Saturday, May 10, 2014
New Zealand - TranzAlpine Train & Arthur Pass
Arthur Pass was another trip I made on my own. I did wonder if I should do it. It's a national park and visiting it means hiking around in nature. I'm such a lazy bum who don't exercise, so I'm not sure if it would be a good idea for me to do this. However since there's nothing much to do in Christchurch, I decided that despite of me being reluctant, I should take myself there. My OCD level reached new heights on this trip, I was obsessively checking the weather. My 2 options to do this was on Friday or Monday. The weather was to be much better on Friday, however that would mean that I would have had to get my train tickets immediately on the Thursday when I arrived and I would have had to wake up early on Friday and straight away go do something strenuous, which is perhaps alright, since that means I could do something light on Monday, which is usually what I prefer to do the day before I suppose to fly off. A check on the weather also revealed that the weather on Monday in Christchurch would be worse than in Arthur Pass even though there would be shower in Arthur Pass as well. I pretty much haven't made a decision by the time I left. When I arrived on Thursday, tired, and with my period manifesting itself, I decided to just do it on a Monday. It didn't go extremely well because of the rain, but overall I thought Arthur Pass is great. In retrospect, I still think it's a much better choice to spend the day in Arthur Pass than Christchurch, because with the rain I think would have ended up in the Museum all day if I had had to spend it in Christchurch.
So anyway, to get to Arthur Pass, there are more than 1 way, but I chose to take the TranzAlpine train. The train ride has been described as very scenic. There are things to see, but I don't think it's exceptionally gorgeous. To get the train ticket, it's quite a hassle. Apparently if you go to its website from outside New Zealand, you couldn't get the cheapest ticket. There were some suggestion on the internet on how to get around this. I tried the Rail New Zealand site too and the price was much cheaper than the Kiwi Rail site, but I decided to just use i-SITE to buy the tickets. So I waited until I arrived. The reason for this is so that I could also specify that I want a front facing window seat as well as get booked for the free shuttle to take me to the train station in the morning. The train station is some distance away and taxis on the street of Christchurch is so rare. It's not like you can walk the street and see one. The return ticket cost 189 NZD from Christchurch to Arthur Pass, pretty much the same price I saw in Rail New Zealand. Is it the cheapest price? I don't know, but it's definitely cheaper than the Kiwi Rail site. The train leaves Christchurch at 08:15 am, reaches Arthur Pass at around 10:42 am, and it will arrive back in Arthur Pass supposedly at around 03:57 pm, to reach Christchurch back at 06:05 pm. So you have around 5 hours to explore Arthur Pass.
The free shuttle came to pick me up and some other people and off we went to the train station which was very small but adequate. There were people, but not many people waiting for the train. Got my ticket and before I could say can I get a car near the viewing car, my ticket was already issued. The viewing car is a car without any seat and the windows have no glass. I read about this, you can go to this car to take pictures, the benefit is your pictures wouldn't have the reflection of the glass. So it turned out, I was placed in the last car, and the viewing car is the 2nd car after the train head (is this what it's called?). You know it's always nice to get into a train without having to lug a suitcase, but anyways if you do have any luggage, the staff will help you store it in their storing area, which is a good idea I think, so the car wouldn't get cramped. There weren't many people in my car and I think throughout the train. Everyone who traveled alone, all get their own seat. The train is pretty nice and they gave you earphones because there would be audio guide on the the areas we passed. The weather was cloudy, so my pictures haven't been great on this trip, but we passed a really nice river whose water is light blue
I actually really wanted to go to the viewing car, but I wasn't feeling confident about walking all the way passing all the cars to get there, but then I heard a mom who was sitting in front of me asking the kids if they would like to, so I kinda followed them from behind. On the way there, I passed by the Indian family from the day before and it turned out the dad and son followed me too. When I arrived, there were many people in the viewing platform so it's actually kinda hard to get a spot take pictures. We passed several tunnels and when this happened, the smoke smell from the engine filled the car and that wasn't fun. When we were done with the tunnels, it's the big open landscape with of course sheep and all and without the glass, it's actually really cold here. I guess that's why many people eventually left and I stayed to just absorb the view and the chilly air.
