Tranz Alpine Express – The Famous Train Trip

“A Mish a Day” #177 Tranz Alpine Express. Arthurs Pass National Park. 26.8.2011. “Enjoy it while you still can” is a sad expression used for the massively under utilized Tranz Alpine Express, the very scenic train journey from Christchurch to Greymouth and back. From the comfort of a cosy seat in the spacious carriage cars, to the wind and noise of the open viewing carriage, a pleasing view is easy to acquire for the entire duration of the trip. By chance I got a free trip with my parents book club, and I jumped at the opportunity, as the last time I went on the Tranz-Alpine Express I was very young.

An early-ish start had the team at the new Addington Train Station (re-built after the earthquakes) waiting eagerly for the adventure to begin. The first part of the trip was getting out of the hussle and bussle of busy Christchurch City, then heading west through the small towns that line the track over the vast flat expanses of the Canterbury Plains. The real excitement for me began when the track deviated away from the road at Springfield, and began to make its way through the Waimakariri Gorge. The flat surroundings were quickly replaced by foothills, and glimpses of the big snow capped peaks of Arthurs Pass National Park. Another very cool feature of the Waimakariri Gorge section is that the numerous tunnels and viaducts make travel through the steep landscape possible, and each structure is an impressive feat of engineering by some very talented railway workers way back in the early 1900’s. After the Gorge, the track passes through the tiny settlement of Cass, before entering more open areas around the Mt White Bridge, and then onto the true right edge of the Waimakariri River beside State Highway 73 again. An impressive bridge spans the many braids of the Waimakariri to get to the true left, and then into the steep sided, mountainous Bealey Valley. A stop in Arthur’s Pass Village meant we could stretch our legs for a few minutes, and take in the delightful settings of the excellent little mountain village, before plunging into the darkness of the 8.5km Otira Tunnel. On our adventure we had the perfect demonstration of the natural weather barrier of Ka Tiritiri o Te Moana/The Main Divide, as we left the dry east, and rolled into the rain on the western side of the tunnel. The team got off the train in the small lakeside village of Moana, and Jeremy and I went for a wander on the Rakaitane Walkway. The small forest on the edge of the Arnold River echoed with the sounds of many chatty Korimako/Bellbirds, a real testament to the pest trapping work undertaken by the locals around Lake Moana.

Our short stay in the small village came to a noisey end, as the conductor blasted the train’s horn to hurry up the slow people in our group, and then we bid farewell to the small cloud-covered West Coast paradise of Moana, and its many Te Namu/Sandflies. The return journey was awesome, and going in the other direction is just as interesting, with small differences being picked out the whole way back to Christchurch. Once again we ALL need to use the Tranz-Alpine Rail service more, or it could go the way of most of our other passenger trains, and only exist in our history books…

Moana/Lake Brunner

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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