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.
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.)
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.
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).
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,
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.
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.
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.
July 8, 2003