Monday, January 22, 2007

NZ1221 - A Tour of New Zealand's South Island

Day 1: Tēnā koe, Aotearoa

On Friday, January 12, I took Flight NZ0802K with Air New Zealand (web) to Christchurch in Canterbury, New Zealand's largest region. Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island, and the second largest city in the country.

The plane arrived late, but it didn't bother me much. This is my first trip to New Zealand, but the scenaries I saw from the plane already blow my mind away. It was awesome. I made a video clip of the aerial view with my digital camera. It includes the picturesque surroundings of the airport, and the entire process of the landing of the craft. Unfortunately, the video clip had been accidentally edited, with most of it deleted. And so, there goes my first impression of New Zealand.

The phrase "Tēnā koe, Aotearoa" means "Hello, New Zealand" in the Māori language (info). Before the arrival of European settlers, Aotearoa refers to the North Island only. The use of the word to refer to the whole of New Zealand is a post-colonial usage. Māori is one of three official languages of New Zealand. It is classified as an Eastern Polynesian language, closely related to Rarotongan and Hawaiian.

Along with Indonesian, Melanesian and Micronesian, Polynesian belongs to a group of languages known as the Malayo-Polynesian group. A characteristic of Malayo-Polynesian languages is a tendency to use reduplication to express the plural. The linguistic source is believed to be Asia.

Māori was first given a written form and a formal grammar, in the early 19th century, by British missionaries. Although Māori is a single language (te reo), there are several tribal variants. They are distinctive enough for the Māori people, familiar with their language, to be able to identify the tribal connections of others by their speech characteristics.

The word 'māori' is an adjective meaning 'normal', 'usual', 'ordinary'. The Māori people used the word to describe themselves, as opposed to the 'alien' European settlers, during the 19th century, and the Europeans in turn adopted it. Before the time of the arrival of Europeans, the Māori people had no names for themselves as a nation, only a number of tribal names.

Modern usage of Māori includes:
1. (adj) native, belong to New Zealand.
2. (n) person of native race, New Zealander.
3. (adv) freely, without restraints.

I left the airport on a shuttle service for the Arena Motel (web), where I would spend a night before travelling to Greymouth. The motel is situated just one street away from the railway station, which proved to be convenient for me the next day.

It was just past 5pm. In my room, I turned on the TV, and was glad to watch the popular Ellen DeGeneres Show (info) on TV One (web).

It was already getting late, I proceed to have dinner at the McDonald's restaurant in the Westfield Shopping Centre on Riccarton Road. After dinner, I did a bit of shopping and bought a microwave meal box for breakfast the next morning. It was past 9pm when I decided to get back to the motel. The sky has only began to darken for the summer day. It began to rain just before I reached the motel. {Pictures: Fillet-o-fish meal in New Zealand, Borders bookshop at Westfield Shopping Centre}

Day 2: When it rains, it rains

Today I begin a seven-day tour with tour operator Thrifty Tours New Zealand (web). The day begins with a free transfer to the railway station provided by the motel. Rain greets me as I stepped out of the motel, and loaded my luggage on the back of the van. Being so close from the motel, we reached the station in only 2 minutes. {Picture: Christchurch Station}

Tranz Scenic (web) operates three train routes in the South Island. I took the famous TranzAlpine train (info), which travels between Christchurch and Greymouth, from one coast of New Zealand to the other. The train travels the 212km Midland line, which features five major bridges, five viaducts and 17 tunnels, the longest of which is the 8500m Otira Tunnel. The entire journey takes about five hours. The train departs Christchurch every morning at 8.15am and reaches Greymouth at noon. It then departs Greymouth at 1.45pm and returns to Christchurch in the evening. {Picture: Tranz Scenic train}

After leaving Christchurch, the train travelled through the fertile fields of the Canterbury Plains and headed towards the Rolleston station, where it connected to the Midland line. From Rolleston, the train passed the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. It briefly stopped at Darfield, Springfield and Cass to pick up a handful of passengers at the small towns. Springfield is located at the foot of the Southern Alps. The most scenic segment of the journey is from Springfield to Arthur's Pass. From the huge panoramic windows, I watched the magnificent scenery unfolds before my eyes as the train climbed into the Southern Alps. This is accompanied by timely and informative commentary from the captain throughout the journey. Between Springfield and Cass, the train moved across the Staircase viaduct, which stands 73 meters high, displaying the spectacular views of the Southern Alps. {Map}

The train made a photo stop at Arthur's Pass (info), to drop and pick up some passengers and prepare for crossing the Main Divide through the Otira Tunnel. After Otira, the train descended through lush beech rain forest and terminated in Greymouth, on the West Coast. Again, it made brief stops at Jacksons, Moana, Kokiri and Brunner. {Video | Pictures: Arthur's Pass station}

The West Coast is the wettest region in New Zealand, receiving a seasonal average of above 200mm of rain. Some parts of the region get as much as 7 metres of rain each year.

I got only a one-way ticket for the train. For the rest of my tour, I travelled on InterCity (web) and Newmans (web) coaches. The coach to Fox Glacier was already waiting for me when I arrived at Greymouth station. {Picture: Greymouth station}

The ride to Fox Glacier took roughly five hours. From Greymouth, the coach travelled Southwest on State Highway 6, to the East of the Tasman Sea. The journey is marked by three rail-car-one-lane bridges. These are bridges wide enough for only a single lane shared by the train and both directions of traffic. To prevent collision, the train always have the right of way. When there is no train on the bridge, one direction has the right of way. The smaller red arrow shows which direction has to give way. Other than these three bridges, there are many one-lane bridges (without rail) in the South Island. {Picture: Our coach crossing a rail-car-one-lane-bridge}

We stopped midway in Hokitika (web) for grocery. Hokitika features shops specialising in greenstone jewellery and sculptures. {Picture: Hokitika with the Southern Alps in the background}

The second part of the bus journey is a 4-hour drive. We continued from Kumara Junction Highway to Ruatapu Ross Road, Harihari Highway, Whataroa Highway, Franz Josef Highway and Fox Glacier Highway, all of State Highway 6. The sky started pouring after we left Hokitika. The Whataroa Highway was the road which led us across rivers and streams, and ascended into the Southern Alps. It connected to Franz Josef Highway which led us past beautiful scenaries, including Lake Mapourika and Lake Wahapo, to the Franz Josef township. This part of West Coast is also known as the Glacier Country. At 11 square kilometers, Lake Mapourika is the largest lake in the Glacier Country. Other lakes we seen along State Highway 6 are Lake Mahinapua on Ruatapu Ross Road and Lake Ianthe on Harihari Highway. We let a few passengers drop off at Franz Josef before proceeding to Fox Glacier.

Because of the rain, the driver did not make any photo stop after Hokitika. However, that did not stop me from enjoying the scenic views of the Tasman Sea, Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. Afterall, when it rains, it rains. It's about living in the present. Still, the rain slowed the coach down a fair bit. At about 6.30pm, we arrived at Fox Glacier, a small township catering primarily to the tourist activities on and around Fox Glacier. After a long day of travelling, I was glad to be able to get some rest. For the next two nights, I stayed at the Glacier Country Hotel (web).

Day 3: Where there is ice, there is water

Day 4: Embrace nature, not ruin nature

Day 5: Nature always make sense

Day 6: In the beginning, there is water