An early start today. After breakfast we'll make our way to the trainstation for our first leg with the Tranz Alpine Express (through Arthur's Pass), from Christchuch to Cass. We'll be hosted by Oliver and Vicki Newbegin and their team at the fabulous Grasmere Lodge. This magnificant high country retreat is set amidst dramatic mountain peaks, lakes, rivers and pastures. Cattle, deer and fine-wool Merino sheep are still farmed on the property and guests are welcome to take part in seasonal farming activities. We'll be taken on a 4WD tour of the station and be able to enjoy the hospitality and excellent cuisine of this award winning property (Small Luxury Hotels of the World - Luxury Lodge Association of New Zealand - Andrew Harper's Hideway of the Year winner).
We didnít just sleep, we hibernated! But, at 06:30 am the bleeping noise of our little digitel travel clock (which we would come to love Ö NOT!) announced the new day, and we didnít have a minute to waiste. We had a 15í breakfast at the hotel (nice buffet spread!), checked out at 07:30 am and jumped in the taxi that was already waiting to take us the train station. The famous ëTranz Alpine Expressí train, was ready and waiting to take us on one of the worlds most beautiful train-journeys, through Arthurís Pass to Greymouth on the West Coast. We would only be going as far as Cass today, and very much looked forward to our stay at the much revered Grasmere Lodge. We boarded the Tranz Alpine and noticed it was packed! Obviously a very popular choice.
The train itself has large, tainted windows, to give you the best possible view of the surrounding landscapes. One of the compartments has a counter where you can get snacks, drinks and souvenirs, and one wagon is half open (no windows/seats) so you can get ëstainlessí pictures and video footage. Be carefull though! The passage between the wagons is dangerous (always accompany your kids!) and the half open wagon is very windy, so watch your sunnies and headgear. But the views Ö wow! Icy blue Alpine rivers, vast and varied mountain landscapes, viaducts, waterfalls... A tip: Try to book your seat on the right hand side if you will be travelling in the direction of Greymouth, or on the left hand side if you will be travelling towards Christchurch. Just so you get most of the views.
You get commentary during the journey. Which was quite funny on our trip. The World Cup Rugby was in full swing in Australia, and New Zealandsí infamous All Blacks team had made it to the semi-finals and were set to go against... the Aussies. Oh boy... Australians and New Zealanders have this ëlove/hateí relationship (not unlike the Belgians and the Dutch ;-), so during the commentary we were treated to ëGo Blacksí chants and anti-Aussie jokes. But,... of course there were Australians on board, and suddenly the regular commentary was interrupted by an Aussie gent who decided he had had enough and had a good go at the kiwiís. What a laugh!
When we arrived at Cass around 10:15 am (not a scheduled stop for the Tranz Alpine) we were welcomed by Tom Butler, the manager of the Grasmere Lodge. The Grasmere is nestled in a beautiful valley, surrounded by snow capped mountains and lakes. Absolutely breathtaking scenery! The main house (homestead) dates from the 1850's. Here you can enjoy a relaxed read in the library (check out the books by David McLeod, a former proprietar), pre-dinner drinks at the bar and lounge area, and the exquisite 5-course gourmet dinner. This 5+ star luxurious high-country retreat really has it all. Magnificant mountain vistas, a plentitude of activities from tramping to laziing by the pool, exquisitely furbished ëall mod-coní accommodation, gourmet food and wine and last but certainly not least, New Zealandís greatest treasure: kiwi hospitality! The current owners Oli and Vicki Newbegin ensure you get an unparalelled New Zealand experience. Naturally, such indulgance has it's price, but it's definitely worth every cent. Check out their site for more detailed info.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and Lynda took us for a quick tour of the surrounding buildings. We passed the little shop (selling high quality merino goods and local produce), the shearer quarters, met the 2 golden retrievers that roam the grounds, as well as the orphaned pet lambs (Billy and Little Bruce), and of course Oli's Porschehaus.
We decided to go tramping and Lynda and Beth arranged a packed lunch for us. We wanted to combine the Romulus hill track and the Deer Fence track, but settled on the latter. The track took us up along the deer fence, towards the nearby mountains and then running parallel with the property, with excellent views of the Lodge and Lake Grasmere. We then followed the track back down through the deer and cattle paddocks.
When we got back, Tom took us on a 4WD tour of the property, telling us a bit more about itís history the farming activities and the local wildlife. Drove us around to the three lakes: Pearson, Sarah and Grasmere lake.
.We had some spare time before dinner, so we decided to watch a movie, ëFinding Nemoí (we bought it in Singapore) in the communal lounge of our Mountain View Junior Suite.
During the pre-dinner drinks we met the current owners Oliver and Vicki... and Beryl and Robyn, the 2 punting ladies from yesterday. The dinner required formal dress, but the atmosphere is very relaxed and the company was very enjoyable. The 4-course dinner included a local speciality: "venisson". We made our way to our Mountain cabin and had another one of those "hibernation near coma" sleeps.
Jean-Jacques Halans ©2003