Sunday, 16 December 2012

Tranz-Alpine railway

After the brain-fart on the buses (you can call me Blakey) all was once again going smooth. The only hitch was that I didn't pre-book the YHA Christchurch early enough - there's still a real shortage of accommodation here since the earthquake. I stayed at a place called "at the right place" - also a backpackers. It was nice, apart from two English guys and one Irish who decided they would get exceedingly drunk in the common room while everyone was relaxed watching films. They fought with each other, called everyone in the room "gay", balanced bottles of Becks as decorations on the Christmas tree then knocked the tree over onto a poor French girl. Within 20 minutes everyone had gone to their rooms - god help the people that were in the dorm with them. I didn't feel like I was "at the right place"

I woke up excited the next morning, a journey on the tranz-alpine railway to Greymouth on the west coast - billed as "one of the most scenic train journeys in the world". Like an airport the bags are checked in and you take your seat next to a huge, and ridiculously clean, window. It's very comfortable, and quiet, and air-conditioned. There's a lot of older couples on the train - I think I was the only single person, and certainly the only backpacker. The train rumbles off through the beautiful flatlands surrounding Christchurch and the mountains loom into view. As soon as this happens everybody heads to the outdoor viewing car, which is great! The first part is stunning, the train grinding up to Arthurs pass, across the top of the alps. Snow-capped peaks, rushing rivers and flowery meadows breeze past, the air is so fresh, the body almost rejects it as unknown. The trains stops at various points on the way up, then at Arthurs pass at the top.

The food and drinks are reasonably priced - the cheese and steak pie was amazing! On the way down from the pass en route to Greymouth the scenery is still lovely, but it becomes bushier on the sides, and you get to see less. I spent most of the journey in the open viewing car - I didn't like being stuck in the sterile, quiet carriages - by the end of the journey I was craving the Asian style trains: open windows, noise, food sellers plying the aisles, uncomfortable seats and people on the roof - but that's just me. In hindsight I would hire a car and drive from Christchurch to Greymouth. It's a lot cheaper and the route is the same but you can stop where you like and explore, take pictures or grab some food.

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