Arthur and other stories

A transalpine view

In the afternoon we climbed back on the Transalpine Express – feeling relieved that we had not opted to stay the night in Greymouth in the rain. We were back in the carriage with the broken commentary, so we asked politely if we could move seats, which then prompted a neighbouring American woman to ask, and caused handsome Bruno a headache. However, all was sorted with a smile and we ended up in lovely new seats. We then had to work out how to get the commentary to work which involved an international effort with the American and an Australian in the seat behind. Hubby had already got his working and was maintaining a stiff upper lip.

All set, and we wafted out of the station and on our way back East. The commentary regaled us with interesting facts about explorers who brought their dogs along with them and were forced to eat them; early entrepreneurs who forged photos of extinct Moa birds in order to boost tourism; and the gold rush towns that have vanished forever in the swamp and rainforest.  Sometimes we learnt how places got their names, although more often than not this information has become lost in the mists of time. An example of this being the river and settlement of Taramacau. There was once a ferry here, and a rumour persists that the ferryman’s wife had a cow that was washed into the river. She shouted to her husband in distress (presumably in a Scottish accent) “Oi! Terry! Ma coo!”and the name stuck. No mention of whether the cow was rescued or not, but I am hopeful in view of the fact that the place did not end up being called “Terry-ma-coos-deed”.

We chugged back up to Arthur’s Pass, where a few very soggy people got back on, and Bruno supervised the hooking up of precautionary engines ready for the tunnel.

Arthur’s Pass is named for Arthur Dobson, a surveyor in Canterbury who came to New Zealand as a boy in 1850 on one of the first ships from England.

Arthur Dobson

Being a surveyor was an exciting occupation in those days and involved a deal of exploring that did not involve the use of laser measuring machines for new roads and housing estates. In the 1860s the gold rush meant that people were desperate to travel to the West Coast to try to get rich, and the Chief Surveyor in Canterbury commissioned young Arthur to survey the route. Arthur consulted local Māori and went exploring with his brother to find a route through the mountains. The only way he could find was via the deep Otira gorge. It was so steep that they had to leave the horses behind and lower the dog down on a rope. (At least the dog did not get eaten). He reported that this was the only way through. A route across the pass was opened, and it is still the only crossing through the Southern Alps. Of course it was named after Arthur. Although perhaps it should have been named Fido’s Pass to commemorate the heroic dog.

As the train descended from the Pass we left the rain behind. By the time we had reached the plains the sun was hot.

Into the sunlight

The most hazardous part of our journey was trekking through five carriages full of excitable Americans and Japanese to reach the open-sided viewing car. The sudden force of mountain air meant that intrepid passengers had to cling on to the safety bars while sliding across the wet deck juggling cameras and phones. Then back through the bodies to the café-n-bar car to brave the queue and talk to strangers while waiting for Bruno to make a cup of tea. He really is a man of many talents. He came to see us later, jangling his keys. “Are you getting off at Darfield? I will come and collect you.” He was as good as his promise, and now, looking a lot less handsome after a very long day, he led us along to the last door of the train, extended the step, and wished us well. We thanked him and clambered down onto the concrete platform – still empty. Hubby thought only of his relief at seeing the truck still parked safely next to the platform.

I listened to the whistle and the shivering sound of the air horn as the train pulled away.

Bucket list.


A great train journey

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