I was woken up by the sound of running water a couple of hours before I had to get up … yes, it was raining again! However, by the time I had to undertake the 5 minute walk from my accommodation in Nelson to the bus stop, the rain had basically stopped, although it did come down again shortly after I got there. There was a moment of near panic when I looked at the ticket, and realised that it stated the departure point was in a different street, but some friendly locals said, yes, that’s true but after departing from the other bus station, it does a pick up at the information centre (consistently with the notice posted in the closed centre’s door), as indeed was the case.
I thought I’d only booked a regional bus trip from Nelson to Greymouth, but I got far more than this: a comfortable bus, a conductor who pointed out some of the points of interest, over the Hope Sassle followed (after a short stop at Murchison) by a spectacular trip down the Buller River gorges. I didn’t even know that these existed, but the journey involved traversing the “upper” and “lower” gorges – both great.
The route then took us from Westport to Greymouth along the West Coast Highway. The views are right up there with the Great Ocean Road and Big Sur. Included was a 20 minute “comfort stop” at Punakaiki, just enough time for a very quick walk along the cliff top walk.
Arrival at Greymouth was spot on time, and the transfer to the TranzAlpine train was almost seamless. Yes, you do have to check-in, but it was hassle-free: the Intercity bus gets the parking spot closest to the railway check-in (it does a big pick-up of people going further south, to the Fox Glacier), and so the effort involved with baggage is minimal.
I’ve previously done the Springfield to Arthur’s Pass section of the TranzApine, which it is true to say includes a couple of the most impressive sections, following the Waimakariri River down the valley to the Canterbury Plains. However, I’d forgotten how good that part was. On top of that, the part I hadn’t already traversed, namely the ascent out of Greymouth up the river valleys and past Lake Brunner, through a couple of old mining/railway towns (including Otira) then through the 8 ½ km tunnel just before Arthur’s Pass was also really good.
At Christchurch I opted for the shuttle and was soon checked in at the Ibis. New Zealand, like the US, seems to do shuttles quite well. The location of the hotel was very central, but I found out on my pre-dinner walk that that’s not all it seems in still-recovering-from the earthquake (5 years on!) Christchurch.
(Updated to include images)