Our tour got an early start the next morning, and we boarded the Tranzalpine railway. It was my first time on a “real” train, much to the shock of my travel companions. Once we cleared the industrial center of Christchurch and the Canterbury plains (full of sheep), the scenery transformed into rolling green foothills, flowing rivers, and those wonderful snow-capped alpine peaks. The joke amongst the travelers was, “I don’t know. I think I need another picture of another snowy mountain.” I’m sure we each took hundreds.
We disembarked at Arthur’s Pass and rejoined our coach tour guide. After snapping several pictures of the local Kea (see Birds of NZ travel blog part 4) we enjoyed the rainy drive through windy mountain roads until we reached the coastline. We stopped in a little town called Hikitika for lunch and a mandatory tour of a greenstone (jade) workshop. In contrast to the just above freezing weather at Arthur’s Pass, we enjoyed the beach weather that warmed up to the 80s.
Leaving the warmth behind us we were back up into the mountains to see Franz Josepf glacier. It’s really hard to take a bad picture in this country. I didn’t even walk to the base of the glacier, on our tour guide’s recommendation the first bend offered just as good of a photo opportunity as the base of the glacier was dirty.
We arrived back in the town of Franz Josepf in time to check into our hotel just before sunset.
It was a long day of ups and downs: up mountainsides, down to beaches, and back into the mountains; the temperature going down, up, and down in opposition to the elevation; but it was a day of exquisite beauty. It was our first full day on the bus and it would set the pace for the entire trip. Long days of drives, but scenery that simply is without equal.