Journey from East Coast to West Coast – The TranzAlpine!

Monday morning I woke up early and walked to the bus stop to catch my bus to Christchurch – the bus ride was fairly uneventful (really, really long), but there were these precious girls (about 10 students rode this bus to their school – almost an hour from Te Anau).

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They took turns reading to one another for the journey – it did make my heart smile.

The journey did, as all journeys in New Zealand do, have some lovely scenery – including a nice wintry wonderland.

Once I arrived in Christchurch, it was after dark, so I caught a cab to my hostel – one that I have been very excited to stay in – you see – I was staying in Jailhouse Accommodation – which is a hostel that is actually in the old Addington Prison, which has a fascinating history as a jail, women’s prison and a military camp. You can learn more about the prison here, as well as the artwork and artifacts that are all around the prison. 

The next day, I went to the train station, and lucked out, because another girl was also headed to the train station, so we shared an Uber, and chatted throughout the day. She was an American,  who is currently living in Hawaii (for work), but previously lived in the Atlanta area (where she still owns a home), and with close family ties to India. She is amazingly well traveled, and it was nice to chat with her – we shared travel trips, ideas and just genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. I thought I had a picture of the two of us, but apparently we were having too much fun when I took the picture – and I didn’t check it.

The weather for the journey was fairly awful, and viability was low, however, it was still pretty amazing to make this journey, and like so many historic railway journeys to think about the trials of the railway workers that forged the way through this unbelievable, beautiful, rugged and unforgiving landscape. Passing through the Southern Alps is an Experience I am not going to forget!

The TranzAlpine goes from Christchurch (eastern coast of South Island) to Greymouth (western coast of South Island) and back each day. This is at the narrowest part of the South Island. I was doing the return trip in one day, because of how my school visits panned out for the week (Which meant a very full day of enjoying the beautiful scenery – and being quite disconnected – not much cell phone service between villages). The journey started going between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass. Passing mostly through the Canturbury flats.

The interesting thing about this crossing was definitly the changing, diverse landscape from one side to the other.

At Arthur’s Pass we were able to get off the train and stretch our legs and take a few quick pictures.

 

When we arrived in Greymouth Shreya and I stopped in the Speights Ale House to share a drink before we parted (me back on the train, her off to explore the West Coast). The west coast is aptly named the Wild West Coast, because it has some of the most unpredictable and wet weather in New Zealand, and for a nation where 4 seasons in a day is not uncommon, and mostly expected, this is saying something!

On the ride back, because I wasn’t talking so much, I was able to capture a video of a portion of the journey – but I really did just savor the experience.

The skies are always just so stunning! (and I know the pictures from the train do not do the colors justice!)

 

Before I knew it the train journey was over, and I was back in Christchurch. After a snag with locating my bag (just a miscommunication between the train staff), I was headed to the Airport to pick up my rental car so that I could head to Methven for the night for my school visit tomorrow. (again some backtracking, but I was maximizing my school visits as I could this trip). The drive to Methven was uneventful (thankfully), but it was a pretty journey even once the sun set.

As I said, this was a quick trip, so I went back to Christchurch and checked back into Jailhouse for another night. As I was back quite earlier than I expected – before heading to my next location – Lake Tekapo – where I have some pretty awesome adventures planned, as well as a school visit (work and pleasure – always a good mix!), I decided to check out the International Antarctic Center.

Christchurch is the Gateway to Antarctica, so almost all flights to many of the bases on Antarctica originate here.

It was informative and really “cool” quite literally, as they had a simulated summer snowstorm that I got to experience. Talk about being thankful for layers (and walking out the door into the warmth)!

I dropped off my car, shuttled back to the hotel, and had a relaxing evening, including delivery of some fantastic Pad Thai. I also scored the luck of a bunk room to myself for the night, always a great bonus when staying in dorms.

The Milford Road, Milford Sound, and the Glowworm Caves

This weekend I headed to Te Anau, which is often referred to as the gateway to Milford Sound.

