Friday, May 02, 2008

The Big Trip: Christchurch and Arthur's Pass

From the port of Lyttelton we took a coach ride through the Port Hills tunnel and to Cashmere, a scenic neighborhood with a killer view over the broad Canterbury Plains, the South Island farming region dominated by Christchurch. We made a quick stop at the historic Takahe house and the lookout at Victoria Park before heading down for a drive around the CBD, then out into the country.

Christchurch is linked to the Southern Alps, a couple of hours to the west, by the TranzAlpine Railway, reputed to be one of the best train rides anywhere. The drive up on the coach was scenic, passing through half a dozen small farming towns (and innumerable giant hedges), including Springfield, where the world premiere of The Simpsons Movie occurred, to Arthur’s Pass.

Arthur’s Pass is the jumping off point for weekend campers and hikers exploring the surrounding national park, as well as a TranzAlpine railway station. We were there about an hour early so we checked out the tiny collection of shops and stores, milling about with our fellow tour groupies as well as the day trippers and the occasional, nearly tame NZ pigeon (or was it a parrot?)

The train ride back was pleasant, too. The railways in NZ are narrow gauge so the cars themselves are petite in an entertaining sort of way. With a box lunch and a great view, all was right in the world – except that the people directly across the aisle were rabid Republicans (to the extent of having named their eldest son, born in 1981, Reagan) and the unending tales (Nixon’s cufflinks, for example) were hard to tune out. On the other hand, we saw a zillion sheep and, in a shed that you couldn’t see from the road we’d driven up, the giant donut that served as a prop for Springfield’s Simpsons premiere. (According to the Wikipedia entry for Springfield, that's a statue, not a prop, and it's not in a shed, but it certainly looked that way from the train.)

On balance, the coach ride was more entertaining, mostly because we had a chance to get out and about at one point; also, with a coach you are sitting forward and can sort of kind of see in front of you. With the train, it’s out the side and (in my case) looking back. Plus that part of the Southern Alps, while plenty attractive, isn’t exactly eye-popping to anyone who has spent any time in the Rockies or the Desert Southwest.

My guess is that the overnight trip from Dunedin to Milford Sound is much more scenic (more about both in a subsequent posting.)

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home