Hi everyone, I thought I would tell you about our trip via trains and ferries to and around the very beautiful South Island of New Zealand.
I had only visited the South Island a few times, I am ashamed to admit as a New Zealander, but the thought was always with me. As it goes with work and life, I was always very busy and the idea just got filed away into the ‘one day’ basket.
However, when sharing a coffee with a friend, she started to tell me about a trip she had just done, and it sounded very similar to my thoughts, it flicked a switch.
I was at the time, working for Transdev (Wellington train management company) so had access to inexpensive rail and ferry travel and this was a great incentive to just push away the ‘too busy thoughts’ so my partner and I went searching online.
This is our trip
We caught the very early Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton as foot passengers and arrived after about three hours. After an unusually smooth journey (the trip can be somewhat bumpy, often the usual for travel around New Zealand!) we disembarked with all the other passengers.
We didn’t have a car to worry about, so we looked around for a bit. Picton is a serene small bay with the water very close to the small shopping area, and it has a very peaceful feeling about it. We wandered across the cobblestones with our wheelie suitcases bumping after us and took the short walk across the road to the Picton Railway Station.
Stunning train ride
We were welcomed onboard the Coastal Pacific train which was waiting for us. This train runs in the Summer months from Picton to Christchurch, and if you are very lucky, you may see from your window a pod of dolphins cavorting around the bay, or an Orca’s tail disappearing beneath the waves.
We had window seats (mind you all the windows are so huge that you can see everything from anywhere). The staff were lovely, very friendly and knowledgeable, and I spent several hours happily sipping coffee and chatting.
The café car also boasts a fantastic array of hot and cold meals and is licensed, so you can sip a glass of wine and watch the beautiful South Island coastline slip by.
The Arena Motel
We arrived and stayed the night in a motel which just happened to be a short walk from the Christchurch Railway Station, thank the heavens for wheelie bags!! And spent the evening having dinner and chatting to some very interesting travellers. In particular a lovely couple from the UK.
Meeting Greymouth for the first time
The next morning, after a good breakfast and a very small amount of exercise, we once again trundled our wheelie bags down to the Christchurch Railway Station and awaited the arrival of the Trans Alpine train which runs in all weather across the South Island from Christchurch to Greymouth. Once again, the staff are fantastic.
They are happy to stand and chat and answer questions. This train trip has an excellent café car and the most incredible views. On one side you can see the majestic Southern Alps while on the other are the plains of Canterbury.
There are fifteen short tunnels and four viaducts but my favourite part was stopping in Arthurs Pass. We all got off and took pictures while some very badly-behaved Keas tried to make off with anything unattended.
We then descended into the 8.5 km long Otira Tunnel and the Train Manager told me that they always have a locomotive at both ends of the Trans Alpine so that they can pull or push it out if it gets stuck. We got through without a problem and emerged into the bright sunshine of Greymouth on the West Coast.
Accommodation in Greymouth
I had booked a very nice motel in Greymouth and the owners, a nice couple, could not have been more helpful. We stayed two nights and spent the days wandering around the town, which has many statues and plaques in memory of miners.
Our return trip was the same route, and we noticed many other things traveling in the opposite direction.
It was an amazing few days and I would recommend a trip like this to anyone. Watch this space - I am just getting started.
Happy & safe travelling