A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand - Tranzalpine train

Franz Josef, Ross, Greymouth, Christchurch

Wednesday 10th February 2016 TranzAlpine Train journey Greymouth to Christchurch

Franz Josef to Greymouth Train Station
We left Franz Josef and headed north on the Franz Josef Highway. We crossed a few small rivers before arriving in the very small township of Ross, the centre of an historic gold mining region. We had a tea (and no food as it was not that salubrious looking), then popped around the corner to see the old mining area, partly recreated. It was def a place time had by-passed.
The Westland petrel (tāiko) is endemic to New Zealand and breeds only on the West Coast of South Island. The survival of the tāiko is important, as they are the last remnant of a unique ecosystem and one of the few petrel species remaining on mainland New Zealand, inhabiting the West Coast as they did before humans. Numerous species of burrowing petrels once bred in North and South Islands, but depredation by humans and predation have led to the almost complete removal of petrels from the mainland. Fortunately the large size and aggressive nature of Westland petrels allow them to defend themselves and their chicks against predators, surviving where other petrels have been lost. During breeding season, the tāiko feeds off the West Coast and as far away as Kaikoura. In non-breeding season, it can be found from eastern Australia to Peru/ Chile. The tāiko was discovered in 1945, when pupils of Barrytown School, Greymouth found an unusual blackish brown bird with an ivory beak and black feet while doing a school project. The Westland petrel differs from other petrels that breed in New Zealand in being a winter breeder, its only breeding location an 8km stretch of coastal forest in the foothills of the Paparoa range near Punakaiki. Adults live for 25 years, which is a very long time for an animal in the wild.
Further on we realised we had loads of time, so we stopped at a crafty looking town with a nice centre, which turned out to be Hokitika, the green-stone capital of NZ. There were loads of jade/ pounamu workshops and everyone was keen for us to see the craftsmen working. The prices were really keen, so it would be rude not to indulge, wouldn’t it. So we did (along with quite a lot of organised Chinese coach trips). I had no idea it came in so many colours, from yellow-green to pale green with black spots and everything in between. Around coffee time, we decided to set off, so we filled up with petrol, grabbed a choc bar and finished our drive to Greymouth, the West Coast’s largest town.

As it turned out we were glad we’d arrived quite early, as it got very busy later on. However, we had plenty of time to drop off the car, check in the bags and still get a delic seafood lunch opposite at Speights Ale House, where a friendly Canadian and German chatted to us. We then headed over the road to the Victorian looking train station for the 1:45 departure. The picture shows its clock tower near the sign telling us not to eat fish caught by the sewer outlet! http://www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz/tranzalpine/

Tranz Alpine Scenic train Greymouth to Christchurch
Considered one of the world’s great train journeys, the Tranz Alpine scenic train goes from the Tasman Sea at Greymouth through Arthurs Pass National Park to the Pacific Ocean at Christchurch. Rise from the lush rain forest of the West coast to the spectacular mountains of the Southern Alps. Travel through gorges and the valley of Waimakariri River before descending to the farmland of the Canterbury plains and Christchurch. The train (apparently somewhat unusually) was on time and we had numbered seats, making it easy. Luckily we were on the “scenic” left hand side. There were complimentary headphones to listen to what turned out to be a very informative commentary on the journey. So, we settled back to enjoy the scenery. The 41⁄2 hour trip is 224km, has 19 tunnels and 4 viaducts (the highest being the Staircase at 73m).

1. Greymouth to Brunner. Greymouth's wooden station building housed an extensive gift shop and travel centre. The town clock on the riverbank was originally housed in the tower of the impressive colonial post office. The post office and tower were demolished as they were thought to be an earth-quake risk, and the clock now stands in its own short wooden tower. The train started alongside a river, thick with green bushes on both banks. It passed Dobson, an old coal-mining town though all the mines are now shut, then quickly through Taylorville, following the Taylor River. At around 2:00, not far out of Greymouth the commentary informed us we were passing Brunner and the Old Brunner Mine, site of New Zealand's worst mining disaster in 1896 (below left) just across the valley on the other side of the Grey River. An ancient suspension bridge linked the railway side of the river with the mine. We continued through the lush podocarp forest, wet from the prevailing moist air. arnold-river_49919937973_o.jpgarnold-river_49920528376_o.jpgarnold-river_49920451086_o.jpg
Taylorville, Taylor river, Brunner

