The Steam Dreams Rail Co is running a 3 week tour of New Zealand in Autumn 2021. See http://www.steamdreams.co.uk for more info.
This blog reveals how the research trip scoping out the tour panned out.
Having arrived in Christchurch early evening, we made straight for the restaurant next door to our motel. Reminiscent of the grid-style roads in the US, the area wasn’t exactly picturesque, and the restaurants along the strip didn’t hold much promise… but we were mistaken! Yet again, the Kiwi cuisine excelled itself and we had a fabulous meal (while Marcus sent emails to various rail contacts we’d be meeting in the coming days).
Day 7 – Marcus was keen to revisit a place he’d loved the last time he came to New Zealand. After the miles we’d already covered and the hours spent cooped up in the Nissan, Marianne and Ben were keen not to get back in the car. So, Marcus and I headed off for another 3 hours behind the wheel, and once I saw the stunning views, I was glad I had.
Akaroa is a town on the Banks Peninsula, southeast of Christchurch. Once out of the city, the roads are windy and beautiful, but well made and pleasantly occupied – neither deserted nor busy. After about an hour, we rounded a bend and there before us was the incredible view, down into the bay. And then another and another. Superlatives and hyperbole just don’t do this place justice.
Another half an hour or so and we were down the other side of the mountain and in the seaside town of Akaroa. Reminiscent of the Lake District, except somehow grander.
Guess what… we stopped for lunch. Yet another delicious surprise!
We returned to Christchurch going a different route and saw even more beautiful views and far-reaching vistas. We had our hearts in our mouths when Marcus revealed we were low on fuel. We hadn’t seen anyone or anything very much for some time – the return route we’d taken was picturesque but much more remote. Hearts beating fast, we were winding down the mountain side in neutral trying to conserve every last drop, planning what we’d do if we ground to a halt… and then we came upon an un-manned petrol station that saved the day – but rather spoiled the drama!
Once back in Christchurch, we went to the city to view the hotels and meet with a contact from Diesel Traction Group who’d kindly agreed to meet us on a Sunday. He is also central to the re-certification of heritage rolling stock in NZ, so a great person to know. We had a useful and interesting time with him – and he was supportive of our tour too, so we left feeling buoyed yet again by the Kiwi reception for this mad-Englishman’s vision.
I then went for a wander on my own to see some of the sights of Christchurch, including the part ruined Cathedral (heart-breaking), the transitional Cathedral (heartening), the many sculptures that dot the city (inspiring), the earthquake memorial (185 empty white chairs – simply moving) and the glorious Botanic Gardens and North Hagley Park (buoying).
Another delicious meal, again at an unpromising location (this time a restaurant on a retail park). And another early night.
Off to Dunedin the next day, with stops on the way to view restaurants and hotels.