Crossing the Alps

posted in: Travel | 0

We left Christchurch heading over the Southern Alps to the west coast via Arthur’s Pass. If we’d been in town on a different day we would have caught the famous Trans-Alpine train from a station in Christchurch, Linda would have driven the coach along the road and she would have picked us up at Arthur’s Pass – but the train isn’t running every day at the moment. Probably lack of staff, like everything else. Still, the road is just as pretty as the railway line and it doesn’t go through tunnels. I’ve done the train trip twice – in 2018 and with Peter in 2019.

The road out of Christchurch runs through flat farming country until it reaches the foothills. The weather was pleasant, too. But as we started to climb through the hills the clouds came down to say hello. We were following a route  across the Alps that was used for the first time by Europeans in 1864 and named after the surveyor Arthur Dobson. But in fact, he followed a trail the Māori used.

By the time we got to Arthur’s Pass for a toilet stop we were walking around in a cloud and we needed those waterproof jackets we’d brought with us.

George wasn’t impressed

There’s nothing anyone can do about the weather, but I knew what a shame that was. In 2018 B and I had the very good fortune of travelling on a picture-perfect day. There was snow on the mountain peaks, the views were magnificent, we got up to the spectacular lookout above the viaduct built to replace the notorious and dangerous zig-zag, and we met some keas. I wrote a blog about it with lots of pictures.

In 2019 the weather was pretty much the same as we were experiencing in the here and now. I suspect that’s the usual state of affairs.

Back in 2022 we carried on through sodden farm country until we reached Hokitika, a village on the Tasman Sea, where we paused for lunch. I’m sure it’s a lovely place in summer, but today no one was much interested in wandering around, although a few visited the factory here that processes New Zealand’s famous greenstone (pounamu). There’s a Māori legend about how pounamu was created. It seems a water monster named Poutini came across beautiful Waitaiki as she was bathing in the Bay of Plenty. Smitten, he snatched her and carried her away. But she was the wife of a powerful chief, Tamaahua, who resolved to get her back. He followed the pair across to the South Island and down the coast. Eventually, Poutini realized Tamaahua would not give up, so he turned Waitaki into pounamu. [source] That fixed that.

Pounamu jewellery

Everybody was well and truly on time onto the coach after lunch. It was warmer and drier. We were on our way to Fox Glacier, a small town… I’ll let you work out how it acquired its name. We passed through the town of Franz Josef on the way. It is considered to be an accident waiting to happen since the village sits on the Alpine fault line. The residents would like to move the entire town, which sounds eminently sensible, but so far the Provincial Council isn’t budging. Here’s the story.

The view in the rain forest

Since it was obvious that there would be no chance of taking a flight up to the glacier that day, Linda took us around to the carpark where the walking track up to the glacier starts. That way we could at least catch a glimpse.

Apparently you can’t walk all the way up to the ice anymore. Seems too many people have ignored warnings and got themselves severely injured or killed. But even the barriers and the warning signs don’t deter some.

The Distinction hotel at Fox Glacier is comfortable. The hotel doesn’t have a bar but we could buy wine and beer in the lounge room for our usual pre-dinner drinks session. It seemed the weather might be clearing – maybe those wanting to take to the skies would get their opportunity in the morning.

By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.

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