In our latest blog, LOCO Journeys intrepid track bashing rail-guru, David Burnell recalls a recent trip on the TranzAlpine.
One of the exciting things about the history of New Zealand trains is the herculean tasks that were tackled to open up the country. Not least of these was the construction of the Midland line between Christchurch on the East Coast and Greymouth on the West Coast.
The line crossed the grain of the country resulting in numerous gorges spanned and rivers crossed as well as burrowing under the Southern Alps via the Otira Tunnel. No wonder that work, started in the 1880s, was not completed until 1923 when the line was open throughout its 212kms following the completion of the tunnel (Although a few financial shenanigans didn’t help).
A hazardous journey of many days is now completed in a comfortable 4 ½ hours by the TranzAlpine Express. This is one of the great railway journeys of the world. And that isn’t a cliché.
Our experience was of friendly service, extremely comfortable seating in panoramic coaches with tasty snacks and lunch available, A head-set commentary was also available giving pointing out features and locations, history and also information for fans of the natural world.
Climbing up to Arthurs Pass the highest station in New Zealand and the start of the descent to the West Coast through the tunnel activated all the dozens of cameras in the coach. Even when the train deliberately slowed, the extraordinary views as we appeared to hang over chasms or crept along rock faces couldn’t all be taken in. (Tip – if making the return journey you pass these wonders again and it is less likely that the cameras will be so active, so you can take your time to get your perfect shot.)
Then, through the tunnel. What the commentary didn’t tell us is that when the return train enters to climb back to Arthurs Pass a huge door swings shut behind it and you are sitting in a 9km vacuum cleaner as the diesel fumes are sucked out from behind you.
Out of the tunnel and into another world. The scenery changes; gorges and chasms give way to something softer but no less attractive. Most notably the vegetation changes as we have moved into the different climatic region of the West Coast – rain. The pull of gold can be seen as we roll through the mining town of Brunner and the impact of man on the landscape – all part of the story.
Finally Greymouth – for your onward journey, but if like us, just enough time to walk around the town and admire the incongruity of an Italianate style opera house in a small bustling town, (those miners were as hungry for culture as well as gold). Back to the station and all the views are seen in reverse.