A Travellerspoint blog

Tranzalpine Express and Punakaiki


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View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

Today we took the world famous Tranzalpine Express from Christchurch to Greymouth. Why is it so famous you ask? Well, it provides one of the most scenic and spectacular views, and was had one of the longest tunnels in the world when it was built in 1908! Its a great scenic train journey that we just couldn't miss.

However, we started off the day with a rough start. A free shuttle was supposed to pick us up and take us to the train, but one came and was too full and we had to wait for another one. Waiting.... Waiting.... Waiting... clock ticking. Getting anxious. FINALLY one came with just 15 minutes before the train was supposed to leave. Lucky in a town of less than several thousand people, we got there in just 8 minutes and barely put away our luggage, sat down, when the train pulled away. But yea! We made it and could relax! We sat back and maybe a mere 10 minutes later, we stop. What the? We come to find out the train had a "mechanical problem" (what is it with mechnical problems?). So we waited about 45 minutes for it to be fixed. Then someone wasn't feeling well (heart attack was the rumor), and we had to wait for an ambulance to get him away. Alas, an hour or so later, we were off. Why am I telling you all this? Well, we are doing this hop-on, hop-off thing and basically, we were missing our bus to go to Barrytown because of this delay. So this changes our journey a little bit. But as I'm learning, these things somehow always work out for the best and it did!

The Tranzalpine goes through the Canterbury Plains, alpine foothills, Waimakariri Gorge, up through Arthur's Pass (which is about 737 meters high) where there are AMAZING snow capped peaks of the Southern Alps. Okay, I've seen lots o mountains (the Andes, the Rockies, the Swiss Alps, etc), but these were one of the best I've seen. I can't even say enough superlatives to describe how gorgeous it is and how amazing. I literally had my mouth hanging open while taking 23048230948230489 pictures, but here is one:


Its amazing how quickly the scenary changed during the 4 and a half hour journey. It started with some plainfields, sheep, crops, etc. Then next thing you know, you are looking at the snow caps of the Southern Alps amongst lush green landscape. Then you hit more beautiful landscape with more lakes, forest, and the Tasman Sea. The entire journey was 231km long with 19 tunnels, and many more viaducts.



Long story short, since we missed our bus, we followed some Irish lads that we met on the train and that were staying at our previous hostel, and followed them to a YHA (which we just joined). It worked out that we were just going to spend the night there and then have the bus pick us up tomorrow and take us to Franz Glacier. See? NO reason to stress, and I'm REALLY taking the Aussie/NZ attitude "no worries" more and more seriously. Life's too short to stress and get anxious! Too much fun and action! :) So we barely organized this when a tour guide came through to pick up people to go Punakaiki, a cool area by the Tasman Sea. Of course they were doing a special just that day, of course the reception lady said it was amazingly beautiful and a "must see." I got in my nazi travel mode (Sorry Lauren!) and was like "lets do it!" Mind you, all of these transactions took place in less than 5 minutes and the bus driver to go on this tour was waiting. We literally put down our bags, grabbed our cameras, and off we went. I barely had a chance to catch my breath from all that action and we harldly had a sec to think about all that just happened. Since we were now on the west coast, we took a nice scenic drive overlooking the Tasman Sea, which is amazingly beautiful. We did a short bush walk and learned more about plants and agriculture. Here's a fern, they are special to New Zealanders and depending on how it spirals, it can mean different things like "growth, harmony, new beginning" etc.


Its too much to go into details now, but I of course took 230482304923 pictures and when I send them to you (just a couple), I will label and describe them. We saw the Rimu, which can be this little itty bitty tree that after 400 years grows to be something like 25 meters tall, then after another couple of thousand years (seriously) it can get up to 30-35 meters tall. It was REALLY cool to see the different stages. Same goes for this cool palm that grows for 30 years without a trunk, then grows into this gi-normous palm. There are a lot of this yellow flower that we kept on seeing, and I thought they were pretty, but then I was forcibly told that they are a TOTAL pain in the arse and were initially imported to regulate the coastline, but now they are taking over the country and no one can put a stop to this. This is the case with a lot of things in NZ with everything from plants to animals. They bring in something to try to help the ecosystem, but it ends up doing more damage than good. Interesting.

