Tuesday 11th January: feria after Epiphany
I am really beginning to think there is something perverse about a holiday which requires me to get up far earlier than normal! This morning, in order to catch the train, I was down for breakfast at my hotel shortly after six, before getting the shuttle bus to the station in order to board in time for the departure at seven.
New Zealand's rail system seems somewhat quaint, no offence intended! A rather plummy, jolly announcer's voice (pre-recorded) instructed us as to dropping off our luggage at the luggage car before boarding, in tones that could have come from a British holiday camp of the nineteen-fifties. The trains, while their interiors are comfortable, look quite old and none too classy – the suburban trains in Melbourne and Perth are more up-to-date. I was a little underwhelmed by the catering arrangements on board also: not a dining car, but simply a kiosk dispensing (quite decent) snacks to be eaten back at one's seat.
Furthermore, the train rattled and rolled quite remarkably, at least in comparison to the suburban railways to which I'm accustomed. As it sped across the plains of North Canterbury, it was quite an effort to walk down the aisle of the carriage without being thrown into someone's lap. After a while, the twisty route between the mountains and the sea proved more comfortable, and by the time we reached the shep stations and then vineyards of Marlborough all was well: I struck up an informative conversation with an English couple who proved seasoned travellers (the husband works for B.A.).
To-day is cloudy, which obscured the view of the Alps and the Kaikouras, but the view of the valleys, rivers and lower hills, not to mention the Pacific coast complete with fur seals resting atop the seaside rocks, was very pleasant. We had a five-minute stop at Kaikoura, allowing us – again, how quaint an announcement – "to stretch your legs and have a cigarette" if one so desired.
After over five hours on the TranzCoastal, it was bliss to board the Kaitaki at Picton for the passage across Cook Strait to Wellington – because I had booked a first class ticket, and was able sink down gratefully into a couch, plied with complimentary eats and drinks, and given access to free wireless internet. Now I must finish my pinot gris while passing through Queen Charlotte Sound.