The TBs travel first class

The TranzAlpine crossing the Waimakariri River. Picture supplied by Rail Plus.
The TranzAlpine crossing the Cass River en route to the West Coast. Picture supplied by Rail Plus.
Justine wearing many layers in the open-air observation carriage.

Justine Tyerman’s TBs (tramping boots) enlist in boot camp in preparation for the TranzAlpine . . .

TBs getting on in years

The rhythmical thumping sound beside my bed woke me from a deep sleep.
“What the heck are you up? It’s still pitch dark outside,” I scolded my TBs (tramping boots), detecting no glimmer of dawn.
“We've signed up for boot camp — we're doing star jumps in preparation for the TranzAlpine,” they replied, breathlessly.
Having been side-lined on a recent trip to Australia, they were damned sure they were not going to miss this opportunity.
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that while they were my footwear of choice for the trip, the only climbing would be up the steps of the TranzAlpine train. The locomotive would do the rest. The selective hearing of the aging TBs, about 70 in boot years, had seized upon the tranz-alpine bit but not the train bit. They no doubt assumed we were about to embark on a mountain climbing expedition, across the Southern Alps, no less. No wonder they were star-jumping with such vigour.
The hearing problem had occurred once before with disastrous results. A few years ago, the TBs thought they were going to Hollywood when in fact they were headed for the Hollyford. The tantrums on discovery of the truth were of epic proportions with steam issuing forth from their eyelets, soles glowing red-hot and a sinister hissing noise coming from deep inside.
So it was with great trepidation and caution I broached the TranzAlpine subject with them. Strangely enough, they seemed quite relieved. The early starts at boot camp on chilly winter mornings were getting a bit much for them in their dotage. Besides, the idea of a luxury train trip across the South Island on the world-renowned TranzAlpine appealed to the sybarite in them.
The TBs were in high spirits as we boarded the train in Christchurch on a bright, cloudless, late winter morning.
The spacious carriages gradually filled with excited passengers who settled into their seats beside the huge panoramic windows. The twin diesel locomotives pulling the 10 or so carriages slid smoothly from the station and gathered speed as we whizzed through suburban Christchurch and across the plains on the five-hour journey to the West Coast town of Greymouth.

Back-up footwear a god-send

Most of the passengers were contented to sit in their comfortable seats watching the ever-changing landscape flicker by but I headed for the open-air, stand-up observation car at the rear of the train to take photos of the stunning scenery.
This is where the problems began. The TBs could not see the landscape from the floor of the carriage and began to kick up bobsy-die. I could either stand on my head to let them see out or take them off and stow them in the spacious, otherwise empty luggage rack, which as luck would have it, had a glass ceiling and walls.
Quel bonheur! The TBs were deliriously happy to have their own ‘first class, penthouse accommodation’ for the duration of the trip leaving me free to come and go from the open-air carriage wearing my comfy Allbirds. I always have back-up footwear . . . just in case.
The grass on the Canterbury Plains seemed greener than ever and the lambs even more frolicksome. There were squeals of delight from the TBs as foals, calves, alpacas and fawns came briefly into view looking impossibly cute in paddocks alongside the train track. Giant irrigation lines, some up to a kilometre long, stood ready to pour water onto the pastures as soon as the summer heat set in.
The Southern Alps were visible in the distance, a seemingly impenetrable fortress of mountains. As the train approached the foothills, the stunning aqua-turquoise Waimakariri River came into view to a chorus of ‘wows’ and a frantic scramble for cameras by the overseas passengers.
The train climbed high above the Waimakariri, crossing the river on steel girder viaducts so high I felt dizzy looking down into the gorge. There were 15 short tunnels and four viaducts, including the 72-metre-high Staircase Viaduct, as the train ascended the Torlesse Range. Whenever the train plunged into a tunnel or over a viaduct, there were gasps from the TBs.

