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 Catlins – Sunday

Sunday morning I started by backtracking about 35 KM (about 22 miles) on twisty roads to a special location, Cathedral Caves. Cathedral Caves can only be accessed within an hour on both sides of low tide and even then only during daylight hours – so you have to consult the schedule and plan accordingly – and I was lucky – there are entire spans of days that you cannot access them at all. There is a slight hike down to get to the beach, and an access fee (make sure you have cash – there were some young girls that had to go try and find an ATM) for the trail – but at 5.00 NZD it is worth it for the trail to be maintained by the local land owners.

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After the 1.5 km walk downhill through some beautiful bush,

You emerge onto the beach – a peaceful, untouched beach oasis.

After walking down the beach – you arrive at the caves, and WOW!

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They were massive – and it was so incredible to see the changes to the caves by the sea water continually beating against the rocks. It was amazing.

After I had thoroughly explored the caves, I trekked back across the beach, and up the trail to my car.

My next stop highlights the Kiwi sense of humor. You will recall that yesterday I visited Purakanui Falls and McLean Falls, both beautiful examples of waterfalls, right?

Well, behold the New Zealand “Niagra Falls”

Next I ventured south – to Slope Point – the furthest south point of the South Island – which is located on a sheep farm (no joke, you cross through the pasture to get to the marker). The access is closed during Lambing season (September – November)

My next stop was the cliffs at Fortrose. It was windy – so I didn’t stay long, or get too close to the edge, but it was cool.

A bit chilly at this point, I was thankful to find a cafe and grab some Seafood Chowder and a hot coffee before continuing my adventure.

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Next up, I made my way to Bluff, and Stirling Point, which is often confused with Slope Point – Stirling Point is the end of the Motorway which stretches from the tip of the north island (at Cape Reinga) to here in Bluff.

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With some extra time before I needed to be in Invercargill and return my rental car, I decided to explore more of Bluff. This led me to follow signs to the Te Rau Aroha Marae. Such a unique Marae from the outside – beautiful!

Then I headed to the Bluff Lookout, thinking it might be a cool spot to enjoy the sunset.

 

As I headed up the path to the lookout, there were some informative signs about Moas, birds and other native wildlife, predators, pests and history.

It was a good call to head up here!

Check out the views!

Check out this panorama of the views:

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Finally, I headed to Invercargill, hit the grocery store, returned the rental car, did laundry and prepared for my next journey – I am off to Raikura – Stewart Island in the morning.