After two days hitchhiking on my own for the first time ever, from Motueka to Greymouth, here I am, strolling in the streets of this old mining town before boarding the TranzAlpine train at 13:45. I could drop my backpack on a luggage carousel at the Greymouth I-Site/Train Station, it felt as if I was taking a plane! Anyway, thanks to that, I can explore the town without having to drag Monster around!
Often mentioned in the best train routes of the world’s lists, the TranzAlpine train crosses New Zealand’s South Island from Greymouth to Christchurch, over more than 220 km. In New Zealand, there’s not a proper railway network for passengers (except some suburban lines around Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin). However, there are three train lines for long distances: the Northern Explorer between Auckland and Wellington, the Coastal Pacific between Picton and Christchurch and the TranzAlpine. Those lines placed end to end with the strait crossing with the ferry between Wellington and Picton, allow to connect Auckland to Greymouth.
But taking one of those trains is more of a touristic attraction. You don’t really hop on the TranzAlpine because you want to get to Christchurch fast and easy, but rather because you want to enjoy the stunning views. And how wonderful are those views! The TranzAlpine train crosses the Waimakariri gorges, the Southern Alps and the Canterbury plains.
DAY 3: GREYMOUTH – CHRISTCHURCH (223 KM)
Greymouth is such a lovely town. And it’s actually celebrating its 150 years of existence. I make a random stop at Nimmo art gallery, which displays photography. Catherine welcomes me there and explains everything about Stewart Nimmo artwork. He’s taking pictures all around New Zealand. I take my time watching every single photograph, enjoying the warmth of the place and the nice company of Catherine. It’s raining outside anyway. I have lunch in a very cool café called DP: One Café. It’s such the kind of place I love: many knickknacks here and there and the bagel was super yummy.
Comes to time to board the train, I get comfy on my seat and, surprise! There are a TV and earphones… During the journey, I’d be able to listen to a sweet feminine voice telling me what I’m looking at, where I’m at, and the history behind those places. It feels a bit like a 4 hours guided tour! As you realize while reading me, trains in New Zealand aren’t really made for convenience, rather for a touristic experience. It’s about pleasure, taking time to enjoy the majestic scenery while seated comfortably.
In the West, the mountains are deep green, with those misty clouds stuck on their summits. The more we head East, the more the landscapes are changing. I can spot snow in the mountains, then the landscape gets dryer, the mountains more yellow, more flowered as well. I spend some quality time in the last wagon, the scenic wagon, where there are no glasses on the windows to allow the passengers to enjoy the landscapes without any filters. It’s also way better to take beautiful pictures. Imagine, a whole wagon dedicated for tourists and photography, where you can feel the air on your face… In fact, right after Arthur’s Pass station, when the train passes through rivers, lakes and viaducts, the scenic wagon is overcrowded. Everyone is jostling to get the best view, the best picture.
The mountains in the East
The mountains in the West
All in all, the journey lasts a little bit more than 4 hours (the train was delayed when we departed). 4 hours with my eyes wide open. It’s clearly not that kind of train journey where you get cosy with your book or your computer, it’s not possible since it’s so astonishingly pretty outside. So you just marvel and stare, while listening to the lady in your earphones and eating some banana cake from the wagon bar.
As I arrive in Christchurch train station, I take the shuttle bus which is going to drop me in front of my backpacker hostel. Christchurch station is quite off centred so I have no other choice. I then arrive in the lovely Dorset House Backpacker hostel, a traditional Victorian house. As I’m checking in a bit late (but I already booked my night), there’s an envelope with my name waiting at the reception desk with my key, the wifi code, the door code and a map of Christchurch.
I still have some time before going to bed, so I take a stroll in the city. I go down Victoria Street and find myself facing what’s left of the Christchurch Cathedral. Christchurch was partially destroyed after a violent earthquake in February 2011. Magnitude 6,3 and over 160 deaths. It’s the deadliest earthquake New Zealand has ever experienced since the one in Napier in 1931. Christchurch is on constant rebuilt ever since. It’s the city of ruins, of works and construction workers. Which means it’s also the city of architectural audacities, street art and renewal. As I’m roaming in its streets, I love it already.
