Posted 25 April 2017 - 01:59 AM
Just rode the Transalpine a few days ago. An absolutely unforgettable journey to be sure. You could still see some evidence of the wildfire that closed the line. Trees burnt up across both sides of the tracks. Although it was not as extensive as some wildfire damage I have seen in the US.
Christchurch is still very much in "recovery" mode. I was surprised to see how much damage was still visible. They still haven't finished demolishing all of the buildings that are not going to be repaired. Honestly I would have expected in a place like NZ a large portion of the damage would already been cleaned up. It was very very quiet downtown. I wouldn't recommend spending to much time here. Although the historic tram is back in some limited service and offers guided tours through the city.
The train ride itself was great. The station is tucked away behind a strip mall. It kind of reminded me of the Niagara Falls, NY station. Its a train station no one would just stumble upon by accident, but if you are looking for it you can find it.
The cars themselves were great. They were custom built in NZ by their rail shops. No rebranded Siemens or ABB rolling stock here. Cars are reasonably new and there are two outlets at each seat. Although with a bulkier universal power adapter they might not be very useable since they are low to the ground. The windows are massive they take up almost the entire side of the rail car. There are also Viewliner type upper windows along both sides. Lots of natural light flowing in. There is a cafe car although the food is a collection of pre-made sandwiches there are a few prepared hot foods that they will microwave for you. I have pictures of the menu. I will upload them when I get back to the states.
The highlight for me was without question the open air observation car that is available to all passengers. It is quite an experience to pass through a tunnel with a diesel locomotive working hard to get up the grades. Probably not the best for ones carbon monoxide intake. The route the train takes through the mountain seems almost inexplicable tunnels viaducts more tunnels more viaducts. I am not sure who did the surveying, but as you zig and zag and go through yet another tunnel you have to wonder if this was really the only way to get a train through those mountains. Listening to the engine as the engineer moves up a couple notches to keep you steady through the next set of grade is something I think the average lay person would miss, but certainly something you can appreciate if you know what your listening to.
The views are truly spectacular at times. I am confident in saying that while shorter in duration what you experience between Christchurch and Greymouth beats the pants off the wonderful hours you can spend in a SSL going between Denver and Grand Junction. All of it is enhanced by being able to stand out in the open observation car and feel the air moving past you.
Greymouth is a VERY small town. I turned right around and headed back to Christchurch, but you can connect onwards with some busses to head down the West Coast there. I was only there for an hour, and was able to talk through all of "downtown" twice. I wouldn't suggest overnighting here and spending 25 hours in the town.
I will probably write up more of a full trip report that also talks about my experience on the train between Sydney and Melbourne.
Feel free to ask me any other questions. I tried to be through as I could be.
41,175 Miles on Amtrak in 43 states.
Routes Traveled: Acela Express, Adirondack, Amtrak Cascades, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Carolinian, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Downeaster, Empire Builder, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Hiawatha, Keystone Corridor, Lake Shore Limited, Northeast Regional, Maple Leaf, Missouri River Runner, Pacific Surfliner, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Southwest Chief, Springfield Shuttles, Texas Eagle, Vermonter.