As we left Franz Josef we were aware that our time in New Zealand was drawing to a close, but there were still many sights and experiences waiting for us.


Labyrinth We stopped in a small coastal town. These towns have been hit hard in recent decades by the end of farm subsidies. The land is marginal and far from markets and the subsidies for fertilizer and transportation were vital for keeping the farms afloat. Many were abandoned.

There have been signs of recovery, however, from the rise in tourism and different types of crops. This particular town has celebrated the new spirit of optimism with this labyrinth created by the local school children. Many of the tiles were handmade and signed.

The town's claim to historical fame dates back to the first solo flight from Australia to New Zealand!


New Zealand Greenstone

Our next destination was Hokitika, (this site may not load in Internet Explorer, but all other major browers tested OK.) a major center for processing greenstone. This mineral, a type of jade, was highly prized by the Maori for its hardness, and it was used to make tools and weapons. By law all greenstone found today in New Zealand belongs to the Maori.

At this processing plant we saw the ways the material is worked and fashioned into modern goods, typically jewelry. Our speaker deomonstrates the various common color combinations.

The value of an individual stone does not come from the color, like typical jade, but from the hardness and size.


Hokitika Driftwood Festival

Hokitika hosts an annual driftwood sculpture festival. Folks make all kinds of whimsical designs from things found on the beach. I wish I had space to include more of them.

The "armchair" is made of painted concrete and is a memorial dedicated to a couple who were instrumental in establishing an artistic presence in Hokitika. I'm sure there is a story behind it.


Driftwood

This enormous driftwood stump is a sculpture in itself. The cut end enabled me to see and appreciate the absence of growth rings in this congenial climate where a tree can grow all year round.


New Zealand One-lane Bridge

The vast majority of bridges in Westland were one lane to minimize construction cost. This one is unique in that the train tracks also run along the roadway. The presence of a train and traffic going both ways can be pretty exciting, but we seldom encountered any traffic at all at a bridge. This one is an exception.

The bridges are a particular nemesis for tourists who rent cars -- especially if they aren't familiar with driving on the left side of the road and don't know how to interpret the yield signs. There was a great uproar in the press while we were there about "killer tourists" and their lack of driving skills.


Tranzalpine Express

The plan was for us to have lunch on our own in Greymouth and then catch the train to Christchurch. Chas and Taf drove the bus across the mountains and planned to meet us at the station.

Unfortunately there were signal problems along the track and the train was late. VERY late. It finally showed up to great cheers.


Lake Brunner Yacht Club

One of the unusual sights along the mountainous railway crossing was the Lake Brunner Yacht Club.

If you weren't a member you had to pay $10 to launch your boat here.


Arthur's Pass

The train made several stops, but the longest was at Arthur's Pass, the access point for many of the alpine tracks.

The village was constructed to house workers for the Otira tunnel. At the time the tunnel was built in the early 20th century it was one of the longest railway tunnels in the world.

Many of the workers' houses have been turned into vacation rentals.

The two figures of found materials made a clever welcoming party.


Jim and Silly Monkey on the Train

Silly Sock Monkey had become a fixture on the trip. One of our travelers used this little guy to enliven the picture she texted to her young grandson every evening. After a while he was adopted by many of us. Jim is showing him off at Arthur's Pass.

Other similar stuffed creatures we saw on our travels included a kiwi, a dog and a tiger. At least there weren't any garden gnomes -- as far as I know.


Landslide

As we cross the spine of the country, more and more mountains have peaks above the tree line. The river behind the trees is the Waimakariri. Later on it entered a dramatic gorges.

The huge landslide on the far bank of the river shows the erosion of these mountains. Without erosion these mountains would be MUCH higher than they are. Even so they are believed to be higher than they were when Abel Tasman first saw them.


Braided River

The river wanders over a wide bed.

The train had an open observation car where passengers could hang out for picture taking. I made occasional treks there when it looked like we were approaching some particularly interesting landscapes.

There appeared to be two levels of service on the train. Our car had reserved seats with tables and included tea. Some other cars just had regular train seats. There was also a club car serving refreshments.


Grasslands

New Zealand didn't have many native grasses prior to European settlement and the native ones were not sufficiently nutritious for European stock. Settlers brought in foreign grasses to plant on the land they cleared for their new farms. Some of the grasses have become invasive.

Chas told us that recently farmers have been bringing in fescue, which shows to me that they haven't yet learned about the dangers of introducing foreign plants. I warned him that it won't be long before they will have fescue eradication programs ... and they won't work.


Canterbury Plains

We knew we were close to the end of our journey when we arrived at the Canterbury Plains. This is about the only flat region of New Zealand and it is certainly flat! And dry due to the prevailing drought.

Our train journey finally came to an end and we were happy to see Chas, Taf and the bus waiting for us. Chas had worried that the train would get in before they had time to get over the mountain and drop off our luggage at the hotel. It wasn't a problem! We finally got supper about 9pm.


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