The earthquake in Christchurch had badly damaged the Central Business district , all of which was still off-limits . Our hotel accommodations were changed to the Best Western Camelot Motor Lodge and we really lucked out : first, in being able to find rooms at all for our party of eight and second , in being able to land in such a nice place . The Camelot is a 34 room complex consisting of Tudor style attached houses and the hosts , Penny and Brian , couldn’t have been more welcoming.No wonder they were selected as the Hosts of the Year in 2008 and 2009.The rooms were spacious and clean and the premium TV service allowed us to watch the ongoing World Cup Cricket matches.The Camelot would have been our first choice if we had known about it earlier. Highly recommended .
Driving there from the airport , we saw ample evidence of the destruction caused by the earthquake though it appeared to be random . One or two houses on a street might be badly damaged but the rest would be unharmed. At the Camelot , many of the rooms were taken up by young Japanese men . Brian told us that they were journalists sent over from Japan to cover the news story about 27 Japanese students who had come to Christchurch to study English and were missing , presumed dead. At the time , I remember thinking how stories like this humanize and bring home the tragedy . This was before the earthquake/ tsunami in Fukushima .The Christchurch earthquake would soon be dwarfed by the extent of that disaster.
Many of the businesses and restaurants near the Camelot were shuttered but we walked half a mile and managed to find a supermarket where we stocked up on beer and necessaries for our evening sitdown . Near the supermarket , we found the Brewers Arms Stonegrill to which we returned for dinner. It was a forced choice but a good one . The specialty of the house was steaks and lamb chops and fish grilled on hot stones. .. very good and the service was great.
Originally we’d planned to stay in Christchurch for another day but , with most of the CBD shut down , and the town still reeling from the aftermath of the earthquake , there was no point . We just stayed there overnight before taking the Scenic Railway to Greymouth and then the bus to Franz Josef Glacier.
Luckily for us , the Scenic Railway, which had briefly been shut down, re-started on the very day we had booked our trip. Next morning , we got to the Railway Station and boarded the train for our journey to Greymouth. The train and the station were both charming and nostalgia arousing and a local TV crew was on hand to record the re-opening of train service. The train coaches were a festive blue color and the seats were comfortable , luxurious even. We soon left Christchurch behind and passed through an area of farms and sheep rearing stations. The countryside was at first charmingly pastoral but soon became rugged . The train passed over towering viaducts through deep gorges and hidden valleys and the mountains in the distance reminded us of The Lord of the Rings which was shot here on the South Island.Peering through the large plate-glass windows, we saw silvery streams rippling across the valley floor and very few signs of human habitation. We fortified ourselves with scones and jam and excellent sandwiches from the cafeteria and walked to the viewing carriages at the end of the train . These however were a disappointment ,consisting merely of regular carriages from which the windows had been removed . Good for photography perhaps but the wind that blew in through the openings quickly forced us back to our seats.
The train passed through former coal mining towns and abandoned hamlets , through Rolleston and Darfield , Arthur’s Pass ( Elevation 2,700 m) where we stopped briefly for photos of the imposing mountains , through Otira and Moana and Kokiri before reaching our final destination , Greymouth. It was a wonderful trip and gave us a glimpse of a very beautiful part of the South Island.
It is difficult to write about scenery. No matter how beautiful it is , there is a certain amount of déjà vu. Tumbling waterfalls , deep gorges , towering viaducts , majestic mountains , silvery brooks and azure lakes are very nice but one soon runs of adjectives when describing them . I’m sure all of you have seen movie blockbuster The Lord of the Rings. Well , much of the movie was shot in this part of New Zealand . That should give you an idea of what we saw and I’ll refrain from describing it further.
The bus stopped every hour or so to enable us to stretch our legs , for photo ops and souvenir buying and coffee and it was early evening by the time we got to Franz Josef. We had just enough time before nightfall to take a van ride to the glacier and walk the mile and a half over a dry, stony riverbed to its very foot. When one gets right down to it , a glacier is like a frozen river and , close-up, it does not seem like much. What makes it special is that as one looks at it one becomes aware of the primordial forces that have shaped it and the knowledge that global warming may soon make it a thing of the past. Also , Franz Josef was the closest we ever got to a glacier, closer than any on our Alaska trip last year.
We dined that evening at Speight’ s Alehouse Restaurant , located just behind our motel. The beer was cold and the food ( fish and chips , burgers , steaks , pot pies) was hearty. Special mention must be made of the lamb roghan josh which was very good, better than at most Indian restaurants . The lamb was meltingly tender and the portion large enough for two or even three. Replete with the food , we walked back to the hotel and to bed .
Next : Queenstown , Milford Sound , Mount Cook