I have just Googled “synonyms for colour green”. If you are wondering why, let me explain that I am currently in New Zealand and, if you know this amazing island (either personally or by reputation), you will understand. Before I came here, I was told that New Zealand is similar to England. In some respects it is; the rolling hills of the East Coast are like our green and pleasant land – on speed.
We began in Christchurch and took the Transalpine Railway across the South Island to the West Coast. The first part of the journey took us across the vast Canterbury plain, with its lush pastureland which is a green somewhere between emerald and eau de nil. As we travelled further inland, signs of human habitation become scarcer. Pasture gives way to alpine landscape as the train heads westwards and leaves the bright chlorophyll-haze of the grasslands. Still here, green dominates nature’s palette. All but the highest, snow-capped mountains are covered in shiny, fat-leaved verdant plants and trees of a slightly darker hue. On the West Coast the landscape changes again and we are in ambient rainforest, where rainwater drips from leaf to leaf. Big tree ferns reach to the sky, turning every view into a scene from Jurassic Park.
The Transalpine Railway travels from Christchurch on the East Coast and ends at Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island. Greymouth is aptly named. It lies at the mouth of the river, and on a dull, rainy day is…grey. Once a thriving fishing port and mining town, both industries fell victim to tragedy. Rough seas and an inhospitable harbour claimed too many fishing boats and the remainder headed for less deadly ports further along the coast, and in 2010 a disastrous explosion led to loss of life and the end of mining in the town.
Over the past seven years the life has leached out of the town, with businesses closing and people moving away. It is a sad, grey shadow of its former self.
Then we did one of those “bucket list” activities and took a heli-ride over the Franz Joseph glacier. I could barely contain my delight when we got allocated the front seats! And it was a fantastic experience. As we swept round and caught our first glimpse of the glacier, I was surprised that it’s not the sheet of ice that I was somehow expecting. It’s a massive (but very slow) cascade of crumbly white lumps with a distinct blue tint and it moves at a rate of four metres a day. The helicopter lands at the top of the glacier, for a unique photo-op. Advance information had told us that selfie sticks weren’t allowed and when I saw the very confined space in the helicopter, and the steep slopes at the top of the glacier, I understood why!
The water from the ice and snow makes its way down via waterfalls to rivers and thence to the sea. That blue tint that we saw in the glacier emerges in the magical azure of the Blue Pools.