Christchurch, New Zealand
The morning started bright, clear and cold. At 8am locals began setting up a market in the motel car park. These Sunday markets seem to spring up in rural areas and are a bit like mini car boot sales, with the usual car boot tat most of the time, only with added handicrafts of greenstone and glass. Anyway, we had a look round before breakfast, but after brek we were off up the hill to see the pancake rocks in Paparoa National Park. These are natural formations that have been created by complex geological processes that were too hard for me to understand on just two coffees. They looked pretty amazing though and have apparently been used as part of a sequence in ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ on the telly.
After a walk round there we moved on back to Greymouth. It looked a lot nicer today in the sunshine, but not only was the town closed, it was chain-linked fenced off to make a motorcycle racetrack. We managed to find a coffee shop both open and outside the circuit and topped up the caffeine. A quick look round what bits of the town we could see and a quick watch of the bike racing from the wrong side of the fence and we moved on to the railway station, which was also outside the circuit. The whole thing there was dead organised – there was a baggage check-in like a little airport and we got rid of the suitcases. We also said goodbye to the red Ford Focus at this point and the Apex Rental man confirmed a blue one would be waiting at Christchurch station for us. Seemed pretty smooth since I booked it all 8 weeks ago and 9000 miles away in the middle of their night.
We then had an hour-long wait for the train. Lots of other people started turning up and checking in, so it didn’t seem long before the train arrived and disgorged it’s load of passengers from Christchurch into waiting buses and rental cars. They then took the train away briefly to swap the locos round from one end to the other so it could make the journey back. They then let us on board. At 1.45pm precisely we set off on the single rail track back across the country.
If you don’t know, this rail journey is from the Tasman Sea port of Greymouth to the Pacific Ocean city of Christchurch across the Southern Alps, rising to a maximum altitude of 7300-and-something metres at Arthurs Pass Village. Scenery-wise it’s pretty astonishing, as you might imagine. Just before Arthurs Pass, the train moved into a tunnel for a good 20 mins; it has been grey and cloudy on one side and was brilliant sunshine when we emerged. The train includes a viewing platform, which is basically a carriage without seats or windows. People would go in from their regular carriage for a little while, take some pictures and then scuttle back to the warm. Eventually we descended from the Alps onto the Canterbury plain and made a run for the city.
We finally arrived in Christchurch at just gone 6pm. The cases appeared on a baggage conveyor fairly promptly and it was out to the car park to find an unlocked blue Focus with the keys in the glovebox. You have to smile at how trusting they are here. Or at least you do until you find that apart from being identical in every way to the red Ford Focus (apart from blue and clean), somehow the boot is smaller! Took me a while to figure it out, but the red car must have had a spacesaver spare tyre and the new one has a full sized. I can’t think of anything else, but I got the cases in, just.
It was then a 15 minute drive to the hotel, whereupon they took the keys off me and parked the car in the multi-storey next door. For a change we are abandoning Copthorne and are in the Hotel Grand Chancellor, just a few hundred yards from the Cathedral Square and the centre of the city. They have put us on the 19th foor, which gives great views towards the surrounding hills. But that’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow we take a look to see what Christchurch as to offer.