Leaving Christchurch was a wrench. We never made the Quake museum nor the City Museum. We fly home from there so maybe we’ll have time to fill those gaps. The reason was we had a train to catch.
Now, I’m a bit geeky when it comes to the Iron Horse. I LOVE a train journey. I actually liked commuting a lot of the time. There’s something of a community on a train; it is a fab place to people watch because you are so close yet most people are preserving their personal space. And there’s the world outside, the backs of people’s houses, like looking through their diaries and sneaking a peek at their lives.
I’ve tried some of the greats, too. The Rocky mountaineer from Jasper to Vancouver; the Orient Express from London to Venice; the Settle – Carlisle; even the East Coast line north of York on the way to Edinburgh is a fab experience.
To these I can now add the Trans Alpine Railway from Christchurch to Greymouth. Well, half of it because of those dreaded words ‘Engineering Works’. It meant we had to decant at Arthur’s Pass (fantastic name for a station) and take the bus; the plus was we avoided an 8 mile long tunnel and saw some great country side yet…
Still, the slow climb to Arthur’s Pass was amazing. I am so lucky.
This may give you a better sense of the journey
Greymouth, we were told to pass through quickly. We did and yet it seemed perfectly acceptable in its own busy, no nonsense way. We heard of some dreadful mining disasters on the way over and the Greymouth Evening Paper had a mural outside its print works of some of its most famous stories, mining disasters featuring highly. A tough part of the world, I guess.
It began to rain. And on the West Coast boy does it rain. They don’t measure it in inches or centimetres as we do at home but in metres. That explains why it is so lush and why we were stopping 200 kilometres along State Highway 6 at the quaintly named Franz Josef Glacier.
The thick cloud and incessant deluge rather put the mockers on an easy night. We had a heli-hike in the morning and it was rather weather dependent.
Now, I know, dear readers, you think this is some sort of boys’ outing. And I accept there have been a couple of days when we’ve leapt and jumped and run a bit. Anyway, today was one of those days.
We checked in by this sign. Changed into some waterproof clothes and boots, were given a bumbag and sent to the helipad.
If you haven’t been in a helicopter it is an exciting and unnerving experience. The first bit, shooting straight up always catches you out. Then you might turn and swoop. Once you are underway it is fine and time to take in the scenery, flying up a glacial valley to a fast moving (4 metres a day) glacier. Here are some pics.
And here’s a little bit of film.
The bumbag contained crampons as we would be hiking across a glacier. I’ve seen glaciers before but never hiked on one. Crevasses and slip-sliding are a constant concern but the sheer beauty of the blue ice is enough to justify both the effort (being high is tiring) and the risks (at one point, the Lawyer’s foot went through a slushy pool and fortunately his other was grounded as he certainly never felt the bottom).
I’ll let some of these images tell their own tale. Franz Josef Glacier is shrinking but only since 2008. However the rate of shrinkage is fast as is the speed it moves. In 100 years the ice wall will have retreated they think.
We returned just as the weather closed in and the afternoon trips were being cancelled. Very lucky all round.
As was I in the afternoon. The plan was to have a quiet one but I saw this sign for a quad bike trail in the rain forest and I’ve never been on a quad like. So…
I know, I know. There’s no excuse really.
And I know what I’m getting for Christmas