By Bidisha Bagchi
St Joseph, Michigan, USA
To get a taste of this unique region we went a little beyond Christchurch, the main city of this region. We took a ride on one of the World’s greatest train journeys, the Tranzalpine. The train crosses the entire Southern Alps starting from one coast to the other; from Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea.
Interestingly, seat numbers are not allotted when the tickets are booked. Only when boarding the train we could request a seat of our choice. We could have done that on phone the previous day, but we were lazy! There is also a full-length viewing platform at the centre of the train and you have to ask for a seat on a coach near this, for if it didn’t rain, the perch was ideal place for taking photographs or just watching the scenery, unobstructed. There’s even a café for refreshments.
The Tranzalpine left Christchurch on the dot of its scheduled time of 8:15am and within minutes the city landscape changed. We approached verdant farmlands with the train chugging along the Canterbury plains and heading towards the Southern Alps….The excitement was truly building up.
An hour later the train actually started climbing up the Southern Alps leaving behind the mesmerizing views of the gorge of the River Waimakiriri. S series of steel girder bridges over gorges and through tunnels passed by as we started climbing. The highest viaduct, 73 m above the river, is quite appropriately called the ‘staircase’! The views around changed again, with plateau around and hills in the horizon fading away in the blue sky. Vast stretches of snow covered land and mountains came into view. When the train pulled up at the snowy Arthur’s pass station and we got off to stretch a bit and see the snow-clad views around...
A little later we boarded the train again and headed for the Otira tunnel. Being 8.6 km long,
We all applauded, as if we were waiting for that ‘blowhole’ show to happen and that it was now over. Spending some time looking out at the Tasman Sea and the amazing view of the coastline, we returned to Greymouth to spend the rest of the day. We had booked ourselves in the next day’s Tranzalpine to return to Christchurch, giving us an entire day in Greymouth.