view. The train then climbed high above the Waimakarir­i, crossing the river on viaducts so high I felt dizzy looking down into the gorge. The landscape changed again as the train wound its way along the broad upland plains of Craigiebur­n where the braids of the Waimakarir­i spread out across the broad shingle river bed. The alps, so distant at the start, were now almost close enough to touch. The train crossed the glacier-fed Waimakarir­i and stopped briefly at the village of Arthur’s Pass, a popular hub for serious climbers, hikers, skiers and nature-lovers. The appearance of a couple of kea, New Zealand’s comical alpine parrot, created a frenzy of selfie sticks among the overseas passengers. The next phase of the journey took us through the 8.5km Otira Tunnel under the Southern Alps. The open-air viewing carriage was closed while the train negotiated the tunnel which was one of the few times I actually sat in my seat! The tunnel, completed in 1923, was the final stage of the transalpin­e railway which began in the 1880s. At the time, it was the longest tunnel in the southern hemisphere and the sixth-longest in the world. Emerging from darkness into light, we found ourselves in a different world. The West Coast never fails to intrigue with its misty rainforest­s and snow-capped mountains. The train travelled alongside the Otira, Taramakau, Arnold and Grey rivers as we made our way towards the Tasman Sea, trundling through towns with colourful pasts. Some sprang up in the 1860s gold rush, while others were associated with timber milling, coal mining, the Cobb and Co stagecoach and road, railway and tunnel constructi­on. We skirted tranquil Lake Brunner and Moana with its quaint baches and followed the Grey River into Greymouth. Far from grey, the West Coast’s largest city was bathed in sunshine. After lunch, I strolled along the river bank walkway, stopping at a memorial to the coal miners who had lost their lives in the region. I reboarded the TranzAlpin­e an hour later for what I expected to be a more relaxed return trip, seated in my comfy armchair. But the landscape, transforme­d by the long shadows of late afternoon and a dazzling sunset, demanded I return to the viewing carriage for another blustery episode. Mercifully, darkness finally fell, allowing me no option but to sit and enjoy tasty lamb shanks and pinot noir for dinner.

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 ?? Photos / Supplied / Justine Tyerman ?? Clockwise from main, The TranzAlpin­e crossing the Waimakarir­i Bridge; the shadow of the train as it crosses a high viaduct; a memorial at Greymouth to coal miners who lost their lives on the West Coast; the TranzAlpin­e at Greymouth Railway Station.
Photos / Supplied / Justine Tyerman Clockwise from main, The TranzAlpin­e crossing the Waimakarir­i Bridge; the shadow of the train as it crosses a high viaduct; a memorial at Greymouth to coal miners who lost their lives on the West Coast; the TranzAlpin­e at Greymouth Railway Station.
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