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Friday, 13 February 2015

Barbara Algie escapes the summer heat on the Tranzalpine Express

All agree it’s been a stupendous summer but not stupendous for the brain, for every author I’ve spoken to has had writer’s block in a big way.   Hot airless nights – not easy to sleep, even in the skimpiest nightie (or even less) with a teensy sheet covering only ones toes.   God help anyone who finds me if I cark it in the night – not a pretty sight– nude.   And doesn’t hot weather do strange things to people?   Some of us even seriously consider murdering our lovers who seem able to snore away non-stop and insist on cuddling up.  High time for single beds.  

What I can recommend is a train trip – somewhere – anywhere.   No luggage hassles, no watching the road for idiots who don’t understand the rules of the road – just a pleasant ‘sit back and listen to the commentary’, indulge in an occasional cold slurp from a well-stocked cafĂ© car and drift into an ‘enjoy the scenery mode’.   What more could one ask?  

I’m talking about the Tranzalpine – Christchurch to Greymouth.   You can do it easily there and back in one day.   Make sure you get a window seat.  Even the endless Canterbury Plains have a magic carpet of colour from burnt sienna to brilliant yellow with a splash or two of white daises nodding happily as the train flashes past.   Further on, the commentary tells you the mountains you are about to enter are steadily pushing themselves ever upward at what might sound like a caterpillar pace.   It’s only when you are surrounded by them that  you know they mean business as they appear to be striding towards the train, eager to crush it into little pebbles like the ones far below in the braided rivers that wait for rain.  

There are gasps as the train dashes in and out of tunnels and the terrible thought of what might happen during the endless darkness of the  Otira Tunnel should there be a breakdown or a fire.   Another gasp of relief, this time as the train breaks free into the sunshine once more.  

At Arthurs Pass station a mob of foreigners disembark with their luggage whilst the watchful hills sulk in the distance.   From then on you sit back and relax again, wondering if that solitary figure you glimpsed in the distance was the ghost of the Irish miner who died during the gold rush days and has been seen walking - always eastwards - towards home out of the Pass.   A garish red Warehouse sign flashes past and you know you are entering  Greymouth.    Nearby a tiny old cottage on the hill has an inflatable Santa sitting on the porch waving to the train.   Ah well, it was romantic- for a while.   Now for that whitebait fritter.

 Barbara Algie


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