A ferry, a train and arriving in Christchurch

We are just back from a week traveling around a bit of the South Island of New Zealand, seeing new places and enjoying a bit of a summer holiday.  The next few posts will be about the trip, so hope you enjoy seeing a bit more of New Zealand and maybe get inspiration for a trip yourself.

We set off early last Saturday morning to catch the ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton and then catch the Coastal Pacific train down to Christchurch.  Unfortunately, the weather was a bit wet, so we didn’t go up on deck, but just sat below drinking tea and coffee and eating toasted sandwiches. Our luggage was checked through to Christchurch, so we were able to stretch our legs and grab some lunch in Picton before boarding the train.

The viewing carriage
Waiting to board

The Coastal Pacific train runs daily between September and May.  On our train, there were only two carriages with passengers, one with a licensed cafe, one with luggage and other cargo, and a viewing carriage.  The journey takes about five hours and runs along the coast for most of the way.  A set of headphones is provided should you wish to listen to occasional commentary, though the driver also gave us pointers as to what was coming up.

As I said, the weather wasn’t up to much, but we still saw a lot and it was great to experience this journey.  We passed by Lake Grassmere, a shallow lagoon sheltered from the open sea.  Its high salinity, coupled with warm, prevailing winds, actually makes it an ideal way to extract salt, and nearly half of New Zealand’s domestic salt comes from this area.










Salt flats (pictures taken from the window)

The pink colour of the crystallisation ponds is caused by natural microscopic algae that change to pink in the high salt concentration.  The train travels past the Hikurangi Trench, which is between 1000 and 2000m deep and the inland Kaikoura Ranges.  Due to the weather, our views were limited, but it was still a fantastic trip.  Below are some rather gloomy pictures, out to the Pacific Ocean, some taken through the window, some from the rather windy viewing carriage and some featuring loads of seals (believe it or not!).

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We enjoyed some wine on our trip, as did most of the passengers, creating an almost party atmosphere on board (don’t get me wrong!  It was all very civilised!).  It was a great trip, and one I would highly recommend if you have the time to do it as we did.

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We arrived at Christchurch, tired but content, and took a taxi to our bed and breakfast and grabbed some excellent burgers and beer at Burgers and Beer Inc in Sydenham. I had the Billy Beef & Blue (beef pattie, roasted Portobello mushroom, red onion, blue cheese mayo and lettuce) which was just the thing that evening.

Note:  there are two other long distance scenic rail journeys you can do in New Zealand – the Tranz Alpine from Christchurch to Greymouth and the Northern Explorer from Wellington to Auckland.   Check them out here.

Next: where we stayed in Christchurch and what we did there.





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