Day 8. Discovered a big hole in my planning. We were driving along the west coast, to Greymouth, giving up our rental car there and taking the Tranzalpine train to Christchurch. On the way, we were supposed to see the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. We realized that Punakaiki was actually beyond Greymouth and with a 2 hour round trip journey between the two, we would only be able to catch our train if we left Franz Josef at some ridiculously unearthly hour. I was very very disappointed (and annoyed with myself) since I had really wanted to see the blowholes, but there it was and we couldn't do much about it. We left our hotel soon after breakfast and drove to Greymouth, a drive which took us about 3 hours exclusive of halts. The drive was unremarkable, nice and quiet and full of pretty sights like this river :)
We halted at Hokitika, an township of around 3000 people (!) which used to be a gold mining town, but now is mainly known for greenstone (jade) carving and the many communes of artists and craftsmen who have made it their home, inspired by the beauty and solitude of the wild West Coast of New Zealand. The picture below is as we were walking to the beach at Hokitika.
My main agenda at Hokitika was to get started on the little shopping I had to do. The town is known to have the best Pounamu (NZ jade) and I picked up a piece as a gift (not for myself!). Since jade is expensive, I limited myself to one small stone and bought a few pendants and hairclips (again, as gifts) made out of Paua shells. Paua is the Maori name for some species of sea snails, which are iconic in NZ and consumed not just as a food delicacy but also used in making jewellery and other artifacts. They are very pretty, and mostly to be found in turqouise, green and purple hues. One of the popular activities in Hokitika was to go to a studio and carve your own greenstone (jade) and make your own taonga (treasure) either out of jade or out of paua. I don't know what it is - hopefully I'm getting less material in my old age - but I did not feel the slightest temptation to buy anything for myself. One of my things is to buy a piece of jewellery from every place I visit, whether it's within India or abroad. I like knowing that many of the accessories I wear have a story (and a holiday!) associated with them. This time, the exchange rate also scared me off :(
We drove the short distance to Greymouth, gave up our humungous SUV and got to the station well in time for our train.
Obviously this train is a big hit with tourists and on that day, it seemed as though the only tourists in NZ were Indians. The train takes 4.5 hours to reach Christchurch and the ride is truly scenic. Ironically, where we might have gone into raptures if we had taken the train going the other way - that is, on our entry into South Island (as most people do) - this time we were so accustomed to the gorgeousness of the country that we took it in our stride :) The ride takes you up into the Southern Alps and down again into the fertile Canterbury plains just before Christchurch. It's extremely isolated and rugged terrain. Every now and then we would spot isolated hamlets, forlorn sheep and miles and miles of fencing and we would wonder who lived there and shepherded the sheep and maintained the fences. I could vividly picture how remote, hostile and unearthly it would seem in the dead of winter.
So LOTR, isn't it??
The train has a large open air (enclosed on top but open on the sides) viewing carriage where S and I spent quite a bit of time, in turns, soaking in the scenery and clicking snaps. It was chilly and extremely windy though, and we were always glad to duck back into the warmth of the coaches.The kids spent their time drawing/colouring, reading and in Y's case, taking a nice long nap.
Christchurch, we had been warned, would be a huge anti-climax due to many places in the city centre being cordoned off due to the Sep 2010 and Feb 2011 earthquakes. It certainly did not help that a big (though less damaging) earthquake had hit that poor city just about a week before we landed. The Cathedral Square, among other places that we had wanted to cover, was out of bounds. We walked around a bit before and after dinner, but we didn't have much time to spare in any case and S also wanted to get back to the test match :) So, I won't say we saw anything substantial in Christchurch. We were now at the penultimate day of our vacation and the fatigue was beginning to hit us hard.
Ending with a shot of a church near out hotel, badly damaged by the earthquake and being held up with supports.