Alps almost close enough to touch

The landscape changed again as the train wound its way along the broad upland plains of Craigieburn where the braids of the Waimakariri spread across a wide shingle river bed. The alps, so distant at the start, were now almost close enough to touch.
The black-green forested lower reaches of the mountains were a startling contrast to the snowy white peaks and pinnacles above. Lake Pearson sparkled in the spring sunshine and the golden tussocks, tossed by the breeze as the train sped by, were vibrant and glossy. The summit of Mt Bisner looked as though it had been freshly iced, the snow cover was so deep and smooth.
I’d like to have leapt off the train to watch as it crossed the iconic, often-photographed long, low bridge over the glacier-fed Waimakariri, heading towards Arthur’s Pass. It’s such a dramatic sight as it spans the river against the spectacular backdrop of the alps.
The TranzAlpine stopped briefly at Arthur’s Pass (740m), a popular hub for serious climbers, hikers, snow sports enthusiasts and nature-lovers. Last time I visited, it was snowing heavily and the mountain tops were shrouded in mist but on this occasion, the little settlement was basking in the warm sunshine under a cloudless, blue sky.
A handful of fit-looking trampers disembarked at the pass, laden with heavy packs and climbing boots, heading into the mountainous national park to engage in rugged outdoor activities. I had to restrain the TBs from following them, remembering the epic hiking trails we had done together in past years.
The timely appearance of a couple of kea, New Zealand’s comical alpine parrot, created a frenzy of selfie sticks among the overseas passengers. Little did they know how mischievous these birds can be.
The next phase of the trip took us through the 8.5km Otira Tunnel under the Southern Alps, the backbone of the South Island. The tunnel, completed in 1923, was the final stage of the railway through the alps which began in the 1880s. When it opened, it was the longest rail tunnel in the British Empire.
The outdoor viewing carriage and café car were closed as a safety precaution as the train slowly descended from the pass at a steep gradient of 1:33. The TBs were a bit anxious so they sat on my knee for the 15 to 20-minutes we were in the tunnel. Emerging from darkness into light, I restowed the TBs in first class where they had unencumbered views, and headed back outside.

On the West coast side of the tunnel . . .

The West Coast never fails to intrigue with its misty rainforests and snow-capped mountains. The train travelled alongside the Otira, Taramakau, Arnold and Grey rivers as we made our way towards the Tasman Sea, passing through towns with colourful pasts that sprang up overnight in the gold rush of the 1860s, and other settlements associated with timber milling, coal mining, the Cobb and Co stagecoach and the construction of the road, railway and tunnel.
We skirted lovely Lake Brunner, tranquil and sombre under the slate sky, and the village of Moana with its quaint Kiwi baches. The previous summer we had camped there in a motorhome and spotted the rare whio or blue duck in a tributary. The fishing and walking trails are outstanding, well worth a stopover. You can catch the TranzAlpine on to Greymouth or back to Christchurch when you are ready.
The terrain opens out from Lake Brunner and after a sharp left turn at Stillwater, the TranzAlpine trundles along the Grey River and into Greymouth.
Far from grey, the West Coast’s largest city was bathed in sunshine so after a quick footwear change, the TBs took me for a snack and a cool beer at the historic Speight’s Ale House, and then a stroll along the river bank walkway.
We stopped at a beautiful riverside memorial to pay tribute to the coal miners who lost their lives in a series of disasters in the region: 1896, Brunner mine, 65 dead; 1926, Dobson mine, nine dead; 1967, Strongman mine, 19 dead; 2010, Pike River mine, 29 dead.
A plaque near the train station tells the story of the 1864 goldrush which attracted 29,000 miners to the region and saw three million ounces of gold extracted. The text also reminds New Zealanders:
“Our gold financed this country’s growth. Westland’s coal fired the furnaces that industrialised New Zealand and our timber helped build the nation.”

Return trip far from relaxing

Most of our fellow passengers headed off to explore the magnificent West Coast glaciers and beaches while we reboarded the TranzAlpine an hour later for what I expected to be a more relaxed return trip, seated in my comfy armchair.
But the landscape, transformed by the long shadows of late afternoon and a dazzling sunset in the evening, demanded that I return to the observation car for another blustery episode, dashing from one side to the other to get the best views.
The TBs snoozed in first class most of the way back to Christchurch, lulled by the gentle rocking motion of the super-smooth train.
Later, the Allbirds and I visited the café car and enjoyed a fine pinot noir with tasty lamb shanks for dinner. I didn’t mention that to the TBs though . . .

FACTBOX:
• The TranzAlpine scenic train trip is a daily return service between Christchurch on the East Coast and Greymouth on the West Coast, or vice versa, covering a distance of 223 kilometres in just under five hours.
• Justine Tyerman travelled courtesy of Rail Plus and Great Journeys of New Zealand.
• Visit www.railplus.co.nz/new-zealand-by-rail/tranzalpine/prices-book.htm for more information on this and other epic train adventures around the world, or phone 09 377 5420.