So we then saw these AWESOME pancake rocks that were formed from 'natural weatherings:' 25 million years ago huge amounts of sand and mud eroded from the sand crushing tiny fragments of marine organisms with enough force to turn it into limestone, and 5 million years ago the limestone uplifted from the sea and kind of warped into these amazing rocks.

Big rock, huh? You can hardly see me!



Its hard to tell, but all the rocks have naturally formed stripes.

They were soooo sooo cool to see! Here is another pict... do you see any outlines of faces or figures?


Okay, here's a hint:


Seeing these rocks in the Tasman Sea is absolutely breathtaking. They can also form blowholes, which we unfortunately didn't see. As we were wrapping up, we had the VERY VERY good fortune of seeing an ahhhh-mazing sunset (which I loooove) AND having an AWESOME guide that was kind enough to stop and let us enjoy it and take pictures although our tour already finished. We treated him to a beer later.


And per request of the driver/guide, his photo opp:


It was a beautiful day and I'm just describing so little of it. Even all the 20348230948234903 pictures I took can't even give a glimpse of the real and true beauty or do it justice. Sooo wonderful and spectacular! So... well worth the craziness!

By the way, it was a beautiful sunny day with only a few long white clouds :)

Posted by travellen 01:42 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Land of the Long White Cloud

New Zealand

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Here we are in New Zealand, the land of remarkable beauty and pristine nature. Also known as The Land of the Long White Cloud, which, go figure, there are a lot of looong clouds here (would I have noticed it if it weren't for that name? Hmmm.... actually, yes!).


Christchurch is known as the 2nd England because of the HUGE English population as well as the very English feel to the city. Its small (but then again, NZ only has 4 million in the entire country! Isn't that amazing? I think Chicago alone has, what? 8 million?), and very quaint with gothic architecture and lots of cathedrals and museums.



Its also cool that off in the distance you can see the Southern Alps range (on a clear day of course). Our 1st day here ended up being busy enough - we spent the morning at the Botanical Garden, which was nice to stroll around and look at the pretty plants and flowers (some yet to bloom). This one is called 'Ladies purse':


and then the afternoon at Mt. Cavendish. We took a bus there and then a gondola up the mountain... the view were spectacular and we literally were in awe looking at Lyttleton Harbor and the Banks Peninsula. You can even see the Pacific ocean!


The best part was watching the colors in the lake change as the clouds moved. It was really really amazing! And we spent a good hour there taking pictures, enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate (yummy!), and just enjoying the view. As we were just relaxing and killing time, we got recommendations from a couple of people to take a "nice, leisurely stroll" down the mountain. The man was a bit aged and said he did it all the time, so we thought, "why not?" Soo... we began our stroll down, still enjoying the great views, taking pictures, and taking our time. We are both avid exercises (hey, wasn't it just a few weeks ago I did a 1/2 ironman?), and were confident in our descent down. Well, the path turned into this gravel road, and then came the "Caution" signs and then "watch slippery path" signs. "Yea, yea" we thought... once again, we are young healthy individuals. We slowed down a tad and tried not to let this older couple with their dog whizz past us bother us "they must live here." Well, then Lauren almost took a dive. She laughed and then I laughed. We started up again, and then she almost fell again! We laughed some more, although it had a more nervous edge to it. Then I almost took a dive! Uh oh... this was becoming dangerous! We then REALLY took our time and were watching every step. We tried NOT to let at least 10 more people that were running UP and down get to us (I was pretty impressed!). These NZ folk are fit! So much for me feeling in shape! It ended up being quite a work out, and lucky for us we found some distractions like the sheeps in an adjacent field (actually, I believe I heard that NZ has more sheep than people!). Well.... we made it down to the bottom safe and sound. We almost wanted to go back up the gondola to tell the guy, "this isn't exactly a leisurely stroll" and "umm... having the last few meters at the bottom doesn't count as 'its not that steep' " but then figured it is actually a leisurely stroll for them!

Its a lot steeper than it looks! I swear!

Now I need to rest my legs!

p.s. Random thought... it is now a 17 hour time difference to Chicago. Crazy!! And where is Chicago from this point? Hmm....

