Saturday, 24 September 2016

Who was Arthur? And why did he pass?

The Alps from the Canterbury Plain
One of the routes I've never travelled in New Zealand is Arthur's Pass, so this time I decided I'd give it a go.  There are two ways to travel - a very expensive rail journey from Christchurch to Greymouth, or the West-Coast Shuttle bus.  I decided to go one way and come back the other.  The rail trip costs $159 and the bus $55.  The train goes through quite a few tunnels, the bus goes over the original pass and follows the old stage-coach road for much of the way.
The old stage-coach road along the gravel river bed.
The bus takes about the same time as the train.  You can guess which one I preferred!
It takes two locos at the front and three at the rear to get over the pass
From the Canterbury plain with its rolling green pastures, you soon get a glimpse the first glimpse of the Alps and the remnants of glacial lakes.

There are bridges and deep gorges.


and wide river crossings across braided rivers and banks of gravel that are apparently about a thousand feet deep, left behind by the glaciers.

Arthur's Pass station is over 700 metres above sea level.  It was the base for the workmen building the tunnel that takes the train under the mountain to the other side.   Arthur's Pass was named for Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson who was the intrepid surveyor who found the track (he was told about it by the Maori!) that was eventually made into the first stage-coach route through the Alps.  He had a father and a brother who were both engineers and so it was always called 'Arthur's' pass to distinguish him from his family.
Selfie opportunity!
Doing this trip by stage-coach must have been fraught with danger.   This is an old photo of one of them, passing underneath a rather rickety foot-bridge.  The sad truth of this nostalgic image was that the horses had a life-span of about 1.5 years because of the strain they were forced to endure. As a horse-lover, brought up with draught horses, it makes me very angry.

The first cars along the route had to be helped over the river-beds by horses, hopefully  better treated.

No horses were injured or exploited on this trip. I made it to the other side by engine power and then onto my waiting bus, bound for the small community at Punakaiki where, apparently, there are some spectacular rocks and beaches.

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