Coastal Pacific to Kaikoura

Into Picton to drop off the car at Pegasus. Stop en route to get a shot of huge numbers of cows on very green grass beneath a very steep hill. An archetypal image of New Zealand, along with the sight of a very large number of cows being walked along tracks beside the roads. Cow walking appears to be the laid back kiwi version of bull running.
At Pegasus they are spending their day painting their office.
The car has done well and survived a last minute suicide attack by a local hotshot driving at speed round a blind bend and nearly meeting us on our side of the road.
We drop the bags in the railway station next door, it’s the one with large posters outside advertising air travel.
The lady at the desk is most obliging in sorting our luggage and insists I take a coat with me because of the ‘chilly wind’. Who said kiwis were tough?
Last coffee and lunch on the Picton seafront park. Paradise ducks with small chicks in a puddle get all the tourists’ cameras busy. Gulls violate local begging ordnances.
The Interislander, our old travelling companion, pulls into the harbour. Ignored from our viewpoint by a slightly manic looking Donald Duck.

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Kids from the ferry are irresistibly drawn to the big pirate ship on the playground. Ropes, tyres, logs, planks to swing on, jump off, climb over, be young on.
Time to pick up our boarding passes applied for twelve thousand miles away.
The train has very big windows. This makes the whole carriage light and airy, the key phrase in this country. The seats give you plenty of space. It is cool inside. This should be pleasant
We move off at a leisurely New Zealand sort of a pace. Soon we are up to a gentle trot. The train does not say ‘over-the-points, over-the-points’ like an English train. It says ‘no-worries-mate, no-worries-mate’ without a hint of agitation or hurry.
The hills of the Marlborough Sounds drop away and it is rather overcast as we pass through the now familiar vineyards of Blenheim. Then past vaster vineyards with the wide sea far beyond. Now hills close in. These are almost ugly, like reclaimed industrial spoil.
To Grasmere. But this is an enormous salt plant. Huge artificial lagoons, some pink with algae lie waiting for the sun to do the honours and remove the water. A disappointing landscape. You don’t see this on the brochures.
The landscape becomes more lowering still. Now with the odd rocky crag and the eagley birds you see all over the place and which we haven’t identified yet.
I go for ice creams. The carriages are very modern and spacious. The doors open automatically, at a leisurely pace, of course. The decor is chic. The staff friendly and courteous.
The ice cream has the brand name Kapiti and the tub has a picture of the island on it. It is very chocolately. Recommended.

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But now the hills have changed again. They’re much more rugged, more rocky, more, well more like real hills. And beyond them yer snow capped peaks! Just as well, I was on the point of demanding a refund. Tantalising glimpses of the heights of the Kaikoura-Seward range. We stop.
I make my way forward to the observation carriage. This is open, though it has a roof and very stout handrails on the side. We’ve already been warned to take care as ‘the trees are very near the line. Don’t lean out.’
We have stopped in a sea of yellow lupin-like flowers with a very powerful, sweet smell. I see that we have stopped by what appears to be a large dog kennel. But it has an unpronounceable name. It’s a station! There are no people at all. Perhaps a bunch of the yellow flowers are boarding the train to seek fresh fields and pastures new.
We’re off again. The train picks up speed. Between lines of pine trees the snowy mountains can be seen. There are big patches of a beautiful blue sky above them. Now the view on the other side shows us huge sweeps of ocean. Crashing waves. Rocks. Sweeping bays. Long promontories appear on the horizon.

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This is more like it. Only one thing gets in the way of our enjoyment. I and a number of others in the carriage are sneezing and rubbing our eyes like mad. A chemical attack by the local flora. We suspect the yellow flowers. Through streaming eyes I try to absorb the magnificent landscape as it tears past.
Then, quite suddenly we pull into a dead typical strip of standard NZ issue one street township. Low buildings loads of brash signs, ugly power lines a la USA. But this time with an alpine backdrop.
We’ve arrived at Kaikoura.

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