Coastal Pacific Train – Picton to Christchurch
Once again, the train proved to be clean, comfortable and my fellow passenger one of the most interesting women in the world. She was returning to Christchurch to prepare for the demolition of her house, after the foundations had been destroyed in the quake nearly ten years before. Having local wisdom to hand proved invaluable as she exclaimed over the rebuilding around Kaikoura and pointed out the creek where seals cavorted.
It’s a beautiful trip. Being seated in comfort, staring out the window at the sea and rolling rural hills is not a difficult task. Or you could read a book. Or knit. No fuss. No parking problems.
I found Christchurch still healing in the aftermath of one of the most damaging earthquakes known in the world. The city seemed scarred, but slowly rebuilding, not only to return to functional life but also in confidence.
I loved reconnecting with my friends and cousins living and working in Christchurch. If we take their brilliant city library, Tūranga as an example, I am sure Christchurch will continue to work with community to find their heart and purpose.
On a lighter note, I am glad to report that, when I left my journal in the train, I sent emails and phoned all the relevant numbers I could. Two days later, in the Christchurch railway station, I received the journal back. It had gone all the way back to Picton, been found there, sent back and put on Hugo’s desk. (And Hugo wasn’t even there which is why it took so long for the entire staff on duty to seek it out.) Thank you, Kiwi Rail!
Due to their experience, Christchurch people are not only keen to grow and rebuild but also to protect by monitoring further potential natural disasters.
The Intercity bus to Dunedin started late to begin with and got later as the day went on but the driver seemed unruffled and no-one (apart from friends waiting to collect me) was particularly fussed around me. Once more my fellow passenger was a delightful Kiwi full of interesting stories and sage advice.
Dunedin, a city in the midst of an exciting rejuvenation at the moment, may be one of the safer places to be in NZ, albeit on its own fault line! I finished my secondary schooling there and completed my first degree at Otago University.
My father’s remains were in Anderson’s Bay Cemetary. I always understood he’d been scattered in the rose garden but the memorial rose garden seems to be dedicated to the University of Otago’s medical donors – an extremely worthy cause I suspect my mother might not have supported at that time. But it is pleasant to think of him by the sea, looking South. Not so far from his birthplace of Australia, really.
Given my mother’s ashes were scattered in Matikatia Bay above Auckland, that meant my time near Nelson put me just about equidistant between Mum and Dad. There was comfort in that idea. A sense of home.
Again, my time in Dunedin passed wonderfully, exploring old haunts and reconnecting with loved ones.
Too soon, it was time for another Intercity bus, this time to Alexandra. It was a magnificent morning, still, cloudless and gradually warming to a vibrant blue sky. The journey took us through rocky hills, tightly covered with green shrink-wrap pasture, dotted with sheep or cattle. In some places sheep crammed into pens near sheds, possibly shearing or for transporting to their accursed end. A big truck of live sheep left to roast in the sun while the driver was off to lunch. Dispiriting. However, on arrival, another gorgeous cousin with whom to reunite and share merriment all round.
Queenstown is well-known as the playground of the South. It’s a place of great stature and mountainous beauty scarred only by a rash of pinus radiata, trees that most tourists would take for native of this place. (They’re not.) The housing and development for short-term accommodation is not perfect but there’s something to be said for regulations that only allow building on one side of the lake. I don’t know how they manage it but I hope they can keep the development to the town side in the future. As it stands there are still beautiful stretches of hills and water, the Remarkables folded and pleated up against the high horizon, olive-toned velvet stuck through with rocks and those ubiquitous pine trees. And of course, in winter, sparkling with snow (in a good season).
I greeted my son Felix, who had travelled to meet me from Melbourne, and we made the most of the playtime of Queenstown, up the gondola and down the luge.
We admired views in a day blue-vivid with sunshine, the hills craggy and surreal, the white scratches of people at play on the water seen from the rooftop of little effort.
Earnsclaw Steamer – yup – that’s coal
On an early morning stroll I found a staff member of the steamship Earnslaw. This tourist attraction runs up and down Lake Wakatipu six times a day every day – at this time of the year it is always full – and prides itself on the historic education of their passengers. In order to show them how the trip used to be made they burn through seven tonnes of coal a day. It’s from Ohai mine, near Invercargill, and is delivered in two truck-loads every morning. The mine itself was shut until they worked out they could get at the coal via open cut. The staff member told me it was well-managed with plenty of indigenous planting (me: if you click through to the link it looks like it’s returned to farm land) once the digging is over. Which it isn’t. Yet.
The high-grade coal is delivered to the side of the ship and tipped into the hold through a shute. There’s a clean-up and sluice down of the decks. Apparently once half-a-truck load missed the shute and ended up in the lake. They sent down divers to retrieve it. It’s possible a bucket or so of dross might fall into the water but they try their hardest to keep Lake Wakitipu free of their spillage.
To ensure most of the coal is burned there’s a special air system up under the boiler to ensure maximum efficiency. There’s only the smallest amount of ash left over. That’s mixed with water to become a slurry and pumped into half a tanker every day to go off to a waste centre. The staff member I spoke to didn’t think it would be possible to run scrubbers on the chimney stacks to clean the emissions as they run a lot of water and you’d have to dump the dirty water back into the lake.
The staff member believes ‘someone’ has bought the Kingston Flyer, a steam train based on the other side of the lake, with a view to getting that running again. Currently they run it a couple of times a year, taking three days to get it up to steam and only going 15 km before the track runs out. (A lot of rail in NZ has become bicycle path.) No sign of the coal mines finishing up any time soon, then.
I could not help wishing the steamer and the steam train be parked by the side of the road and admired for the incredible technology they WERE while a fantastic state of the art renewable energy ferry be used to take passengers to the other side of the lake. How about some solar panels, a sail or some kind of sleek new technology that has NO EMISSIONS at all? Then you could admire the history without causing further damage to the environment AND sell tickets to the fun ride to see the historical farm. (We’ve got to keep it in the ground, remember?)
The Family Reunion
Finally, the moment of our family reunion arrived and various beloved relatives made their way to a house near Cromwell. After considerable chatting, convivial discussion and several hundredweight of food and drink, Felix and I returned to our bus life and Queenstown, from where we rode down to Invercargill. Once again, I am grateful to the folk at the I-site for their efficient ticketing, connecting us with ferry and items of interest for our ongoing trip.
Already loving nature piccees, waterholes, on just the first page!
So lucky to get your journal back
Inspiring with lots of helpful information so others can do this great journey.
Thank you, Red Bag will Travel,
So grateful you found the time! I hope the post will prove useful. So many tourists travelling through NZ miss a lot of the country by flying or self-driving when they could be kicking back, relaxing and watching the dolphins dance!