BootsnAll Travel Network

Winding down in Akaroa

This week has been one of my slower weeks since I have been in New Zealand. I spent a day walking around Christchurch exploring the cathedral and the surrounding area. On Monday, I woke up to a beautiful day and caught a shuttle to the train station. At 8:15, I boarded the Tranzalpine Train for the 4.5 hour trip to Greymouth which is on the west coast of the South Island. I found my assigned seat and found that I would be doing the trip backwards. The car that I was in was arranged in groups of four seats with a table in the middle. As I was travelling alone, I was relegated to a table at the end of the car that had one chair (facing the wrong way). At least I didn’t have to fight for a window. The train left Christchurch and made it’s way through the farmland which now occupies the Cantebury Plains. We soon left this behind and began the climb through the Southern Alps to Arthur’s Pass which is the highest point (about 900 meters) on the trip. The train made it’s way up by following several river gorges. The route consisted of four viaducts and 16 tunnels. The river gorges were bordered by sheep farms and the surrounding snow capped Alps. The landscape was full of brown grass and low covered trees as the mountains block most of the rain from getting to this area. I spent my time looking out the window and eating a chicken curry that I had bought from the café car. At Arthur’s Pass everyone got out of the train and snapped pictures or had the much needed cigarette. We then reboarded the train and began the descent to Greymouth. The train made most of the descent through an 8.5 km tunnel which is the third longest in New Zealand. We exited the tunnel and were in a very different landscape. The bright blue sky gave way to one that was full of clouds that had stacked up against the mountains. The vegetation was very green and thick.

After the train pulled into Greymouth, I had about an hour before I had to catch the train back. During that time I managed to get a forward facing seat as I had discovered that I would be sitting backwards for the return journey as well. I walked around town and finally back to the train station. I boarded the train at 13:30. The clouds cleared away for the return trip. The scenery back was just as amazing as on the trip out (especially since I was facing the right way this time.) The Tranzalpine trip is rated as one of the world’s great train journeys. It definitely doesn’t scrimp on the scenery.

On Tuesday, I caught a bus to Akaroa. Akaroa means Long Harbour in Maori. The town is located on the Bank’s Peninsula about 1.5 hours from Christchurch. It sits as the name implies in a long harbour which empties out into the Pacific Ocean. The harbour is surrounded by very high hills. The bus stopped at various points on the way, including a stop a at a cheese factory, where we got to sample various cheeses. I stayed at Chez La Mer which is owned by an American couple from New York while in Akaroa. I spent my time there very lazily. The one activity that I had wanted to do (a scenic mail run) was way more expensive than I thought. They had raised their prices significantly since the last Lonely Planet edition. Instead, I spent my time doing some walks around the town and reading.

My walks led me to various interesting spots. The first walk took me down a path through some woods into an Anglican Cemetery. Nearby there was a Catholic and Dissenter Cemetery (this is what was on the sign.)This caught my attention as I wasn’t sure what a dissenter cemetery was. Upon further investigation in town I discovered that the dissenter cemetery was (still is? I saw some fairly recent graves) used for nonbelievers and people of other faiths. Another walk took me up one of the hills from which I got some high level views of the harbour. The walk was supposed to be a loop, but I could not find some of the markers, so I eventually gave up and came back to town.

On Thursday night I attempted to go a French Jive dance class at a hall in town. I had seen information advertising it in the information center. I had no idea what French Jive was so I was curious. I managed to get two German girls and a French guy (who was also ignorant of French Jive) to come with me. We went to the hall and found it empty. For some reason they didn’t have classes that night even though they are usually held every week. I went back to the hostel no more enlightened then when I had left. Thursday night also brought the first snows to the area. I woke up Friday morning and saw the tops of all the high hills covered with snow.

After taking the bus back to Christchurch, I decided to try my hand at the casino. I haven’t been to a casino in several years and thought I might get lucky. I walked in with $20 and walked out less than 20 minutes later bereft of cash. I think in the future I will leave my gambling to the stock market where I at least like to fool myself into thinking I have some control. I catch the airport shuttle bright and early tomorrow morning, at 5:30, to take me to the airport.

