TTWWD – TransAlpine Adventure

One of the things that I was recommended to do was take the TransAlpine Express from Christchurch to Greymouth. So early in the morning, we drove to Christchurch (my nephew’s wife, one great nephew and myself) from where they live. The sun was just rising, not even above the horizon when we set off and I was struck, yet again, by the wonder of the ‘sky through the trees’ which you will all be familiar with by now. Apart from the macrocarpa hedges, dense pine wind breaks about a yard wide and all along the edges of the fields in places; where the windbreaks are mostly native trees, or poplars now pretty nearly stripped of their foliage, we could see this magical golden glow through the tracery of branches and leaves. The dawn green/blue of the sky gradually suffused with sunshine until it became the startling blue of full day.
The train passes through the Canterbury Plain until it starts to rise up the Eastern flanks of the South Alps, climbing from 3 metres above sea level to 737 metres above sea level at Arthur’s Pass (named after Arthur Dobson an early exploring pioneer and surveyor). It then drops through a tunnel with a gradient of 1 in 33 until it bursts out of the hillside on to the green and lush Western slopes. The rail finishes at Greymouth only 4 metres above sea level, with the majestic Grey River running through the town (sometimes too much through the town, such that they have constructed a formidable barrier to prevent or mitigate further flooding). This has created a pleasant walkway along the river’s edge, pretty much all the way to the pounding waves of the Tasman Sea.
The railway threads through and up and down the slopes, across viaducts, passed lakes, and stunning valleys. The Western slopes are laced with braid rivers, a feature of New Zealand. A braid river is one that doesn’t reach from bank to bank except in flood. It is here above all that you see the negative effect that the introduction of gorse, broom and briar rose had on this natural phenomenon. A braided river does not follow a single course, but carves its own way through sand and shingle banks, changing its course after floods have altered the river bed. The shallows around these banks are a valuable habitat for waders, of which there is a rich variety. The gorse, broom and briar (growing vigorously as they do here) are stabilising these bars, whether shingle or sand, and are creating deeper flows around each ‘island’ which reduces the possibility of safe feeding for waders, because it reduces the river race into a narrower channel, causing a stronger flow.

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Once on the Western slopes the vegetation, the rock formation and the rivers change dramatically

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Greymouth is rather a disappointment, or it was closed for the weekend and I am not doing it
justice!? The Backpackers’ Hotel was the brightest thing in town!

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The TransAlpine Express arrives for the return journey:

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