Instead of writing early morning Tuesday, I was heading to Christchurch Station to board the TranzAlpine tourist train to Greymouth on the west coast. We have broken the journey for 24 hours at Arthur's Pass, a small alpine village close to the national park and the mountain pass that bears the same name.
It is one of the rainiest localities on the South Island, and it has rained continuously for all of the 20 hours we've been here. There are excellent walking tracks, but we are not equipped to go bushwalking in the rain, so our break in the train journey has turned out to be a break for rest.
Because the mountain pass was historically such a challenge, the train terminated here for many years until the 8.5 km Otira Tunnel was opened in 1923. A Cobb and Co coach had to ferry passengers over the pass to a connecting train at the other side.
Then until 1997, the steam and then diesel locomotive had to be replaced by an electric locomotive for the journey through the tunnel. Since then, a 'helper' diesel locomotive has done the job of getting the train through the still difficult tunnel, with its 1 in 33 gradient. In these more recent times, the issue has been diesel fumes. They necessitate special measures and precautions, including the closing of our train's open air observation cars.
The Arthur's Pass information centre doubles as a museum, and yesterday it was a congenial place to pass some time. That was where I saw the Cobb and Co coach and also learned about the second most deadly mountaineering incident in New Zealand history, which occurred in 1966, when an avalanche killed a rescuer from a party making a vain attempt to save four young bushwalkers.
A few months ago, the 50th anniversary commemorations included a religious service in the mountain chapel here at Arthur's Pass. The rescuer who lost his life had been married six years earlier in the chapel, which has a fascinating story of its own. Like the railway station, it is built as an A-frame (both pictured).
The chapel was unlocked when I was exploring the area yesterday and so I was able to wander in and read the history of its conception and construction in the 1950s, which was a labour of love for the committee and the architects and builders it engaged.
Last night we had a meal at the only cafe that was open. It doubles as a bar and is called The Wobbly Kea, after the endangered species of parrot that is found in this area. Perhaps their omnivorous diet includes alcohol. The locals are preoccupied with protecting tourists from the kea and the kea from tourists. It is known for its intelligence and curiosity, which means it will stop at nothing to use its large and sharp beak to aggressively scavenge for food from any source including tourists, who are implored not to feed them.