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  • Day15

    Feb 5 - The TranzAlpine Train

    February 5, 2020 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 11 °C

    Our mission for today was to head west to the other side of the island and then head south to Fox Glacier - yes, in glacier country. We boarded the TranzAlpine train for departure at 8:15 a.m. This train trip is described as one of the great train journeys of the world. (The Rocky Mountaineer must rank very highly too.) It wends itself across the mountainous spine of the country in spectacular fashion. Our destination was Arthur’s Pass, about half-way to the west coast. Linda drove the bus to meet us there. The views are actually better by road from there to the coast. Our road journey today was in jeopardy due to road washouts from torrential rainfall during the last couple of days in the west. Fortunately, the great road crews got the affected sections cleared in time for us to travel as scheduled. The west coast of New Zealand gets the second most rainfall of anywhere on earth. An island near Hawaii wins the dubious prize for rainiest place on earth.

    Starting at Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island, the TranzAlpine trundled across the vast patchwork plains of Canterbury - one of New Zealand's primary agricultural regions. On the far side of the plains, we could see where the Southern Alps rise from the plains like megalithic skyscrapers, creating a seemingly impenetrable barrier. For many years, Springfield was the end of the line with the Alps forming a formidable blockade. Eventually, a route to the West Coast through the Alps was agreed upon and construction began. This section, between Springfield and the township of Arthur's Pass, is considered a masterpiece of railway engineering and is the section for which the TranzAlpine is most famed.

    The route firstly heads north-east to join the Waimakariri River gorge. This aqua-blue river will appear and disappear out of your window several times as the TranzAlpine clings and climbs up the cliffs above it. During the ascent to the high plains of Craigieburn, there are 15 short tunnels and four dramatic viaducts, including the 72-metre high Staircase Viaduct.

    The most iconic views come at the far end of the Craigieburn Straight, where the high plains stretch out to give a stunning view of Mount Binser and the edges of Arthur's Pass National Park. Shortly after, the train meets again with the Waimakariri River and then crosses it to reach Arthur's Pass. This section is stunningly beautiful and is where the famous views of the TranzAlpine crossing the Waimakariri River are taken.

    The views were simply stunning during our 2.5 hour trip. Fertile plains, viaducts, gorges, river valleys, mountains, streams, little waterfalls and dense forests - we saw it all. I'm hoping a few of my pictures will give you a sense of the grandeur.
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