ARTHURS PASS

Trains have been a pleasure for me ever since mum used to distract me from the chore of supermarket shopping by dressing it up as an opportunity to watch the trains in Sheffield. So I found an excuse to take the TranzAlpine express from Greymouth to Christchurch, with a three night stopover in Arthur’s Pass, a gorgeous mountainous spot. The train travels through a 9km uphill tunnel before arriving at the station. Just before the tunnel the train guard gave us a LOT of information about train safety and evacuation procedures should something happen in the tunnel. Then they attached an extra engine to the train, apparently to pull out out up the hill if there was any trouble. This seemed a little surprising until I remembered that ten minutes before they had told us that the train was passing over the Alpine Fault, the on-land boundary of the Pacific and Australian plates. The commentary told us that the average time between major quakes was around 140 years, and that the last one was in 1770. Luckily the average time it takes for me to forget facts about earthquakes is eight minutes.

I was the only person who disembarked at Arthurs Pass, the reason for which become quickly clear when I visited the Department of Conservation office – rain, rain, rain. I bought a map for a two-day hike out to a hut then freaked out about doing this alone not least given such bad weather and cancelled my plans. Instead I went on a four-hour, very gentle 550m climb up the Bealey Spurr. To reach the trailhead (and return home) I hitchhiked about 10 miles, and discovered that this is much easier in dry conditions than wet ones. The morning was outrageously rainy, but it brightened up in the afternoon to reveal the mountain views I’d been hoping for, not done justice by these pictures.

The next day rain was forecast again so I went on another short walk, this time up Temple Basin, to some ski lodges half-way up the mountain. In the evening the hostel owner persuaded me that I should spend my final day ascending Avalanche Peak, a 1800m mountain (luckily starting at 700m) above the village. In the pub that evening I roped in a co-explorer, and we set off at 7am so I would be back in time to catch my train in the afternoon. The route was hard; lots of scrambling initially, then less steep but near-continuously uphill to the top, finishing with a hair-raising ridge. At the top we met with incredible views and bright sunshine. I couldn’t look back at the ridge for the first ten minutes so took the first few photos without looking at the view. The next visitor to arrive that day was a kea – NZ’s alpine parrot – who was hoping for some of my (extremely over-supplied) snacks. I don’t think so, parrot.

Devil’s Punchbowl (waterfall walk): 2km
Bealey Spurr: 11km
Temple Basin: 8km
Avalanche Peak: 7km

Kilometer-o-meter: 129km

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