Christchurch, New Zealand – February 23, 2016
We departed Greymouth at about 14:30, some 40 minutes late. We were on-board the KiwiRail, TranzAlpine train, heading to Christchurch. It is called the TranzAlpine because it bisects the South Island of New Zealand, going over and through the Southern Alps. Our impending journey was about four hours long. We were all excited for the penultimate portion of our tour of the South Island.
Our seats were in carriage H, the last enclosed carriage of the train. Behind carriage, H followed the last carriage of the train, the observation carriage. The unique thing about the observation carriage was that it was completely open. There was nothing to come between the camera and the photo. I spent more than half of the four-hour journey standing up in the observation carriage. When the tracks turned just right, I could capture the front of the train.
While not having any glass to introduce glare into my photographs was nice, the observation carriage came with its own set of challenges. First of all, when the train was moving at full-speed, I had to mind my cap. With the wind blasting in from both sides, it could have quickly relieved me of my cherished hat. Secondly, moving that fast, I estimate 100 to 120 kilometers per hour (62 to 75 mph), it was challenging to keep one’s balance. I know that added some camera shake to many of my photographs. Regardless, it was an exhilarating experience.
The trip is not an express, stopping at seven small towns between Greymouth and Christchurch. The stops include Kokiri, Moana, Otira, Arthur’s Pass, Springfield, Darfield, and Rolleston. At times, the tracks paralleled a road. At other times, the train tracks were the only thing to be seen in the valley. Frequently, the train traveled parallel to streams and rivers. It is incredible to me to see how clear the water is in New Zealand. It is so clear that it makes it very difficult to fly fish. The fish can easily see when someone approaches.
Each passenger received a set of earphones. I did not use them; I was too busy going back and forth to the observation carriage. Lorraine thought the narrative available through the earphones enhanced the journey. The narrator shared history and tidbits of information all along the route.
The town of Otira is at the entrance to the Otira Tunnel. On the Christchurch side of the tunnel is the village of Arthur’s Pass. The tunnel is just over five miles long. Part of the reason for the stop at Otira is to couple an additional engine to the rear of the train. The reason for the second engine is safety. In case there is a problem in the tunnel, the engines can pull the train to safety, regardless of which direction. The trip from Otira to Arthur’s Pass has a gain in altitude of over 800 feet. While Baldwin Street is steeper at 1:5 (see blog entry Otago & Olveston), the pitch of the tunnel is 1:33. Opened in 1923, the tunnel was the seventh-longest tunnel in the world at that time. The observation carriage was closed during the trip through the tunnel.
The train stopped on the Arthur’s Pass side of the tunnel, to allow the uncoupling of the second engine.
With all the stops and because of our late departure, we were an hour late arriving in Christchurch. We disembarked and walked to the front of the train to retrieve our baggage. My bag was the absolute last one to come off the train. The last bag in hand; we walked outside the station. We abruptly discovered taxis were scarce. Many of the taxi drivers tired of waiting for the late train. They departed to find other fares. That left 30 or 40 passengers waiting for taxis. One by one, taxis dribbled back to the station and loaded with crankier and crankier passengers. I do not think we were grumpy, but I know we were thrilled when we were finally able to get in a taxi.
Unfortunately, I was not familiar that Corporate Cabs operates in Christchurch. Had I known, I could have made a reservation ahead of time. That would have meant a cab would be there waiting for us regardless of our arrival time. Oh well, live and learn!On our way to the Ibis Christchurch hotel, I asked our driver if he had been in Christchurch when the big earthquake struck February 22, 2011. He said he was. Liquefaction destroyed his home. As we drove along, it was apparent that Christchurch was not back to 100 percent. Many buildings still stood damaged. The driver said that wherever there was a vacant lot, there had been a structure there before the earthquake.
I felt sad for and about the city. It seemed to be only a shell of its former self. The central business district should have been bustling with people, business, and commerce. It was not; it just seemed to be “existing.”
By the time we made it to the hotel, we were all tired and hungry. We checked-in tossed our bags in our rooms and made a beeline for the hotel restaurant.
The next morning, after breakfast, we were ready to explore Christchurch. Just around the corner from the hotel is the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral. Construction on the Cathedral began in 1864. It took 40 years to complete. The 2011 earthquake partially destroyed the Cathedral in a matter of seconds. Indecision and inaction, except for some bracing and some screening fencing, means it remains in a state of disrepair. It was sad to see it in that condition.
Very near the Cathedral, we discovered the Christchurch Tramway. The Tramway is public transportation utilizing restored streetcars dating from the early 20th Century. The tickets we purchased allowed us to use the Tramway throughout the day.
We got off the Tramway at the Canterbury Museum. The main building of the museum dates from 1870. There have been some building additions since then.
Our first stop in the museum was the Christchurch Street area. The area housed multiple storefronts reminiscent of the 1870s Christchurch. Each of the storefronts contained period artifacts. We truly got the feeling of walking in Christchurch in the late 19th Century. One exit from the Christchurch Street exhibit led directly into an old gallery area containing 19th Century costumes and decorative arts.
One of the unique exhibits in the museum is the Paua Shell House that has some actual portions of and furniture from a real home in Bluff, New Zealand. Fred and Myrtle Flutely covered their home in Bluff, inside and out, with paua shells. Leslie and I both like paua shells. They are beautiful; however, I think we will stop short of doing our house up with the shells. It took Fred and Myrtle 40 years to cover the home. I am sure it was a real conversation piece while it was located in Bluff.
Departing the museum, we boarded the Tramway again. This time we got off on the famous New Regent Street. The street is a block-long collection of pastel-colored two-story buildings, dating from the mid-1930s. The ground level shops were a mixture of coffee shops, cafés, and boutiques. After walking the city for a while, it was back on the Tramway.
Our next stop was the Christchurch Art Gallery. Since it was lunchtime, we first stopped at the Fiddlesticks Restaurant and Bar that is directly across the street.
There is an outstanding collection of art in the gallery. From the second floor, one can see the Maori totem in front of Christchurch City Hall from a window. When we left the museum, Hillary was able to pose with her best haka face in front of the totem.
After the haka pose, we waited across from the museum for the next Tramway. After 15 minutes, we still had not seen a Tram. I finally called the Tramway company. The person that answered the phone told me the Tram was no longer running that day because of issues beyond their control. We discovered later that the track along New Regent Street was closed. Some newly discovered earthquake damage on one of the buildings caused the closure. I certainly did not notice anything dangerous about the premises while we were there earlier in the day. But then again, I was not looking for anything. After hearing that news, we strolled back to the hotel for some well-deserved naps.
When we woke up, we had one more stop we wanted to make, the “Container Mall.” The actual name of the development is Re: START Mall. A few blocks from our hotel, this area is several retail stores housed in uniquely positioned metal shipping containers. The idea is to replace temporarily the shopping spaces damaged or demolished because of the 2011 earthquake. I have certainly never seen another mall like that one.
I could not keep the earthquake out of my mind. The ground on which the mall is situated was no doubt the location of multiple buildings; buildings that were destroyed and subsequently razed. Colorful paint on many of the containers made the setting a little less industrial. Additionally, there were several pieces of whimsical art throughout the mall.
The shopping was uneventful. None of us purchased anything. We strolled back to the hotel and prepared for our departure from Christchurch the next day.
After a leisurely breakfast and morning, we hailed a taxi and headed to the Christchurch airport. The airport was rehabbed after the 2011 earthquake. Our wait went like clockwork, taking off on time.
The flight was uneventful. It was a little bumpy on our approach into Wellington; however, it was not as bad as the first day Leslie, and I arrived a few months ago.