Day 10 Monday 24 February – Tranz Alpine Train, Franz Josef Glacier

When we arrived at breakfast this morning, we found that our “twister” from yesterday was on the front page of the newspaper – “Tornado Strikes”. So, what we thought was a twister turned out to be a tornado and it damaged several homes including taking the whole roof off one lady’s house. The hail also did quite a bit of damage. We are very lucky that the tornado didn’t hit us and also that Malcolm is such a good driver that he was able to drive us safely through the storm/hail/lightning that was referred to in the paper as a “super cell”!

After breakfast, we left Ashburton and travelled through part of the Canterbury Plains.  We crossed the Rakai River, which is the largest river in the Region and is a salmon and trout fishing area. We passed the Sinlait Milk Factory, which is the second largest in New Zealand and interestingly, they have done an experiment to ascertain the best time to milk cows to obtain the most milk.  The experiment found that if cows are milked between 1.00am and 3.00am, the milk contains melatonin, which helps people sleep.

We arrived at Darfield, an extremely small railway station, where we boarded the TranzAlpine train, which is a passenger train operated by KiwiRail and is regarded as one of the world’s great train journeys because of the scenery it passes through.

The modern train had two diesel electric locomotives and very comfortable carriages that had panoramic windows.  The train also had a buffet carriage and an observation carriage, that Richard spent some time in, taking lots of photos of the magnificent views.

We travelled through the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury Plains and crossed the wide braids of the Waimakariri River – the braids are formed by large volumes of water scouring wide tracks to the ocean while depositing/moving rock and silt from high in the mountains.  We climbed into the alpine region with its beautiful scenery on a series of spectacular viaducts.  From there we passed through the Southern Alps along the stunning Waimakirri River Gorge to Arthur’s Pass, which is at the top of the range. We got off the train there after experiencing a wonderful journey and rejoined the coach for the trip down the other side of the mountain range.  We saw some avalanche shelters over the road to protect against rock and snow avalanches.

As we approached Kumara, we were told that over to the right was where the Pyke River Mine disaster had taken place. We travelled through to Hokitika with the Tasman Sea just to our right as well as green fields and alps to our left.  We had lunch at Hokitika, went to the Chemist as Dennis has caught a head cold from one of several people on the bus with colds. While we were doing this, Richard went for a wander to take photos and Dennis wandered through the Jade Factory, where he was lucky enough to see them actually cutting the jade and polishing it.

We left Hokitika and crossed the Hokitika River, through a region that is mainly beef and deer farming.  We also saw some rivers that were hugely contrasting in colour eg the Waitaha River with its murky white colour and the Wanganui River with its brilliant turquoise.

By the time we had arrived at Franz Josef, it was quite overcast with low clouds.  We had a 15 minute walk to reach an observation area from which we could get a glimpse of Franz Josef Glacier peeking out from under the low clouds.  It would have taken another hour to reach the base of the glacier, but we needed to continue our journey to Fox Glacier where we are staying for the night.

We had a lovely dinner with our new Scottish friends, Ian and Pat and our new Orkney friends, Evelyn and Jim – good food and lots of laughter.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our day today!


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