It’s eight.15am on the dot and with one mellow toot the TranzAlpine passenger practice is off on its journey from Christchuch to Greymouth. As we rattle by means of the flat and fertile Canterbury plains we’re quickly climbing up steep gorges within the foothills of the Southern Alps, the spine of South Island. Below, I can see the startling blue water of the Waimakariri river valley. Pink and blue lupins line the tracks together with rows of pines.
The railway covers 223km, monitoring its means over 4 viaducts and thru 16 tunnels, taking 4 and a half hours to Greymouth on the west coast – a tad sooner than the stage coaches that took two days to get meals throughout to gold prospectors in 1866. The stage coach was as soon as referred to as “The Perishable” due to the fruit and greens it used to move alongside the best way.
It’s a really completely different story now the practice has reached its 30th anniversary yr. The carriages are fashionable, with huge, non-reflective home windows, wifi and a operating commentary in Mandarin and English. The seats are spacious and home windows panoramic, excellent for having fun with the wide-screen surroundings – from the pastoral Canterbury plains, by means of forest and lowland rivers, as much as tussock sheep stations. The panorama we cross by means of from the consolation of our carriage tells the story of New Zealand’s prosperity. There are defunct coal mines, stubbly hillsides and noticed mills, whereas the temperate rainforest is dense with native pines, beech and conifers – the identical ones utilized by the Maori to make their conventional canoes.
Nothing to rail in opposition to … New Zealand’s trains present nice viewing areas to benefit from the surroundings. Photograph: Alamy
Two hours into the practice journey we arrive at Arthur’s Pass, the place, by means of rolling white mist, we are able to nearly spot snow-capped mountain peaks. This cross, the very best over the Southern Alps, was utilized by Maori looking events lengthy earlier than the railway was constructed. We method the eight.5km Otira tunnel, accomplished in 1923; as much as 18 trains a day nonetheless climb up and down its 1:33 gradient, transporting coal from west to east. Even now it’s a hazardous course of stopping locomotives from overheating and shutting down. The practice stops whereas our obligation supervisor uncouples the carriages to get us by means of safely.
Soon after, we’re in Greymouth, a city identified for its looking and jade-mining previous, and in addition the top of our journey. You can whereas away an hour or two on a tasting tour on the native brewery or a go to to Shantytown to find out about gold mining. But for many guests it’s a setting-off level to see the spectacular Fox Glacier, a 13km-long maritime glacier on the west coast that’s excellent for ice-climbing and strolling. Instead, I cease for a pie and a cup of tea in an area cafe and an hour later begin the return journey again to Christchurch.
Ice and straightforward … the Fox Glacier on South Island. Photograph: Alamy
There, in New Zealand’s third-largest metropolis, badly broken by the earthquake of 2011, I’m shocked to see hoardings and bulldozers, and the cathedral nonetheless propped up on splints. When British settlers arrived in 1880, Christchurch was destined to turn out to be a mannequin of class-structured England, with church buildings somewhat than pubs, and land owned by gentry with English-style gardens.
The earthquake luckily had little affect on the botanical gardens. Here, the scent of eucalyptus and mock orange wafts by means of avenues of timber whereas guests take a leisurely punt alongside the Avon river. Creative Christchurch survives within the “container city”, the place pop-up outlets and banks do business. Cycleways have helped the revival, however these who reside there are pissed off with the sluggish progress of its regeneration.
I head to the Heritage Hotel, a historic native government landmark which now presents 32 stately suites, “Italian renaissance palazzo style”, every with state-of-the-art kitchens. A sweeping central staircase and lengthy corridors remind me of the grand resorts in London’s Park Lane. From Christchurch, I fly again as much as Wellington after which I’m off once more, this time on the Northern Explorer practice that runs from Wellington to Auckland and takes 10 hours.
Completed in 1908, after 23 years of building, it’s New Zealand’s longest-running passenger service. My journey begins at eight.55am, rumbling by means of the center of the North Island and an ever-changing panorama of baize-green hills with folds like origami and gorges plunging into turquoise lakes. As we cross the Wellington fault line, Kapiti Island, a predator-free chook sanctuary, sits slumped within the Tasman Sea like an enormous jelly child. Photographers pile into the open-sided remark carriage, grasping to seize each vista.
Green and nice land … mountain climbing on the Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Alpine Crossing on North Island. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
By lunchtime we attain a cease named National Park, the place some passengers get off to trek the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand’s oldest nationwide park and a World Heritage space. The remainder of us keep put and revel in lamb shanks and mashed potato with a glass of Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc.
We attain Hamilton at four.30pm, a small land-locked city on New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato. I disembark to catch a bus to Rotorua, well-known for its geothermal exercise and Maori tradition. The bad-egg scent of sulphur that greets me is not any deterrent. My remaining vacation spot, the Polynesian Spa, presents mud wraps and a Priori Coffeeberry Yoga Facial for $179NZ (£95), however I decline. Instead, I steam in mineral swimming pools overlooking the lake, and admire the sundown. What higher approach to unwind after New Zealand’s two most scenic railway journeys?
Way to go
Susan Grossman travelled with KiwiRail (kiwirailscenic.co.nz) from Christchurch to Greymouth. Flexi fares begin from NZ$199 single (£105) on the TranzAlpine and NZ$179 single (£96) on the Northern Explorer (from Wellington to Hamilton or Auckland). The Heritage Hotel Christchurch (heritagehotels.co.nz) has double rooms from £160. Prices at Polynesia Spa (polynesianspa.co.nz) begin from £15.