Podocarp trees boast a lineage that stretches back to the time when New Zealand was part of the supercontinent Gondwana. New Zealand has 15 podocarp species, which belongs to the conifer families Podocarpaceae (13), Phyllocladaceae (3). The best known are rimu, kahikatea, miro, mataī and tōtara. Podocarp forests are found in central North Island, Coromandel, Northland and Southland, but the largest are on the west coast of the South Island.
Podocarp facts Podocarp forests are a mixture of tall podocarps and smaller trees (hardwoods) with an understorey of shrubs, plants, ferns and tree-ferns. Light-loving podocarps reach for the forest canopy, while shade tolerant species thrive in the lower levels. Soil and climate conditions play a major role in determining which species will dominate a forest. In Southland, tōtara grows closest to the coast, on almost pure sand. As nutrient level increase, mataī takes over. With more nutrients rimu and miro come into their own and on the wetter sites kahikatea grows best. Podocarps, as conifers, reproduce using cones, but podocarp cones are extremely modified and look more like berries. These are attractive to birds who help to spread the seeds. Because of the abundant range of fruits, podocarp forests support large communities of insects and birds including bellbirds, tūī, kākā and kea. Threats to the forests include land clearance and timber harvesting, possums, weeds, often garden escapees, browsing by mammals such as deer and sheep and fire.
The giants
Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides) or white pine is New Zealand’s tallest native tree reaching 60 m. Black seeds, at the end of a succulent red stem, are popular with wood pigeon (kūkupa/ kererū), kākā and tūī. Kahikatea is the most reduced forest type, once dominating lowland swamp areas.
Miro (Prumnopitys ferrugineus) grows to 25 m, with pinkish-purple fruit, a favourite of kākā and kereru. Mataī (Prumnopitys taxifolia) has small yellow catkins whose pollen bees collect while the round blue- black fruit is enjoyed by kākā and pigeons. Although slimy the sweet fruit was enjoyed by early Māori. Bushmen drilled the base of standing trees to collect a sap known as mataī beer.
Tōtara (Podocarpus totara) grows up to 30 m, with massive trunks. They were used by the Māori for canoes and carving. It dominates on some sandy coastal areas such as Otatara.

Stillwater, Arnold River and valley, Lake Brunner, Kellys range
We turned sharply at Stillwater to head along the Arnold River Valley (and river), arriving at Lake Brunner and Moana township, with its pretty lake view. The lake and its beach-like margins hosted a number of birds which we saw fishing in the shallows. Crested grebe/ kāmana belongs to an ancient order of diving water birds. Three of the 22 species have become extinct in the last 30 years. Māori call the birds kāmana, and regard them as taonga/treasure. They have fine, sharp bills, slender necks and heads with distinctive black double crests. Their cheeks have chestnut frills, fringed black. Their legs are set well back on their bodies to enhance their diving skills, at the expense of mobility on land. For this reason, the birds rarely, if ever, come ashore. Grebes are monogamous, with floating nests and are renowned for elaborate mating displays and the way young grebes ride on the back of their swimming parents. They feed on small fish, insects and waterweeds. They swallow feathers to prevent bones passing into the gut and are regurgitated periodically. All South Island lakes once had grebes but now only Canterbury and Otago remain as strongholds. They have a protected centre at Moana.
Kakī/ black stilt, is a native wading bird only found in New Zealand. Once common throughout NZ, kakī is now restricted to the braided rivers and wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin. Kakī have completely black plumage (apart from the young who are black and white) and long red legs. Most riverbed birds migrate to the coast in winter, but kakī continue to feed locally. Kakī are opportunistic feeders, taking aquatic insects, molluscs and small fish. They wade into deeper, slower moving water than most riverbed birds, reaching down to catch insects, such as mayfly and caddis fly larvae, on the river bottom. Unlike pied stilts and other waders, they can also feed by using a scything motion with their bill. Kakī mate for life and if they cannot find a kakī, they may breed with the pied stilt, a close relative.

2. Brunner to Otira After the lake, Mt Te Kinga, tree clad, passed us on the right. The train now followed a deep valley containing a broad shallow river, which it crossed several times over low bridges. Ever more mist-laden mountains flanked the valley (starting with Mt Alexander), a wonderful part of the journey. Waterfalls abounded as we headed on upwards.
Te Kinga, cows, Mt. Alexander

3. Otira to Arthurs Pass. Just before the famous Otira tunnel was Otira, where the TranzAlpine made a very brief call to pick up a group of Chinese tourists. Otira was built as a railway town, part of the railway that kept the coal flowing from the west coast coalfields to Christchurch and the rest of New Zealand. The terrain was now mountainous, with snow capped peaks visible both sides and ahead. The TranzAlpine snaked its way through the Misty Mountains (not this time related to anything Tolkien), which lived up to their name! Almost immediately before Arthurs Pass the train entered Otira Tunnel leaving the sub-tropical rainforest and entering the hills. At 8.6 km long, it's one of the longest tunnels in New Zealand. It was completed in 1923, allowing direct train travel from east to west across South Island. This section was once electrified, but now a door closes behind each train, allowing the train to act as a huge piston, forcing the diesel fumes out. The train stopped at Arthurs Pass station, surrounded by yet more mist-laden mountains, and there I got out briefly to stretch my legs. The conductor said not to go far as the stop was quite brief.