After landing in Invercargill, I had some time to spare, so I spent my afternoon at the Southland Museum – which was also conveniently the bus stop I would depart from on my journey to Te Anau. I didn’t take many pictures – they actually were not allowed in many places – but I loved the natural history section and the large collection of New Zealand species they had on display.

New Zealand has had quite the cold snap – so my scenery on the bus ride was quite the wintry wonderland. I arrived at the hostel around 5:30 – and was so thankful the bus driver dropped me off at my lodging location instead of the bus stop, because it was dark and cold.

I checked in, started laundry (I didn’t want to do it on Stewart Island if I could help it, since they pay 4x more for electricity down there than here on the “mainland”), and went to grab a quick dinner and some groceries.

As I was settling in at my room I saw an alert on Facebook that the Aurora was spiking – so I thought I would go at give it a look – being a little further north, with some cloud cover, I wasn’t sure I would see much, but I did spot the glow in the south.

It wasn’t much, but it was cool to see.

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Sunday morning I was up early to catch my tour to Milford Sound. I was picked up by our driver Simon at the hostel, and immediately knew this was going to be a fun day.

Simon is a live-off-the grid, NZ local who has worked in nature conservation, science and tourism most of his life. He shared amazing stories and his passion for the Fiordlands, and because this was a small tour continually tried to give us extra stops.

Our first stop was the Eglinton Valley Flats in Fiordland National Park. Here we could see the mountains all around.

You could still see (and feel) the frost on the grass!

 

We had perfect weather for our next stop – the wind was still – the sun was shining – which meant that the reflection from the Mirror Lakes was stunning!

We had a few more stops on our way up to Milford, and there were some pretty entertaining Keas and some scenery.

And then we arrived at Milford, with a few minutes to spare, so we got to take in the scenery before heading to the boat terminal.

It really was a perfect day to cruise Milford Sound (which is not a sound, but a Fjord, for what it is worth) even if it was crazy cold. Our cruise took us from the terminal all the way out to the Tasman Sea – which felt like the end of the world. It was an awe-inspiring, breathtaking and unbelievable journey. I know that the pictures cannot possibly do this justice, and the scale is so impossible to get, but I hope you enjoy them. I used my DSLR, so those pictures are in the slideshow, while the pictures from my phone are below in the grid. There are a ton of pictures, because even though it was freezing, I stayed on the top deck the entire journey – I wanted to savor every moment of this likely once in a lifetime experience.

Look closely and you will see seals and dolphins. Like I said, it was a perfect day!

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After the cruise we boarded the mini-bus and started the journey back to Te Anau – but Simon had more stops for us.

Our first stop on the way back was the historic bridge over the Tutoko River.

Our next stop was the Chasm – a nice 20 minute walk where you see some of the coolest structures in rock made by water I have ever seen!

In the parking lot this lady had this cool van that she had converted into a coffee shop, so while we waited on everyone to finish the trail, I got my favorite NZ coffee drink – a flat white – and we enjoyed the mischievous keas in the parking lot – what funny little birds!

When we reached the Homer Tunnel – we had about 5 minutes before the one way tunnel was opened up for us, so we had one last chance to get out and enjoy the scenery on this side of the Milford road.

Driving along the Milford Road is a beautiful experience.

After a few more stops (I felt like . . . but wait, there is more!), Simon dropped me back off at the hostel, where I had a few hours to relax and have dinner before heading to my next adventure, the  Te Anau Glow Worm Caves.

For dinner, Simon recommended a dairy that had fish and chips – since his tour was so wonderful, I thought I would take his recommendation. It was not a mistake. Yummy fish!

Then I walked to the glowworm caves for my underground adventure. Cameras are not allowed in the cave, but I bought the picture package to share the experience with you all.

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What you don’t see is the journey “under the glow” so to speak – guys – it was so cool – it really does look like the videos and pictures online, like this one, which is amazing:

or this one:

(these videos are from different caves, but the same experience applies).

It is DARK – which is what allows you to see the glow worms, and I will admit – getting in the boat when you cannot see anything is a little disconcerting.

WOW – today was certainly one of those epic days, that I am so fortunate to be able to have here on this New Zealand journey.