Day Two in Aotearoa: Auckland-to-Wellington Overlander

After spending a lovely day in Auckland and Waiheke Island, I needed to get from Auckland - which is in the north of the North Island - to Wellington - on the southern tip of the North Island. Although Aotearoa New Zealand may look small on maps, the distances take a while to travel. Partly, I'm told, this is because there aren't many high-speed highways. If you think rail travel might be faster, well, perhaps it is, and perhaps it isn't, but when the train was traveling alongside a road for some time, I kept seeing cars passing us.

Photo of fields and mountain
Scenes seen from the train
Photo of river
A river, which may be the Waikato, or may not be
Photo of green hills
As you may be able to tell, this is near the area where the Hobbiton parts of the Lord of the Rings were shot
Photo of green hills
More Hobbiton-like scenery

The train ride from Auckland to Wellington aboard the Overlander is scheduled for 11 hours, leaving at 8:30 am and arriving at 7:30 pm. This seemed daunting, but equally daunting, after a good 24 hours' worth of travel two days earlier, was the thought of getting on the plane again. And driving was out of the question - it's going to take me a while to even get used to left-side-of-the-sidewalk (or "walkway" as sidewalks are called here) traffic, let alone left-side-of-the-street driving. (Yes, sidewalk traffic anywhere mirrors the driving habits - most noticeable when there are a lot of people out walking. I kept confusing people yesterday by swerving to the right. Imagine the chaos I'd have created in a car.)

Photo of green hills and houses
Countryside, with slight reflections from the train window
Photo of forest and hills
This one here reminds me of nineteenth-century landscape paintings.

So, the eleven hours of train riding seemed doable, especially because you have a great deal more freedom of movement on a train than you do in almost any other mode of transport. You can get up, walk around, run down the aisles until the conductor raises his eyebrows at you - it's your choice.

Photo of green hills and sheep
Scattered sheep, one of New Zealand's hallmarks
Photo of river and fields
Picturesque landscapes - also a hallmark
Photo of hills and river
More landscape, more sheep, more reflections off the window

H-FOMP (see previous post) had helpfully gotten me reservations on the train, which was good as the train turned out to be almost full that morning. The reason? Snowstorms had closed down a number of roads the day before, and so many people had opted for the train instead. The roads opened again in the early afternoon that day, and we kept passing by rows of cars traveling in long caravan-like queues down newly opened roads. I did not, however, see much snow, except near National Park (below).

Photo of train heading into tunnel
The train going into a tunnel - as seen from the train, of course. This is part of the Raurimu Railway Spiral.
Photo of National Park sign
National Park, one of the few stops where we were allowed to get off the train. The spiral in question is a much-touted engineering feat allowing the train to get up a steep mountain slope.
Photo of National Park - snow and mountains
More of the National Park

Initially, I hadn't been assigned a window seat. As a matter of fact I didn't even have a ticket; a scrap of paper with the confirmation number on it served as a ticket, and the train manager wrote my seat number down on that as well. This was fine, as it worked for everyone I showed it to, and once on board, no one was checking tickets anymore. Early on there were some free seats, but we were told that the train would be filling up in Hamilton and we'd have to sit in our assigned seats. So I asked the conductor whether it was definite that there were no more window seats, because I'd really hoped to be able to sit by a window. He looked at me as if judging whether I was worthy of a window seat, and apparently I passed, because the next thing I knew he was picking up my bags and saying, "Just follow me, dear."

Photo of fields
More lovely landscapes
Photo of cows in field
Cattle foraging in the leftover snow
Photo of snowy landscape
A bit more of the snow as we move further south (which, counterintuitively to those of us from the Northern Hemisphere, is, of course, colder).

Now in my very own window seat, I settled in and watched the landscape rush - or more often meander - by. The train wasn't moving terribly fast, which isn't good as far as travel time goes, but which is quite good for taking pictures. The only problem with taking pictures was the reflection off the window; the pictures here are the best of the lot, though you can still see the reflections in a number of them.

Photo of snowy hills
And ever more snow as we travel southward.
Photo of snowcovered fields
Snowy landscape on the central plateau
Photo of snowcovered hills
Quite a contrast from the 95-degree Texas heat I left behind!
Photo of snowcovered hills (again!)
More snow!

The train is geared at least in part toward tourists - I would imagine most business travelers fly, as a plane ticket is only slightly more expensive and gets you there significantly faster - and the announcer pointed out important sights and particularly scenic views as we passed them. Occasionally the person from the train cafe would come by and ask if we wanted anything, which I for the most part did not, as I'd stocked up in the supermarket the night before.

Photo of inside of train The view inside the train - not nearly as splendid, but I spent 12 hours here, so I thought I'd record it...
Photo of mountain gorge and my reflection
See what I mean about reflections? I call this one "Self Portrait with Mountain River Gorge."

In the end, the eleven-hour trip became a twelve-hour trip, as our numerous stops and starts (for passing trains, for crew changes, or for no discernible reason) had delayed us, but what did I care? After eleven hours on the train, another hour isn't much (and the toilets were clean, so unlike the 14-hour train ride from Arequipa to Puno in Peru, I wasn't in any kind of extreme discomfort), and as long as I was in Wellington by the next morning, it was all good. And so, at 8:30 at night, I arrived into Wellington, where a shuttle from the hostel met me at the train station.

Next: Wellington, of course!

July 8, 2003

All text and images © 2003 NoAura Productions. All rights reserved.

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