A Trip to Arthur's Pass
We've been in New Zealand for 3 and a half years now, and if you combine that time with the trip we took to New Zealand back in 2002, we've now pretty much seen the whole country. There are a few places left on the list that we haven't visited and if you exclude the outlying islands (Chathams, Auckland Islands, Antipodes Islands, Tokelau etc.) then there's only a few areas left.
One of these areas was Arthur's Pass and the Arthur's Pass National Park. So, during Autumn 2009 we took a couple of days off work and headed down to the South Island to take a trip up into the mountains.
Once again, Pete and Chantal were on hand to provide accommodation and cheap (for cheap, read "the cost of some 'Question' beer and good company) transportation around Christchurch for the time we spent in the South Island's main City. Its fair to say that Pete and Chantal were both a little bit surprised that we planned on spending four days in Arthur's Pass without any means of transportation, given that they'd found little to entertain themselves for that long on a previous visit.
Undeterred, following a short overnight stay in Christchurch we hopped on the South Island's famous Tranz-Alpine railway and set off on the tracks to Arthur's Pass. The Tranz-Alpine is a quirkly little railway. In the South Island, no commuter trains run; and given the location of the main Christchurch railway station is far out in suburban Addington, that's no surprise. This means that the little railway station has a few oddities that you'd be more likely to find at an airport - a check-in counter, a conveyor belt for 'Arrivals' luggage and sadly very little else.
The train itself was filled to the brim with (mainly Asian) tourists. These tourists sadly also had a few quirks. An Asian lady sitting behind us had an annoying habit of singing very quietly, but audibly whilst her husband had an extremely annoying habit of snorting very loudly every five minutes or so. Despite this, we were able to enjoy the views out the window and also from the open viewing carriage as the train slowly wound its way through the outskirts of Christchurch, out through the satellite town of Rolleston and then out on the vast, wide expanses of the Canterbury Plains. After the train departed its one stop on route to Arthur's Pass, the small town of Springfield, the track gradient increased as we left the plains and started to climb up into the Southern Alps.
The path through the Southern Alps went over huge viaducts and echoed through numerous tunnels before arrival at a snow-dusted Arthur's Pass. We alighted the train to the sound of Keas screeching overhead.
Over the course of the next few days we walked every way that it was possible to walk from the small village. We climbed up the steep Avalanche Peak as far as we could before the snow became too deep and we walked up to the Temple Basin ski-fields. Andy was hoping for the opportunity to photograph some of the Keas up close, but there never seemed to be any no matter where we walked.
Thankfully, we were woken up at about 4am by muffled, but close "Keeeaaaaaaahhhh" sounds coming from outside our accommodation. Sneaking quietly onto the balcony, we saw a number of young Keas rummaging about on top of the spa bath cover behind the hotel. After a few photos, they eventually stopped squawking and flew off into the night.
The remainder of the trip was uneventful, other than another run in with Keas on the way back to the train, as a pair of the parrots played with a car's windscreen wipers.
Back in Christchurch, we spent a day with Pete and Chantal; trying to assist them in having a kayaking trip out from the ski-ing town of Methven by providing driving services, but the wind turned out to be too strong. They did manage to kayak down the more local Waimakariri River for a few kilometres down to the river mouth at Kaiapoi.
Another great weekend, and as for so many of our trips down South, we were very thankful for Pete and Chantal's accommodation and transportation services. Cheers, guys!
batch of photos - mainly en route to Arthur's Pass.
Top Left: Taken from the open carriage of the Tranz Alpine train from Christchurch to Arthur's Pass. This was taken well past the town of Springfield and up in the lower reaches of the Southern Alps. A light dusting of snow can clearly be seen resting on the alpine scrub
Top Right: Another view, more wider focus than the last showing the snow topped peaks of the Southern Alps.
Right: The Southern Alps taken from Springfield at the base of the Canterbury Plains before the start of the ascent into the mountains.
Bottom Left: Finally, up in the settlement of Arthur's Pass. This picture was taken near the Devil's Punchbowl waterfalls located at the Western end of the village. The snow had already begun to melt on what had turned out to be a pleasant sunny day. It was a little chilly out in the open, but not cold enough to stop the melt.
Bottom Right: The Bealey River running past the Arthur's Pass settlement. A lovely clean stretch of water, and up close you could clearly see your reflection. It was bloody cold though!
train bridge and tunnel heading West from Arthur's Pass and on towards
the coast at Greymouth. Just two trains a day use the railway now and
there used to be settlements all along the line when it was originally
built. These have now dwindled down to a couple of houses or have
Top Right: A bellbird (Korimako) sitting in a shrub just outside the Arthur's Pass DoC centre.
Left: It was a lovely, crisp, sunny day as this photo clearly shows. By the next day, all of this snow had melted away. If we'd arrived a day earlier, the snow would have been a couple of inches deep as the village had suffered a very sudden snow shower, very early on in the season.
Bottom Left: Looking up towards the surrounding snow-capped mountains from the path up towards the summit of Avalanche Peak. One of the two paths to the summit was closed due to the risk of avalanches, leaving only the very challenging and steep path to the top. We didn't quite make it to the summit, but we gave it a good go.
Bottom Right: A kea in the car park outside our hotel.
the Avalanche Peak path down into towards the Arthur's Pass village.
You can see pretty much the whole settlement in this picture. The river
on the left hand side and then the railway curving through the middle
of the valley, splitting apart in the centre of the picture with the
station between the two sets of rails. The station is at the
Christchurch end of the town with the bottom of the picture shouwing
the hotel in the bottom left. Maybe 50 or so houses and a permanent
population that might reach about 100.
Top Left/Right and Bottom Left/Right: More pictures of Keas in various poses. The Kea is an alpine parrot endemic to New Zealand. Although their colour looks very dull for a parrot, they have bright red feathers on the underside of their wings. When they are flying overhead, you will clearly see their scarlet colours. Young Keas have bright yellow circles round their eyes, nostrils and the lower mandible of their beak. As they get older, the yellow colour fades away and will eventually turn a very dark grey when the bird reaches adulthood. For more information on Keas, why not have a look at the website of the Kea Conservation Trust?
picture of the Bealey River with the sun beating down and sparking off
Bottom Left: Two young Keas having a fight on top of the spa pool cover at the hotel. The scarlet colour of the Keas underwings can clearly be seen on the Kea nearer the front of the photo.
Bottom Right: In typical Kea behaviour, this Kea is investigating the spa pool cover with its beak. This is a very common method for a Kea, or indeed any parrot, to investigate its surroundings. This can cause trouble for the Kea as it has been established that they will investigate things that are poisonous to them in this way, which can cause illness or death. The main risk in this regard is with lead on rooves, or lead nails used for nailing timbers in old construction. The Kea will chew on the nail head with the beak and will take on board a significant dose of lead. This can accumulate over time and kill the bird.
|Top Left & Right: Yes,
more bloody Keas. These two were particularly entertaining on the
morning of our departure from Arthur's Pass. They were playing with the
windscreen wipers on the car (as can be seen in the top left photo).
The owner of the car then turned up and attempted to shoo the birds
away. They were not deterred and ended up on the roof of the car. As
the owner drove off, the Keas managed to "surf" on the car roof for
about 50 yards before the car turned a corner distracting the Keas into
Right: A last view of the Southern Alps on the way back towards Christchurch. Another brilliant, sunny day.
Another trip done and another place on the list ticked off. So, what does that leave? Well...Gisborne & Poverty Bay