Justine Tyerman’s TBs (tramping boots) enlist in boot camp in preparation for the TranzAlpine . . .

TBs getting on in years

The rhythmical thumping sound beside my bed woke me from a deep sleep.
“What the heck are you up? It’s still pitch dark outside,” I scolded my TBs (tramping boots), detecting no glimmer of dawn.
“We've signed up for boot camp — we're doing star jumps in preparation for the TranzAlpine,” they replied, breathlessly.
Having been side-lined on a recent trip to Australia, they were damned sure they were not going to miss this opportunity.
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that while they were my footwear of choice for the trip, the only climbing would be up the steps of the TranzAlpine train. The locomotive would do the rest. The selective hearing of the aging TBs, about 70 in boot years, had seized upon the tranz-alpine bit but not the train bit. They no doubt assumed we were about to embark on a mountain climbing expedition, across the Southern Alps, no less. No wonder they were star-jumping with such vigour.
The hearing problem had occurred once before with disastrous results. A few years ago, the TBs thought they were going to Hollywood when in fact they were headed for the Hollyford. The tantrums on discovery of the truth were of epic proportions with steam issuing forth from their eyelets, soles glowing red-hot and a sinister hissing noise coming from deep inside.
So it was with great trepidation and caution I broached the TranzAlpine subject with them. Strangely enough, they seemed quite relieved. The early starts at boot camp on chilly winter mornings were getting a bit much for them in their dotage. Besides, the idea of a luxury train trip across the South Island on the world-renowned TranzAlpine appealed to the sybarite in them.
The TBs were in high spirits as we boarded the train in Christchurch on a bright, cloudless, late winter morning.
The spacious carriages gradually filled with excited passengers who settled into their seats beside the huge panoramic windows. The twin diesel locomotives pulling the 10 or so carriages slid smoothly from the station and gathered speed as we whizzed through suburban Christchurch and across the plains on the five-hour journey to the West Coast town of Greymouth.

Back-up footwear a god-send

Most of the passengers were contented to sit in their comfortable seats watching the ever-changing landscape flicker by but I headed for the open-air, stand-up observation car at the rear of the train to take photos of the stunning scenery.
This is where the problems began. The TBs could not see the landscape from the floor of the carriage and began to kick up bobsy-die. I could either stand on my head to let them see out or take them off and stow them in the spacious, otherwise empty luggage rack, which as luck would have it, had a glass ceiling and walls.
Quel bonheur! The TBs were deliriously happy to have their own ‘first class, penthouse accommodation’ for the duration of the trip leaving me free to come and go from the open-air carriage wearing my comfy Allbirds. I always have back-up footwear . . . just in case.
The grass on the Canterbury Plains seemed greener than ever and the lambs even more frolicksome. There were squeals of delight from the TBs as foals, calves, alpacas and fawns came briefly into view looking impossibly cute in paddocks alongside the train track. Giant irrigation lines, some up to a kilometre long, stood ready to pour water onto the pastures as soon as the summer heat set in.
The Southern Alps were visible in the distance, a seemingly impenetrable fortress of mountains. As the train approached the foothills, the stunning aqua-turquoise Waimakariri River came into view to a chorus of ‘wows’ and a frantic scramble for cameras by the overseas passengers.
The train climbed high above the Waimakariri, crossing the river on steel girder viaducts so high I felt dizzy looking down into the gorge. There were 15 short tunnels and four viaducts, including the 72-metre-high Staircase Viaduct, as the train ascended the Torlesse Range. Whenever the train plunged into a tunnel or over a viaduct, there were gasps from the TBs.

