For countless years it’s been a desire of mine to experience the Great Train Journeys of New Zealand. Planning a trip to Christchurch without NZAreandare, allowed us to book a treat on one of these. The Coastal Pacific.
Thankfully the splendid weather we’d had in Christchurch held out for another day. It turned to custard the following day, last Wednesday, 18th November, so we were extremely relieved!
An Early Start
As mentioned in our last post, this journey began rather early for us – 7 am. We were glad to discover we could hand over our luggage until we arrived in Wellington off the Interislander. All we needed were essentials for the ride. Which included warm clothes for standing outside on each leg of the journey.
We had table seats, facing the direction of travel which always helps. With no-one opposite. Very comfortable. The view from the window was magnificent once we got out of the city. And we were in the next carriage to the open-sided-viewing-carriage. Fantastic! Passengers were warned to keep their limbs inside the railings of the open-sided carriage. I spotted a few who maybe didn’t listen, which freaked me out a little but luckily they avoided catastrophes!
When The Earth Moved
Some of you will recall another catastrophic earthquake that shook the east coast of The South Island near Kaikoura in 2016? We were reliably informed that the earthquake was the most complex quake ever known to man.
In fact, it was the fourth anniversary of this just three days before we travelled. The line we travelled had been out of action for a couple of years as they had to almost completely rebuild the coast road and railway line.
“Just after midnight on 14 November 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand’s South Island, roughly 60km south-west of the coastal town of Kaikoura.
The earthquake caused the ground to shift 8 metres horizontally and vertically by up to 3 metres, causing the South Island of New Zealand to move 6 metres closer to the North Island with ruptures occurring on 21 fault lines across 170km. This was the strongest ground acceleration ever recorded in New Zealand, causing significant damage throughout the upper South Island and even parts of Wellington, where the main Port suffered significant damage.”https://www.aurecongroup.com/projects/transport/kaikoura-earthquake-recovery
There’s a really informative video on the Aurecon website quoted above if you’re interested in seeing some of the damage suffered as a result of the quake. It took over two years before the Coastal Pacific route was able to recommence on 1st December 2018.
It’s amazing to witness first-hand the new roads and railway line. I managed to capture a snapshot of it as we moved slowly by:
A large percentage of our fellow passengers appeared to be over 60. It’s a bit disconcerting to admit we’re now ‘seniors’! The carriages in ‘cattle class’ were less than 50% full. Another COVID-related challenge as there are no foreign tourists in New Zealand apart from those who got ‘stranded’ here. I don’t think we saw one person wearing a mask – which would be outrageous to most people currently living in the Northern Hemisphere I guess?
Between Mountains And Ocean
The terrific trip meanders slowly along a track nestled between snow-capped mountains and the coast. Near rolling pastures; passing sheep, cows, shags, yellow-flowered gorse; and an occasional seal. Yellow lupins were prolific, especially around Kaikoura where we relished a ten-minute stop.
We passed over ‘Lake Grassmere Saltworks‘ where almost 50% of New Zealand salt is produced. Check out Barry’s photographic slide-show below for a perspective on this. You’ll notice the pink to purple colour of the crystallisation ponds? That’s caused by natural microscopic green algae that change to pink in the high salt concentration. Amazing.
The whole journey was absolutely magnificent, and we relished every magical moment arriving in Picton just before 1pm.
An Interislander Christmas
At the Interislander terminal, it was surreal to be surrounded by piped Christmas songs, trees and a Father Christmas! It feels far too far way – though it actually isn’t I guess? The festive season in the Southern Hemisphere is unsurprisingly rather different to the short dark days of the Northern Hemisphere. I prefer the former – long sunny days.
It can be vomit-inducingly choppy travelling through the Marlborough Sounds and Cook Strait on the ferry. Barry recalled a sailing when the ferry was tipped to one side the whole way due to the force of the wind. We were thankful ours was smooth. We encountered strong winds but only in the sounds.
We arrived in ‘Windy Wellington’ just after 5.30pm to be met by our friend Tracy. What followed was five days of fun and fascination. More on that to come …