I say goodbye to New Zealand after two months here which flew by. The scenery in most places was better than I had hoped. The people were very friendly. My main disappointment was in the environment. New Zealand tries to present a clean green image to the world, but in some ways it’s false. They mostly benefit from a small population. If their population were larger, they would be having many of the problems that plague the other industrial nations. Large portions of the islands are deforested, creating large areas of green desert. Many of their native species are extinct or on the verge of extinction. They also suffer from urban sprawl just like everyone else. Despite this they are turning a corner and I was pleased to see the amount of recycling that goes on here. They appear to be further along than the US in this regard. You hear a lot more here about environmental problems and policies than you do in the US (again an improvement over the US). It remains to be seen whether words get put into action.

Other items:

Most people are curious as to how much a trip like this cost, and surprisingly most people aren’t afraid to ask. For those of you who are curious, but are timid about broaching such subject, below are my costs per day for each place I have visited so far:

Easter Island: $52/day 7 days
San Francisco: $21/day 8 days
Fiji: $36/day 12 days
Cook Islands: $53.50/day 10 days
New Zealand: $59/day 59 days

I have budgeted a maximum of $US80 per day for the South Pacific, but so far (despite the ever weakening US dollar) I am staying under this.

Interesting Tidbits:

Shared Rooms: Sleeping in shared rooms teaches you things about people. For example, the loudest snores can come from the tiniest people. One of the worst snorers I heard was a teeny Asian lady.

Penguin Crossing: I saw one penguin crossing sign (consisting of a picture of a penguin waddling across a road). I had heard of this famous sign before I came to New Zealand from an old roomate of mine. There appears to be only one in the whole country though. I have traveled on most of the main roads of New Zealand during the past two months and have not come across another one.

Native land animals: New Zealand and Australia, due to their isolation, have developed animals unique from the rest of the world. Both have evolved animals that have filled in the ecological niche occupied by mammals on the other continents. In Australia it was filled by marsupials (kangaroos, wallabies, koalas) which develop their young in an external pouch. New Zealand filled the niche with flightless birds (kiwi, weka, moa – extinct) and large insects (weta – these bugs are very big – they look like a combination cockroach and cricket). New Zealand native species are currently suffering severe pressure from introduced mammals (possums, stoats, etc)

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One Response to “Winding down in Akaroa”

  1. Theo Says:

    I think a few Kiwis, and those “ex-” like myself, might add a few comments about your geography in NZ.

    Um, your rail trip from Chch to Greymouth and return through the Southern Alps has already raised a few guffaws in at least one railway/railroad discussion group.

    The Otira Tunnel isn’t the longest in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, it’s eclipsed by two within New Zealand itself, both in the North Island.

    The Rimutaka Tunnel on the line northeast out of Wellington into the Wairarapa Valley, and the Kaimai Tunnel on the East Coast Main Trunk Line from the Auckland area/Waikato region through to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty.

    Up until the Rimutaka, NZ held the record for the longest rail tunnel in the British Commonwealth.

    That was before the Canadian Pacific Railway supplemented its Connaught Tunnel under the Selkirk Mountains in eastern British Columbia province with the Mount Macdonald Tunnel.

  2. Posted from Canada Canada
  3. admin Says:

    You are right. I mixed up what I heard on the trip and substituted third longest tunnel in New Zealand with third longest in the Southern Hemisphere. I also realized that I had the altitude for Authur’s Pass too low which I have also corrected.

  4. Posted from Australia Australia
  5. Mary Lynn Says:

    Pictures are so beautiful that I had a hard time choosing one for my desktop this time. I finally settled on Mitre Peak. Thanks for sharing them.

    I certainly am enjoying not only your travels, but also your interactions with your fellow travelers!

    Mary Lynn

  6. Posted from United States United States
  7. admin Says:

    The South Island is so beautiful that it isn’t hard to take good pictures. My favorite one is the reflection of Mitre peak in the water. Just case anyone is curious, it is called Mitre Peak because is looks like a bishop’s hat which is called a mitre.

  8. Posted from Australia Australia

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