4. Crossing the Waimakariri. The train ran alongside the small Bealey River, which feeds into Waimakariri River. We reached a plateau, crossing and re-crossing the braided river of the Waimakariri (Maori for Cold water), over and over again. At this point it was a broad, meandering, shallow river, beautifully glittering in the sunshine. This area is Cass Bank and has the mountains behind as a wonderful backdrop. A long low bridge ran across the river (White Mt or Waimakariri Bridge). Shortly after we passed by on the right the appropriately named Lake Sarah, one of the smaller lakes of the Pearson group of lakes. The slightly larger Lake Grassmere was a little further and hard to see. The ski area of Craigieburn was to our right, as we thundered along the dry Craigieburn Straight. The mountains were lower and drier, with little snow anywhere. We passed Mt Bisner (left) and Purple Hill (right).
Brealey River, Cass Bank, Waimakariri Bridge, Lake Sarah, Craigieburn Straight, Tussocklands

5. Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands By mid afternoon, the train reached a grassy plateau; the dry Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands Park, dotted with hills. Mountains, liberally hung with mist, gave way to hills. As it descended, the train crossed a series of steel girder bridges and viaducts over deep gorges and through a series of short tunnels. The highest viaduct was the famous 'Staircase', 73 m above the river. The scenery here was spectacular, with Castle Hill behind us. As we travelled the commentary continued, giving us information about the early European settlements in this area (at this altitude basically sheep farming as the land is unsuitable for agriculture) as well as taking about the nature of the dry grasslands.

6. Waimakariri Gorge to Canterbury Plain. The Waimakariri river was now in a gorge way below the railway. The train descended from the Southern Alps. The train finished its descent from the Southern Alps, with views of the stunning Waimakariri Gorge. The last tentative foothills disappeared as the train passed fields of sheep, cattle, red deer, and the small commuter town of Darfield. Shortly before Christchurch we crossed flat open farmland, doing 60mph across the Canterbury plain with the snow-capped Southern Alps behind us on the horizon. Ten minutes before Christchurch the small wooden suburban bungalows of Rollaston gave way to Addington cement works and freight yards. The massive Addington railway works was where many of New Zealand Railways' locomotives and rolling stock were once made. We pulled into Christchurch's passenger railway station, a small modern rail terminal opened in 1993 in the suburb of Addington, 3 km southwest of Christchurch city centre, right on time. Christchurch's original railway station was located on Moorhouse Avenue immediately south of the city centre. The old station building, completed in 1960 to a 1938 design, was destroyed by the earthquake.
Beech Forest- New Zealand’s beech forests are made of five species of southern beech. They are the largest remaining indigenous forest type in South Island, mainly because beech forests are on mountainous land not useful for agriculture. A bit less than a quarter of New Zealand is still covered
in native forest. Of these forests, 2/3 have some beech and 1⁄2 have almost nothing but beech trees. Beech trees produce millions of seeds, usually every 4/5 years and during a heavy seed fall about 50 million seeds (250 kg) fall per hectare. Each beech prefers different soil and climate conditions.
● Hard Beech and black beech - lowland North Island and northern South Island.
● Red beech - foothills and inland river valley floors
● Silver beech- Fiordland.
● Mountain beech -mountains and high altitudes.
A beech tree can grow over 30 m and live for more than 300 years. Three species of native mistletoe depend on beech forest. Korukoru or crimson mistletoe (scarlet-yellow, flowers) grows exclusively on silver beech. Pirirangi or red mistletoe (bright red flowers) grows on black, mountain and silver beech. Alepis flavida (orange-yellow flowers) is found on mountain and black beech. All three are threatened with extinction from possums. The beech strawberry fungus has orange-yellow golf-ball-like fruiting bodies and is only found on silver beech. A group of fungi, known as mycorrhizae, enjoy a beneficial relationship with beech trees. Living on the tree roots, the fungi take sugars while the beech tree absorbs minerals that the fungus has transported from the surrounding soil. The beech scale insect lives in the bark of beech trees drawing off the sap and excreting sugary liquid drops, known as honeydew, an important energy source for birds (tui, bellbirds, kaka) and animals (lizards, possums, rats, honeybees, wasps).
When we arrived back in Christchurch at 6.10pm our driver was waiting- an interesting lady who’d lived in Christchurch her whole life and had some interesting insights into the rebuilding (or lack of it). There was a general feeling from several people we talked to that the
rebuilding was taking a lot longer than it should. We commented on the exorbitant price of the merino-possum jumpers we liked and she offered to take us to the factory shop the next day. She dropped us off and we met Steve’s friend again. The restaurants were super busy, but we managed to find one, the King of Snake, which gave us a good meal.
Camelot Motor Lodge, Christchurch

Posted by PetersF 20:44 Archived in New Zealand Tagged train new island south zealand christchurch franz greymouth josef ross tranzalpine

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.