Alps almost close enough to touch

The landscape changed again as the train wound its way along the broad upland plains of Craigieburn where the braids of the Waimakariri spread across a wide shingle river bed. The alps, so distant at the start, were now almost close enough to touch.
The black-green forested lower reaches of the mountains were a startling contrast to the snowy white peaks and pinnacles above. Lake Pearson sparkled in the spring sunshine and the golden tussocks, tossed by the breeze as the train sped by, were vibrant and glossy. The summit of Mt Bisner looked as though it had been freshly iced, the snow cover was so deep and smooth.
I’d like to have leapt off the train to watch as it crossed the iconic, often-photographed long, low bridge over the glacier-fed Waimakariri, heading towards Arthur’s Pass. It’s such a dramatic sight as it spans the river against the spectacular backdrop of the alps.
The TranzAlpine stopped briefly at Arthur’s Pass (740m), a popular hub for serious climbers, hikers, snow sports enthusiasts and nature-lovers. Last time I visited, it was snowing heavily and the mountain tops were shrouded in mist but on this occasion, the little settlement was basking in the warm sunshine under a cloudless, blue sky.
A handful of fit-looking trampers disembarked at the pass, laden with heavy packs and climbing boots, heading into the mountainous national park to engage in rugged outdoor activities. I had to restrain the TBs from following them, remembering the epic hiking trails we had done together in past years.
The timely appearance of a couple of kea, New Zealand’s comical alpine parrot, created a frenzy of selfie sticks among the overseas passengers. Little did they know how mischievous these birds can be.
The next phase of the trip took us through the 8.5km Otira Tunnel under the Southern Alps, the backbone of the South Island. The tunnel, completed in 1923, was the final stage of the railway through the alps which began in the 1880s. When it opened, it was the longest rail tunnel in the British Empire.
The outdoor viewing carriage and café car were closed as a safety precaution as the train slowly descended from the pass at a steep gradient of 1:33. The TBs were a bit anxious so they sat on my knee for the 15 to 20-minutes we were in the tunnel. Emerging from darkness into light, I restowed the TBs in first class where they had unencumbered views, and headed back outside.

On the West coast side of the tunnel . . .

The West Coast never fails to intrigue with its misty rainforests and snow-capped mountains. The train travelled alongside the Otira, Taramakau, Arnold and Grey rivers as we made our way towards the Tasman Sea, passing through towns with colourful pasts that sprang up overnight in the gold rush of the 1860s, and other settlements associated with timber milling, coal mining, the Cobb and Co stagecoach and the construction of the road, railway and tunnel.
We skirted lovely Lake Brunner, tranquil and sombre under the slate sky, and the village of Moana with its quaint Kiwi baches. The previous summer we had camped there in a motorhome and spotted the rare whio or blue duck in a tributary. The fishing and walking trails are outstanding, well worth a stopover. You can catch the TranzAlpine on to Greymouth or back to Christchurch when you are ready.
The terrain opens out from Lake Brunner and after a sharp left turn at Stillwater, the TranzAlpine trundles along the Grey River and into Greymouth.
Far from grey, the West Coast’s largest city was bathed in sunshine so after a quick footwear change, the TBs took me for a snack and a cool beer at the historic Speight’s Ale House, and then a stroll along the river bank walkway.
We stopped at a beautiful riverside memorial to pay tribute to the coal miners who lost their lives in a series of disasters in the region: 1896, Brunner mine, 65 dead; 1926, Dobson mine, nine dead; 1967, Strongman mine, 19 dead; 2010, Pike River mine, 29 dead.
A plaque near the train station tells the story of the 1864 goldrush which attracted 29,000 miners to the region and saw three million ounces of gold extracted. The text also reminds New Zealanders:
“Our gold financed this country’s growth. Westland’s coal fired the furnaces that industrialised New Zealand and our timber helped build the nation.”

Return trip far from relaxing

Most of our fellow passengers headed off to explore the magnificent West Coast glaciers and beaches while we reboarded the TranzAlpine an hour later for what I expected to be a more relaxed return trip, seated in my comfy armchair.
But the landscape, transformed by the long shadows of late afternoon and a dazzling sunset in the evening, demanded that I return to the observation car for another blustery episode, dashing from one side to the other to get the best views.
The TBs snoozed in first class most of the way back to Christchurch, lulled by the gentle rocking motion of the super-smooth train.
Later, the Allbirds and I visited the café car and enjoyed a fine pinot noir with tasty lamb shanks for dinner. I didn’t mention that to the TBs though . . .

FACTBOX:
• The TranzAlpine scenic train trip is a daily return service between Christchurch on the East Coast and Greymouth on the West Coast, or vice versa, covering a distance of 223 kilometres in just under five hours.
• Justine Tyerman travelled courtesy of Rail Plus and Great Journeys of New Zealand.
• Visit www.railplus.co.nz/new-zealand-by-rail/tranzalpine/prices-book.htm for more information on this and other epic train adventures around the world, or phone 09 377 5420.

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