In December 2015 we joined the TranzAlpine Express (https://www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz/tranzalpine/) to make the five hour, 223 km journey coast to coast from Christchurch to Greymouth over the wild lands of the Southern Alps on South Island New Zealand. It was a relief to leave Christchurch (https://www.newzealand.com/uk/christchurch/ ) for a day with its still shattered remains from the earthquake of 2011, despite the efforts to rebuild it and the zany humour on some of its walls.
We crossed the rich farmlands of the Canterbury plains behind Christchurch in our comfortable panorama train before beginning the climb up beside the gorge of the Waimakariri River. As we climbed, we got dizzying views into the gorge below and crossed bridges that leapt over chasms. At last we reached the alpine uplands with their wonderful wild flowered grasslands. The railway followed an old hunting route that was used by the local Maori for centuries before they showed it to Pakeha (European) settlers for building the railway.
Spectacular mountain scenery beyond a glittering river brought us to Arthur’s Pass station (https://www.newzealand.com/uk/arthurs-pass/), a former Maori rest camp, 737m above sea level, to let people get off who were going walking in the high mountains.
After Arthur’s Pass, the railway went downhill, at first quite gently passing old railway buildings and trackside cabins and some farms on the high mountain flat land by the river. Then it dived steeply down the spectacular Otira tunnel, (https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/otira-rail-tunnel-opened) descending 250m at 1:33 for 8.5 km to the valley on the West side of the Southern Alps. The tunnel has doors and special fans to keep the air fresh inside it and is so steep that trains need two engines to stop them running away downhill.
At the bottom we emerged into wild mountain scenery with a rapidly flowing river in which some people were working with a digger. As the valley opened out a little more we saw some people repairing roads damaged by the winter weather. A little further on small farms began to appear as the train approached Moana.
We were pleased to reach Moana (https://www.newzealand.com/uk/moana/) beside Lake Brunner as we were ready to stretch our legs after the excitement of our journey. Moana is a tiny settlement which used to have several sawmills but now is a centre for sailing and fishing, a delightful waymarked tramping track and a hospitable Station House Cafe, right opposite the station. We were a little sad to leave it for the train back to Christchurch!