Posted by travellen 03:16 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Whales, Bush, sailing, and wallabies

36 hours

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Once again, I've had a blur of activities. Yesterday I was in Hervey Bay, famous for its closeness to Fraser Island (the worlds largest sand island that I went on that safari tour) and for whale watching. So after my adventure at Fraser Island, I had to go whale watching. After a 6:15am wake-up call, I quickly packed up my stuff, stored it at the hostel, boarded a bus to go to a boat to take us whale watching. I think I was expecting us to go to some special area where the whales hung out, but actually, it was us who were scouting for whales that were just hanging out in the ocean! Fortunately, we had luck! The humpback whales are pretty social and usually travel at least in pairs if not the whole family, so almost right away we saw a mom and her calf. The whales migrate north (to tropical climates like in Cairns, where I was), breed, and then slowly make there way back down to Antartica 'training' the calves as they go. Seeing whales in the wild is absolutely amazing - their size is outstanding. They usually are around 15 meters long and can way up to 80,000pounds, with one fin, ONE fin, weighing around 1.5 tons! It was awesome because we saw a whale breach (when they jump out of the water and show there white bellies) which was quite the spectacle. You should have heard the gasps and the "oh my!" in a million different languages. It was hard to take pictures because they are unpredictable of when they surface to breathe (they can hold their breaths up to 45 minutes), so it definitely takes a lot of patience and a camera perma aimed, which I wasn't too good at. So my picts are so-so. Teen whales are the most 'friendly' and can get pretty close to the boats and kind of play. We had a couple of whales 'wave' their fins at us, which was fun. So yea - whales are pretty darn cool I tell ya!

Long story short, I rushed back to my hostel to grab my things, had to wait a nerve-racking 20 minutes for a taxi, to get to the small Hervey Bay airport at 1:28, to check in at 1:30, and literally to depart at 1:55 for Sydney. Man, did I cut it close! They actually let me check in that late, and I wasn't the only one (a couple I did the safari came in after me, as well as some other people). So it was cool that they are sooo much more relaxed with rules, and security for that matter. Phew though!

So our good 'ol president Bush has followed me to Sydney for this Big APEC meeting (Asia-Pacific Economic Conference). Bush, Putin, and 45 other world leaders are all here to talk about environmental issues and other stuff. The city is on TOTAL lock-down. The government made everyone take Friday off, they barricaded the city (seriously), have something like 300,000 police force out, and have spent that same amount on security. I'm kinda away from all this action, but its definitely affected things like trains, getting around, etc. Hearing about the US here is interesting, Bush and American are definitely the butt of a lot of jokes, but views are pretty similiar to the States as far as getting out of the Iraq war, etc. The protests have been pretty peaceful, but with this crazy security, it can't be otherwise - they are REALLY cracking down and arresting people who even joke about stuff.

Today the friend of a family friend I'm staying with invited us to go sailing with him! So although it was an early start yet again (I'm getting used to it!), we had a really nice relaxing day on the boat, with sun and a little showers. I just can't get over how pretty Sydney is and how its sooo nice to be surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. And of course hanging around architects, I'm appreciating the modern architecture around here as well! We stopped for lunch at this really cute camping ground/park/lake and there I saw a couple of wallabies just hanging out!! I was just thinking how I've been in Australia for 3 weeks and have yet to see a kangaroo, or their mini-version, the wallaby. So yea, finally! Here's a pict, and yes, we were that close and it was looking right at us (I was a little nervous):


Hmm.... I still have yet to see a koala outside a zoo or something, but i still have a couple of weeks left!

Okay, we are off to New Zealand tomorrow, and by the way, if you want to read another person's perspective on our travels, check out Lauren's website: http://lauren.travellerspoint.com.

Posted by travellen 02:44 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Rain, rain go away

Fraser Island

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As everyone knows, Queensland is known for being the "Sunshine State." Everyone talks about the bright and sunny days, how wonderful it is, etc. So why is it that the 2 weeks I've been here I've seen all of maybe a couple of sunny days? hahah! Thats my luck! The rain is moving south, exactly the way I'm going. If I haven't already mentally become an Aussie with a "no worries" attitude, I may be more bitter about it, but hey, I'm in Australia and its AWESOME!!! And this rain is just part of an amazing experience out here (I guess, right?).