With the gray weather, the view got a bit misty and the low lying clouds in the mountains made for a sentimental mood :P
I went back to my seat when we were reaching Arthur Pass. You kinda can already see some little waterfalls as the train approached the station. When I arrived, there's a drizzle. After being pointed the way to the Arthur Pass village, I made my way there and the first place I saw was the visitor center and that's where I went. It's warm in there. My obsessive googling kinda already let me know about what Arthur Pass has to offer but I went to counter anyway and there was a girl manning it. I asked if it's gonna rain the whole day, she said yes for these 2 days, even snow perhaps she said. That would be something, I would welcome snow than rain because that would be new for me. I think I asked her more than once about the weather, perhaps simply because I hope her answer would change the weather. I asked about the paths and if they're all clearly marked, she said yes, but I could also buy the guide brochure. I didn't feel like doing so. After getting all the answers, I wasn't sure if I should go and walk around, especially since the visitor center is so warm. Outside is cold and raining. It's not a bad rain per se, but it's a constant drizzle. It's light that the rain drop didn't even make sound as they hit the ground, but it's constant! Then I saw the girl who was sitting behind me on the train walked out and I thought if she's doing this, I should too. I definitely felt inappropriately dressed, I had a thick coat but it's not waterproof and there's no hoodie. However that girl had even lighter clothing, she only had a sweatshirt with hoodie, but then she's also a redhead, so I thought she must be used to something like this from whereever she's from. As for me, I used my scarf to cover my head, muslim girl style.
First stop was the very nearby Avalanche Creek which is less than 5 minutes away. With more walk up, you can see the waterfall and it was pretty cool. After that, I decided to go see the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall. It took some walking to reach the start of the trail, where I wondered if I was being darn silly to do this. There weren't many people around. Then I saw the waterfall.
Saw the sign for the Devils Punchbowl trail and off I went. I didn't even think if I would make it there, I mean I didn't even know what I wanted to achieve, but I started walking. It's actually very very fun and a nice walk. I remember thinking this would be so great if the weather had been great. It wasn't all easy though because there were steps and that's where it got hard and where my heart beat faster. Of course like last year with the hike in Fushimi Inari, I went "oh God please help me" over and over. I also couldn't stop questioning myself. I wonder what if I faint, what if I fall and knock my head and die, what with the rocks and slippery condition in the rain, and I was pretty sure that there's no camera whatsoever watching the trail and I wondered how long I would be found and how silly that would be. I did see some people, but they're not alone and they're properly dressed. I think on my way there, I saw the redhead girl going back from this trail and it's kinda nice to see her and I guess that kinda fueled me to just do this, since she's doing it too. I finally reached the viewing platform for Devils Punchbowl and it was glorious. Glorious because I made it and also glorious because it just is. It also made me think about how last year I just saw the waterfall in Nikko from afar and so this time I felt like it's a bit of payback from last year. The whole trip felt like that because I saw more than one waterfall. I took some pictures, but then because it's all so wet, the result wasn't good. After some time admiring it, I thought I should really go back.
