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Thursday 6 February 2003
Christchurch - Arthurs Pass
I woke up early and packed my stuff and whilst checking out discovered there was a free shuttle to the station. After waiting out the front, it eventually came, and took me to the station which is in the middle of nowhere.
On the Tranzalpine train I was sitting opposite a Swiss-Australian woman. The Canterbury plains passed by quite quickly – just over an hour. They contained lots of farms bordered by rows of trees for wind protection. The farms were mostly a yellow brown like in Australia. The plains apparently were formed from the billions of tonnes of rubble washed down out of the mountains. We then started into the mountains. They were mostly bare, or partly grass covered with many rock slides. The train followed the river (Waimakariri) which flowed through spectacular gorges which the train crossed several times on viaducts. There was an open air carriage which was designed for photography I think, but gave excellent views to both sides of the train (although in the tunnels, the diesel fumes were not great). I stayed in this car for quite a large section of the mountains.
As the train came into Arthurs Pass national park, the trees suddenly covered the mountains. The train stopped briefly at Arthurs Pass station, to unhitch the rear half which goes back to Christchurch. The train then plunged into the 8km tunnel . When it emerged, we were very definitely on the west coast, since there were incredibly dense forests covering the mountains which were shrouded in cloud. Before Arthurs Pass, the commentator pointed out Goat Pass, which I had intended to hike to, but he also said that this Friday and Saturday was a coast to coast triathalon and that the running portion was over goat pass! This changed my ideas for tramping.
After passing several lakes, the train travelled next to the Grey river, and finally into Greymouth. The highlight of the trip was the amazing mountains – nothing like Australia.
However, it got better, since I got on the Atomic shuttle back to Arthurs Pass, and it included a slightly different route but took in the section which was in the long tunnel – it was amazing – high snowcapped peaks dwarfing the road.
At Arthurs Pass I checked into the Mountain House hostel. Going in, I walked past two young women who immediately told me they were eyeing me as a ‘victim’ for the ‘Three Passes’ tramp. I said I didn’t have much time, but I would have a look at it (5-6 days!). I spend the evening stocking up on hiking supplies and trying to decide which one to do. We had been told by the manager that we would have to be out tomorrow night due to the race. After dinner, I talked to one of the two women I had seen before, (Jennifer Thompson – 31) she is a truly amazing person – she has hiked the Appalacian trail, been a park ranger in Zion in the US, and has been travelling for over a year – 2˝ months in New Zealand so far. We talked for several hours till late about travelling, hiking and other stuff. She suggested I come on the hike they had decided to do – ‘The Harman Pass’. After checking out my options for returning early if my knee played up or something else went wrong, I said OK. It was 3 to 4 days – longer than I had intended, but I could return from any point in about one day. The other woman was an Israeli (Roni Ravia – 25)