The last few days have been a whirlwind and I'm even having a hard time keeping it straight. I was at Aerlie Beach earlier this week. I did a 2-day "ocean rafting" thing there, 1st day was AWESOME (refer to my "paradise" blog), 2nd day - rain, but still fun. That same evening I went on a 12 hour overnight bus to Hervey Bay, where I am now. I came in at 6am, and got picked up at 7am to go on a 2-day safari to Frasier Island (which I'll talk about in a sec). So I just got back from that, finally have .2 seconds to relax (and its raining outside so no one is doing anything), and tomorrow at 7am I am going whale watching and right from there I head to the airport to catch a flight back to Sydney (where its supposed to rain this whole weekend, go figure). Sunday I leave for NZ. Wow!

So Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. Its 120km by 15km and supposedly has more sand than the sahari dessert because it is something like 600km deep. On the safari tour we were on a 4WD, which I have never been on so it was definitely an adventure driving on the beach and really 4WD through some rough (sandy) conditions. It cool because there are these amazingly huge sand dunes (or 'sandblows' because its super windy and the sand forms these gi-normous valleys up to 200km) that we climbed as well as a 'rainbow' of sand colors that has evolved from different mineral deposits, etc. In the almost million years that this rainforest developed from the sand, there are also lakes, gorges, and unique flora and fauna. I just can't explain how cool it is and how fascinating it is to even think about how it all evolutionized.

Here is a pict of some colored sand: (and yes, its not rock, its sand!)


So the story goes that this Batjala tribe woman was supposed to marry an older man but she was in love with this man nicknamed, "rainbow man." So story goes that she would meet the rainbow man at the beach, and one day the older man, who happened to be a skilled boomeranger, came out to chase her. She called for help and the rainbow man heard her, and just as the older man threw his boomerang at her, he stepped in front of her to protect her and got 'shattered' by the boomerang, and these shatter pieces formed this rainbow of sand color. There a lot of stories like this on the island, which is really interesting to here about.

There are also these 'dingo' dog-like animals (no, the dingo did not steal any babies) which we had the fortune of seeing right away (and more fortunately, we were in the car because they really are dangerous). Then for the 2nd time this trip (1st was at Crocadylus Hostel near Cape Tribulation), I slept in a tent in the wilderness. It was actually pretty comfy and except for a few loud rain showers that woke me up, I slept pretty well.

The safari group had a combo of Germans (which, by the way, are EVERYWHERE! They are definitely the most people I'm meeting), English, Irish, Hollanders, and this SUPER SUPER cute elderly couple from Australia that were more active then people I know my age. We all got along great and it was a good group. We also saw a large sea snake (which we got a little up close and personal too), some dolphins in the distance, some super cute little sea turtles, and some interesting rainforest trees and plants. And of course more nature.

All and all its been super fun! Time has been going by super quickly, but I have to say that meeting people from all over the world is sooo much fun! And its a small world, at best. A lot of travellers do the same trek (going north or south around the east coast) so you really do run into people (i.e. today I ran into someone I met at my previous hostel). Its fun to see a familiar face every now and then, huh?

Posted by travellen 03:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Dolphins, whales, white sand = paradise islands!

Whitsunday islands

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So here I am in the most beautiful place in Australia, the Whitsunday islands. When I saw brochures, I was thinking, "yea, yea, this is probably like the Caribbean." But NYET, I was wrong. The water is crystal clear and the beaches are ahhhh-mazing. There is this beach called White Haven that has the whitest sand I've ever seen. I did this "Ocean rafting" little island tour (Whitsundays consists of 74 islands), and am doing it again today, and on the way we saw a family o dolphins!!!! It was just sooooo cute! They were trying to 'race' the boat, and were diving in and out of the water trying to follow us. Then on the way back there was a hunchback whale with a little calf!!!! From July to Oct the whales migrate back to Antarctica and they tend to hang around the coasts, actually, more around Harvey Bay, which I will be tomorrow (and for the next couple of days). Its just amazing to see both dolphins and whales just hanging out, live, doing there thang.

Here is a pict that doesn't nearly do it justice the beauty of it:


All and all, it was a relaxing day. A taste of paradise!!

Posted by travellen 15:44 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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