Upon reaching the beginning of the trail, I saw the direction for the Arthur's Pass Walking Track. Since I had so much time, I thought I should go do this. This trail felt a bit different. The trees and all are covered with moss. It's all very quiet because there wasn't any sound, which is perhaps a good thing. No sound of animal and I guess the best thing is that there's no leeches!!! That is truly a nightmare of tropical rain forest. I learnt later on it's because in New Zealand, it's a temperate climate so the rain forest is different. Seriously this is like so perfect to walk around in. I also learnt that generally there's no creepy insects or snakes in New Zealand's forests, which again is awesome. I did see a sign that dogs are not allowed in the trails because they could eat the kiwi bird. I didn't see any kiwi bird, I wonder if the rain caused whatever animals in there to take shelter unlike the silly humans, like me, who decided to walk around. Here, in fear that I would faint, not that I was feeling light headed or anything - I just didn't know my body well so just in case, I thought I should eat something. So I snacked on the anzac biscuit that I bought on the train. It's pretty big, but not the best biscuit there is. There were more steps and not many people to be seen. I think I saw one lady who smiled when I passed and then a guy with an umbrella, perhaps he's Japanese. So me still feeling silly, decided to go a step further in my sillyness and this is where I kinda talked to Jesus, like seriously opening my mouth and speaking and asking if He felt annoyed that like last year every time I do a strenuous activity, I would be calling Him, saying, "Please God help me, please God help me". There's no burning bushes as an answer, but then I finally heard a bird chirping and on the tree by the viewing platform for Bridal Fall, I saw a little green bird. Pretty much the only wildlife I saw. I made it nearer to the waterfall and again because it's so wet, my pictures didn't come up alright. Pretty much pictures that I have are of things like this, mountains shrouded in light cloud or mist and of creeks and waterfalls.
By the small bridge to see Bridal Fall, I decided that it's time to really go back. The rain wasn't easing and I don't know how much further before the end of the path and I don't know if I could do all the steps up and down and make it back. Every time there were steps going up, I told myself how good it would be when we go back (and yes, I become plural when I'm alone), but there's just so much psyching you can do to yourself. I think I said my goodbye and thank you to the waterfall for letting me see her. Seriously Arthur Pass is a wonderful place, it's just too bad the weather I was in was not encouraging. I would really want to explore more of this area in better weather. I think it should be so fun. For more pictures from the the TranzAlpine train ride and Arthur Pass, you can go here
The village of Arthur Pass itself is rather small. Went to a restaurant for lunch, unfortunately they only had fish and chips, so I had that and hot chocolate. I had these 2 a lot during this trip and perhaps I am super strange, but no I don't like marshmallow in my hot chocolate. The sweetness that kicks in is just way too much for me. I ate pretty slowly and it's kinda nice in there because it's warm and I was positively wet, my hair was wet, the scarf was wet even though we both weren't dripping with water. I felt a bit shy about sticking around until my train arrived so I thought I just go and wait in the train station. Stupid me, in hindsight, I should have waited in the visitor center. When I arrived at the station, I was like 1 hour early. No one was there, so I sat down, plugged my ipod, and started writing. It was really cold. I wore the gloves that I brought but didn't wear until then (don't ask me why I do stupid things like this). Finished writing (I only have 1 side of an A4 paper), so I just played games in my phone. Then the redhead girl came, by this time I should have engaged her in conversation, but I didn't and she didn't either. She had an umbrella, but she looked so cold. I began to feel colder because of the long wait. Then more people came, they all older people and seemed to be in a group. The train was like 40 mins late, but glad when it finally arrived. Got my seating assignment from the train staff. Still got a front facing window seat. The redhead girl now sat in front of me. The train stopped on and off for around 20 minutes during the journey because of signalling problem as the conductor told us. A term that people in Singapore hear way too often.
We arrived back before 7 pm. Found the shuttle. The redhead girl was already there when I arrived. Found out it cost 10 NZD and I wondered if it's more expensive because I was alone since the driver this morning told me that it's around 15 NZD for 2 people and because of this I finally stroke a conversation with the girl. Asked her how far she walked - she made it further than me. Found out that she's an exchange student from Toronto and she's on a break, so she decided to go to Christchurch from Auckland where her university is. She admitted she was freezing and didn't expect to be that cold. Kinda nice to be talking to her. That was kinda my one conversation that day. We had to wait awhile before the shuttle was filled, but then we're off and I was the second to be dropped off. Reached my room before 07:30 pm and glad that I got to shower and be warm. With that, that's basically the end of my South Island journey. I was heading to Auckland the next day. It's by no mean a perfect day, but I'm happy I survived it and it was actually a nice experience, one that I would really want to repeat in better situation :) So New Zealand leg 1 had been great, the second leg was great too. I'll try to write as soon as I can :)
:) eKa @ 7:48:00 PM •