Our next destination was Christchurch. What better way to reach Christchurch than by the epic train journey on the Tranz alpine?
Having heard about this train journey we were keen to do it at least one way. That is why we headed to Greymouth from where the Tranz Alpine leaves to Christchurch. The Tranz Alpine effectively takes you from the west coast across the Southern Alps to the east coast of South Island . It ascends and descends the Alps in this journey and thus presents you the beauty of this great mountain range. It is operated by Kiwi Rail and is part of The Great Journeys of New Zealand and is touted to be one of the best train journeys in the world.
We reached Greymouth from Queenstown by a Great Sights bus the previous evening. Greymouth is a small quaint place where the Grey River empties into the sea. Apart from being the starting point of the Tranz Alpine and a well known jade trade centre, Greymouth is a sleepy town. It was pretty cold and windy and we quickly took to the warmth of our hotel room.
Next morning , after a short walk in the town, we headed to the station on time to board the train. The station is also a very small old time kind of station.
The Tranz alpine covers a distance of 223 km one way between Christchurch and Greymouth in about 5 hours time.
As we were waiting at the station the Tranz Alpine arrived from Christchurch. Take a look at this video…
The beautiful Tranz Alpine train arriving Greymouth
As this train caters primarily to tourists, it focuses a lot on luxury and portraying the scenic beauty of the place. The train’s carriages have un-tinted, non reflective, panoramic side and roof windows to capture the beauty of the Southern Alps and the alpine forest landscape. Commentary in 5 languages via headphones is available on all seats.
The interior of the train
The train has a cafe carriage offering alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, snacks and light meals.
Apart from this; the train has a viewing platform where there are no seats and one can stand and enjoy uninterrupted views through open windows.
The Viewing Platform
Once the train started off we were treated to some spectacular scenery.
We started with what is called the West Coast where the scenery is greener and vibrant. Initially the train passed the Grey River valley and then headed to Moana on the banks of Lake Brunner…
After this we crossed a series of river valleys of which the Taramaku and the Otira are the more famous.
From there was the Otira tunnel…a 8.5 km long tunnel which is the lifeline of this rail track from Greymouth to Christchurch. This tunnel marks the transition from the West Coast .
The Otira Tunnel
After the Otira Tunnel we reached the Arthurs Pass….a pretty alpine village.
Arthurs Pass is the highest point on this track. The part of the track from here on to Springfield is considered an engineering masterpiece and that is what the Tranz Alpine is most famous for. There are 15 tunnels and 4 viaducts of which the staircase viaduct is the highest.
The Arthur’s Pass Station
Soon after the Arthurs pass, the train crossed the Waimakariri river and gorge providing some spectacular scenery.
The Waimakariri River
The Waimakariri gorge
After the train crossed the Waimakariri river a couple of times, it reached an area with plains against the backdrop of the Southern Alps.
The Staircase Viaduct
As we moved along the plains , Mount Binser appeared and was indeed a great view .
From here on we reached Springfield where the Southern Alps ended and the Plains of Canterbury started. Looking back from Springfield, the Majesty of the Southern Alps seemed unsurmountable.
The view from Springfield
After leaving Springfield the scenery was predominantly of grass covered plains against the backdrop of the mountains. This was the Canterbury Plains.
The Canterbury Plains
After a journey cutting through the grassy plains we arrived Christchurch.
From the station we took a cab which had an Indian driver and reached our hotel with wonderful memories of a beautiful train journey.
As most of you know, Christchurch is the closest place to many of the Antarctic stations. Christchurch has a great Antarctic centre where Antarctic life is showcased for the common man.
We had the good fortune to visit this center and experience simulated Antarctic life. So next week. let me take you through an Antarctic experience at the Antarctic Centre, Christchurch.
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