Goodbye road, hello rail

Around noon Wednesday, we returned Car #3 and added up the total mileage covered with our three rentals. Steve safely piloted us a total of 2,124 miles. He says it felt like twice that long. The extra concentration required by the left-side driving on narrow roads never ceased to be tiring, although after three-plus weeks, it was far less foreign than when we started. We never regretted making this as much of a road trip as we did; the freedom it gave us was delicious. But we also were so happy we were able to shorten the driving portion, just a bit.

It was about a week ago, in the middle of Mt. Cook National Park, that it struck me we might not want to drive back across the South Island (through Arthur’s Pass), given that there was such an attractive alternative. There’s a train, the TranzAlpine Railway, that covers that passage. Lonely Planet says it’s one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys. Months ago, I thought we would certainly want to take it, but then I changed my mind.

On that road-weary afternoon, I wondered if I might change it back. Thanks to the wonders of the wired world, we found we could still book two train tickets and modify our car reservation, dropping Car #3 off Wednesday morning in Greymouth instead of at the Christchurch airport Saturday, when we fly home. Frosting on the cake was that because the car-rental agency needed for a car to be moved to Greymouth, it would only cost us $9 a day, instead of about $35.

We felt jubilant. Then three days later, I got an email informing us that a landslide had just destroyed part of the track! But, the message continued, we could take a bus from the Greymouth train station to Arthur’s Pass, then board the train there and ride for three hours through the most scenic part of the line! If we chose this, they would refund us half of what we’d paid for the train tickets!

We caught the bus at the Greymouth train station.

I may have been dumb not to plan to take the train in the first place, but I wasn’t dumb enough to turn down this second chance. It felt divinely inspired. The 90-minute bus ride was just as pretty — and vastly more relaxing — with someone else at the wheel. On the hair-raising, serpentine uphill near Arthur’s Pass, heavy sheets of rain lashed our vehicle, and then they lashed us as we dashed from the bus to the train. (So we never would have been able to hike in the forest there, one reason the drive had seemed attractive.) The train was one of the nicest we’ve ridden anywhere ever, with new immaculate toilets, huge windows…optional pre-recorded guiding commentary, an open-air viewing car…

…and TV screens showing a map of our position. But who would choose to look up at them with scenes like this outside the window?

No further landslides impaired our progress. We reached Christchurch station at 6:15 pm and took an Uber to our Airbnb apartment. We’ll have three final nights here, getting around with more Ubers and on foot, before taking to the air Saturday morning. I wish I could take the train all the way home.

3 thoughts on “Goodbye road, hello rail

  1. czatkin November 13, 2019 / 11:37 pm

    More wonderful photos. I noticed in the train’s open air car, the floor was wet, so I assume that was rain. I’m glad you took the train. You’d already discovered driving on the “wrong” side of the road in the rain isn’t really any fun. Looking forward to having you back!

  2. Dennis Parker November 14, 2019 / 12:37 am

    Jeannette: I just now caught up on your last several postings, and the result is that I’ve added New Zealand to my list of places I want to visit. Wow. Your photos and writing are so exciting. Of course I most liked the albatross adventure. I’m glad you finally saw the wandering albatross (the smaller black and white birds are cape petrels, and the gull with the red bill is called a silver gull). But all of these stories are wonderful. You must be so thrilled with your journey.

    • jdewyze November 14, 2019 / 4:34 am

      Dennis, this place is made for you! As you doubtless know, there was NOTHING but birds (one a bat or two) until around 1250 AD. There are still so many wonderful birds (and other things), but many of the birds are threatened by the introduced predators.

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