Arthurs Pass - Day 4 - TranzAlpine Express to Christchurch
The day dawned and we packed our gear ready for our journey back to Christchurch.
We passed the morning idly and arrived at Greymouth Station at the
appointed time. It seemed that all the tour buses from all different
directions were arriving at once. There were people milling about,
changing buses, catching taxis, waiting for the train, or onward journey
The bus was due to depart at 1-45pm. There were about 180 people to
transfer from Greymouth to Otira to catch the train. The buses arrived
late and by the time everybody's luggage was loaded and we were all on
board it was gone 2-30pm.
The bus took the same route that the train would have taken, following
the Grey River valley and along the side of Lake Brunner. Despite
being on the bus rather than the train, it was still a pleasant journey
through picturesque countryside.
At Otira the buses drove straight onto the platform and within 30
minutes the transfer to the train was complete. You have to stay in
your seat for the first 20 minutes as the train goes through an 11
kilometre long tunnel. Shortly after entering the tunnel a door closes
behind the train and large extractor fans remove the diesel fumes.
The museum, arts centre, gallery and botanic gardens are worth visiting,
not least because they are free. Preparations were under way for the
annual flower festival in the cathedral and the town wizard was busy
preaching to the crowd. In the square a large crowd were watching the
latest chess game.
On the other side of the tunnel we came into Arthurs Pass village and
for the next few miles the route runs by the side of the roads that we
had ridden down a couple of days earlier along the Waimakariri valley.
At Cass the track turns away from the road and runs along the
spectacular Broken River Gorge, which is famous for its viaduct and
having 6 tunnels in one mile. The only access to the gorge is via the
train, (there are no roads) and while the track was being built, the
families of the rail workers lived at the end of the line in shanty town
The water from the Waitamkiriri River is the source of the pristine, untreated water supply to Christchurch.
The Express arrived in Christchurch only 40 minutes late. We had booked
into the Jailhouse, just a few minutes ride from the station. The
Addington Jail was converted into a backpacker's hostel after it closed
in 1999. Guests (inmates) stay in the converted cells, complete with
the original thick steel doors.
The "prison" theme is perpetuated throughout the place with striped bed
linen, tablecloths, crockery and the staff are called wardens. The
backpackers who work in the hostel are called prisoners and have themed T
We were held there for four nights before we managed to negotiate our release.
The hostel is well managed, clean and quiet (at the right times). It was
one of the best places that we stayed at in New Zealand. It was very
popular with all age groups and nationalities.
Christchurch turned out to be a great city for cycling with lots of
cycle lanes and dedicated paths. The town was built in the English style
with lots of brick and stone buildings.
The river that runs through the centre is called the Avon and you can
ride on it in a punt if you wish. Unfortunately, many of these lovely
old buildings (as well as the newer ones) showed signs of earthquake
damage and there was a lot of rebuilding work going on.
One day we rode over to Lyttleton.
In the early days of colonisation, it was established as a harbour and
is a still an important port for the export of coal and timber. Here
too, many of the lovely old building showed similar signs of earthquake
damage. It was a nice sunny day and after eating lunch listening to a
jazz band we cycled along the coast to Corsair Bay for a swim and a
welcome lie on the beach.
Our final days in New Zealand were spent with friends Chrissy and Tony at their lovely house just outside Christchurch.
We packed the bikes ready for shipping and arranged our accommodation for Sydney.
The evening before we were due to fly we logged onto Oz government web
site to find out what food we could take into Australia. After realising
that we could basically take nothing including tea, dried herbs, etc we
idly looked at the visa requirements and were shocked to find that
Australia has a visa before entry requirement for UK citizens. Our
fading memories told us that we had both checked this previously, but we
can't have done as it appeared this had been the case for over two
years. The automated application for the government site enabling
immediate visa clearance wasn't working. Severe panic set in. We found a
UK agency and applied on line through them for a fee of 20 UK pounds
each!!! Karen's application was approved immediately, but for some
unknown reason Steve's was put on hold. Panic level increased to severe
level 6!!! All of the what if scenarios started playing out in our
minds. That night we waited up to phone the office in the UK, assuming
it would open at 9-00am. The answering service informed us that they
didn't open till 10-00am, so we would have to leave it until morning.
As we sat there in bed Steve looked on line one more time. Lo and
behold, his application had been approved. The relief factor sent the
panic level into nose dive and all was well in the World.
The following morning we packed our gear in a somewhat melancholy mood,
sorry to be leaving New Zealand after 4 months, and also not quite
knowing quite what to expect in Australia having heard very differing
views. The airport shuttle arrived on time and our journey to the
airport was uneventful.
There was no queue at check in, but when it came to our luggage they
tried to charge us $600+ excess baggage. Steve protested and the error
was quickly corrected when they realised we were on round the World
tickets via the US. We dropped the bikes at the oversize luggage
conveyor, passed through security and relaxed with a beer as we waited
for our flight. Just before boarding we heard our names over the public
address system. The security were holding our bikes as their scan had
shown our stove fuel bottles. They wanted permission to open them and
if they smelt of fuel they would not be allowed on the plane. The worst
case occurred and we flew out of NZ minus our stove pump and fuel
After 4 months in this fascinating country it was goodbye to the land of
the long white cloud and hello to the land of corked hats, kangaroos,
cobbers and sheilas.
Post Visit Note
A week after arriving in Sydney, Christchurch was hit by another
devastating earthquake. We cried to see all of the lovely places that we
had seen in ruins and prayed for those who had lost their lives, loved
ones or their homes. Christchurch will never be the same again.
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