My stomach’s growling and while I’m thinking about food I stumble upon Lars. What? Yes, mate, I stumble upon Lars the Dutch blond guy I met while hiking the Abel Tasman Track! I finished the track 4 days ago, I crossed half of the island in the meantime and I stumble upon him? What are the odds? We’re both blown away by this coincidence, and the good news is his stomach’s growling as much as mine. We end up in a Subway restaurant in an empty supermarket gallery -how romantic- and we start telling each other about our lives.
New Zealand is really the place where, even though you feel like you’re on the other side of the world, you’re never all alone.
DAY 4: CHRISTCHURCH – OAMARU (250 KM)
After a fabulous in a very comfy bed, I continue my exploration of Christchurch. My bus for Oamaru is at 2 PM, I have a bit of time ahead. Even though it’s raining, the bad weather won’t prevent me from going to the Botanic Gardens. They’re huge in Christchurch. I stroll in the Azaleas garden, the endemic plant section, passing through the rose garden… And I find myself facing a Japanese peace bell. It’s a world peace symbol made by the United Nations. There are several of them across the globe. They’re supposed to ring all at the same time twice a year.
I then explore the Re: Start neighbourhood, this commercial area where the shops are located in old shipping containers. It’s pretty and original and as I feed myself with a delicious mushroom pizza at Base for lunch, I stumble upon Lars again! He’s strongly recommending me to go to see the Cardboard Cathedral…
After the collapse of Christchurch Cathedral because of the earthquake, they had to build a new cathedral “in an emergency”. This is where Shigeru Ban, a Japanese architect, comes into play. He’s used to working with accessible and cheap materials and had imagined a few buildings in disaster areas. Obviously, the new cathedral isn’t solely made out of cardboard, but the furniture and those huge tubes supporting the ceiling are made with cardboard indeed. It’s quite impressive and oddly pretty. I’m not a religious person but I have a thing for religious places, especially old ones (I enjoyed the temples and shrines in Japan so much!) I somehow feel safe in those places. I always have a thought for my grandmother: she’s very religious and I know she prays for me every Sunday when she goes to Church. I try to give it back to her from times to times by lightning votive candles. Although this church is very new, I’m charmed by its nonconformism.
I barely discovered the variety of Christchurch’s renewal. I’m leaving the city hoping to come back again, there are so many things I’d like to see here! I spend the next 4 hours in a bus that drops me to Oamaru in the evening…
My journey from Motueka to Oamaru lasted 4 days in total. I hitchhiked twice, I took a famous train, then the bus, the least I can say is that I diversified the ways (and the joys!) to get to Oamaru! I also and mostly met incredible people on the way, and I’m welcomed in Oamaru by Kristin and Joel and their two female dogs Mischa and Reign. I’m going to take care of their garden for the next few days…
LET’S GO THERE!:
DP : ONE CAFE, 104 Mawhera Quay, Greymouth
NIMMO GALLERY, 102 Mackay Street, Greymouth
TRANZALPINE TRAIN, Greymouth I Site/ Railway Station, 164 Mackay St, Greymouth
DORSET HOUSE BACKPACKER (BBH), 1 Dorset St, Christchurch
RE :START, 114 Cashel Street, Christchurch
BASE PIZZAS, Re:START Mall, 107 Cashel St, Christchurch Central, Christchurch
HAGLEY PARK, 14 Riccarton Avenue, Christchurch Central, Christchurch
CHRISTCHURCH BOTANIC GARDEN, Hagkey Park South, Christchurch
CRISTCHURCH CATHEDRAL, Cathedral Square, Christchurch
“CARDBOARD” TRANSITIONNAL CATHEDRAL, 234 Hereford St, Christchurch Central, Christchurch