Today we went up into the mountains. We were blessed with brilliant weather – blue skies and not much cloud, and the snow that had fallen the previous week had persisted. Transport was a little white van capable of seating 12. There were 11 adults and a child – 4 Americans, 2 other Australians and a young Indian couple with their daughter. The bus was quite cramped, but hey ho. You can’t always have a Volvo to yourself.
Our driver took us up to Springfield to catch the train up to Arthur’s Pass. It’s a new, comfortable train with large windows (and lots of reflection) although we could have walked up to the open carriage near the front to catch the view without windows. That struck me as a bit chilly. And I managed to get some good pics by bringing the camera close to the glass. The following 4 photos were all taken from the moving train.
While I was busy with the camera B did some people watching. Three older-than-middle-aged, well-heeled American women (think designer jeans and botox) stood in a gaggle chatting together as the train passed through some amazing scenery. They compared nail polish designs and the best dental products for whiter teeth. As you do as the train passes by amazing scenery. It’s a spectacular trip, the train winding its way through the river valleys or climbing up the slopes.
We got off at Arthur’s Pass and drove on in the van after a minor drama at the station. B needed some food on the train trip, so we went up to the cafe car, where she bought a sandwich and coffee. Neither of us had cash with us, so she paid with a card. Unfortunately, up there in the mountains the signal to the internet is patchy, at best. The server took B’s card and assured her the transaction would be completed, and the card returned, by the time we got to Arthur’s Pass which is the only stop between Springfield and Greymouth, on the west coast. It’s very much a five-minute whistle stop so that people can alight. I got off the train and B went off to find somebody to get her card back. After a few minutes, the porter blew his whistle. No B. The train blew its whistle. No B. Any minute now she’d be off to Greymouth. I was starting to compose the phone call to B’s husband. “Um. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. B’s on her way to Greymouth. But she’ll get her credit card back…” But then she appeared, waving her card. Phew. Nobody had come looking for her (as promised), but she’d found somebody. Did I say phew?
We had a photo stop at a lookout with a view of the viaduct that has replaced part of the road through the mountains. While we were there we met New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the kea. They’re smart birds with the destructive habits of some of their Australian counterparts. Keas are known for picking the rubber out of windscreen wipers and door seals. Despite their fairly drab outer plumage, when they open their wings it’s a ‘wow’ moment. Check out the pictures on this page.
We stopped for lunch at Otira, a quaint little place that used to be much bigger in the days of steam, when many more people were needed to service the railway. The rooms are full of sometimes interesting, sometimes just weird bits and pieces, such as a couple of stuffed possums, one posing with a toy rifle. Possums are introduced pests in NZ, so they’re not popular, but I thought they looked gross. Although some of the other pieces were genuine antiques, they all needed a dust, if not a clean. Otira used to be quite a large town when the steam locomotives made the trip through the mountains. They needed a lot more people than the modern diesels, so Otira dwindled into the past. Our driver told us that one person bought the whole town for $200,000. Stars in his eyes, he opened the town to disadvantaged people, who moved into the empty houses. But it only lasted until the first winter. This is a bleak spot.
Our driver had asked us to pick an item from the hotel’s lunch menu before we arrived – and he told us he thought the place – and the food – was dead ordinary. He was right. B had a grey-looking beef burger, and I had whitebait patties (an Otira specialty). The patties are more like pancakes, pieces of fish mixed with egg and flour, and fried. Here’s a recipe. Two of them came served between two slices of bread (which I discarded) and some pretty revolting chips (fries). B made her revolting chips even more revolting by mistaking the sugar dispenser for the salt shaker. Oh well. She wasn’t going to eat them, anyway. I think the only person who appeared to enjoy lunch was the rather large young Aussie male who was there with his mum. He was the sort who’d eat anything.
From Otira we headed on back down through the mountains towards Christchurch, stopping for photos where we could. One longer stop was at Cave Stream, where a stream flows through a 600m tunnel. Our driver told us five girls had died there, washed away by flood waters, but I couldn’t find any reference online to such an incident. Still, people have died attempting the walk through the cave – the water is cold, and chest deep.
Back in the bus, next stop was the trip on a jet boat. That had to be cancelled because the river was too high from the recent rains. Seems the river brings down silt and rocks and as a result the place where the jet boat starts had only 3 inches of water. He couldn’t even launch it. Sad, but you can’t argue with Mother Nature. Having arrived home, Canterbury Leisure Tours has only refunded 75% of the fare. I’m not happy, and I am arguing with them.
We went off to a farm where farmer Kevin brought out working dog, Jeb, to bring the sheep over. He’s a cross between a NZ mover dog (like a cattle dog) and a rounder-upper (like a border collie). Kevin named NZ breeds in his pedigree but I don’t recall what they were, and I’d never heard of either. Suffice to say Jeb is an all-rounder who incidentally loves scratches and pats.
Then Kevin sheared a sheep. The Yanks and the Indians were fascinated but B and I had seen it all before. I was interested in the pamphlet about a mix of merino wool with possum fur. Possums were brought to NZ to start a fur trade. Apparently they have hollow fur, a trait they share with polar bears. This makes the fur very light, and very warm. When mixed with wool it makes garments light, warm, and pill-resistant.
The cup of tea and Kevin’s wife, Heather’s, home made bikkies and muffins was welcome.
It was a good day, but tiring. A little white van isn’t the most comfortable mode of transport, and on the way back the Americans were in conversation with each other and the Australians, all talking about different things from different directions. For us it was something of a dull roar.
Tomorrow we’re off to Akaroa. Meanwhile, here’s some more photos.