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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)

Railways in the Mountains — Exploring In The Southern Alps

page 38

Railways in the Mountains
Exploring In The Southern Alps.

The Christchurch-Greymouth Express on the Kowai Bridge, near Springfield.

The Christchurch-Greymouth Express on the Kowai Bridge, near Springfield.

The Midland railway line, which connects the provinces of Canterbury and Westland, provides cheap and convenient transport to the ranges and has given a tremendous impetus to the growth of the sport of mountain climbing in the South Island. The Canterbury Mountaineering Club members who have been able to make Arthur's Pass their training ground for the sterner work in the Rakaia, Rangitata, Godley and Hermitage regions, owe much to the trains which run on this line and to the co-operation of the Railways Department.

The alpine views obtainable during a journey in the train from Christchurch to Greymouth are enough to stir the enthusiasm of any lover of the mountains. At Springfield the gaunt outlines of the Torlesse Range give promise that the plains have ended in the foothills. From Cass, the rugged peaks of Mts. Bowers and Wilson, of the Polar Range, remind the traveller of Antarctic endeavour. Nearer at hand the Dome dominates bush and gorge with its rocky escarpments. As the train roars across the Waimakariri bridge a sight of the topmost crests of Mts. Murchison and Greenlaw is obtained.

From near the Bealey Quarry siding, Mts. Harper and Davie are silhouetted in the wild Waimakariri horizon. From the Bealey valley itself there stands aloof the peak of Mt. Oates of the Mingha headwaters, and the upthrust battlements of Mt. Williams are seen to guard the lower gorge of the Edwards stream. At Otira the beautiful Westland bush sheathes the lower slopes of snowy Mt. Philistine, and further down the Otira valley, Mt. Alexander holds pride of place across the Teramakau River. Beyond Lake Brunner the train leaves the jumbled area of the Alps to speed towards the sea.

Members of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club have made many new routes and some first ascents, with the aid of railway transport, and Railwaymen themselves—Messrs. A. C. Snowden, W. D. Frazer, A. S. Ahnfeldt and W. Graham—have done much climbing in the Arthur's Pass region. Officials of the New Zealand Railways have also assisted mountaineering by stopping trains at the Bealey Quarry siding, for which many have been grateful; in particular, climbers going to and from objectives in the Waimakariri, Mingha and Edwards valleys. Ascents of the well known Mts. Rolleston, Phipps, Temple, Barron, and Philistine have been made between West Coast excursion trains (5 a.m. to 8 p.m.), while on one day trips (11.30 to 4.30 p.m.) Mts. Avalanche, O'Malley, Aicken, Cassidy and Blimit have fallen “between trains” to fit parties.

It is interesting to speculate on the lines of railway route other than the existing Arthur's Pass trail.
Mt. Evans, from the Whitcombe Valley.

Mt. Evans, from the Whitcombe Valley.

It is well known that Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson made a survey of the Hurunui and Teramakau valleys, linked by the Harper Pass, and in 1865 a railway reserve was made in the Lake Sumner area. Had the railway gone through Harper's Pass, Mt. Longfellow would doubtless have been a popular weekend climb. The Royal Commission of 1883, however, decided in favour of Arthur's Pass as a railway route from the East Coast to the West.

It is not so well known that in 1880 a route was proposed that would entail a traverse of the Waimakariri and Taipo valleys with a tunnel through Campbell Pass. Reference to the recent handbook on Arthur's Pass history by Mr. R. S. Odell will make available this, and many other historical details. If the Taipo railway scheme had eventuated Mts. Campbell, Harper, Carrington and Armstrong would have become favourite ascents for week-end excursions

The wide Wilberfore valley leading to Browning's Pass seems peculiarly suitable for a railway gradient, but the gorge problems in the Westland Arahura valley “over the hill” are obvious to trampers doing the Three Pass trip from the Bealey to Hokitika. page 39
Arthur's Pass as seen from the slopes of Avalanche Peak.

Arthur's Pass as seen from the slopes of Avalanche Peak.

A tunnel under Browning's Pass would have made practicable to excursionists alighting on the Cronin flat, a visit to, the fine mountain lake on the summit of the Pass. This stretch of water, thirty-eight acres in extent, gives delightful reflections of the glaciated Mt. Axis. When a stormy nor’ west sunrise whips the Daughter of Dawn across the icy flecked waves, the waters are not always tranquil.

The Rakaia River, giving access to the Whitcombe Pass, is fed by two great valley glaciers. The Whitcombe River in Westland cleaves its bouldered way through many gorges. A railroad in this terrain of high alps and sombre jungle would have given spectacular glimpses of grand scenery, but the price would have wrecked a hundred Midland Railway Companies and crippled the resources of a parent Government. However, the Midland Railway line opens up the magnificent Arthur's Pass-Otira training ground—ever increasing in popularity amongst mountaineers and railway excursionists.

Yet another London doctor has been telling the world that the broken mouthpiece of a pipe with its jagged edge may cause cancer. Well, if that's true—and it's likely enough—there must be a lot of smokers who are running a silly risk, because pipes with broken mouthpieces are as common as wet days. But smokers are notoriously careless. Look how many of them will smoke tobacco of such inferior quality that it may—and often does—affect nerves, heart or throat the smoker never suspecting the cause of the trouble until it is diagnosed by his doctor. Why not be on the safe side and smoke “toasted”? Prevention is better than cure. You can't possibly get better tobacco—or so good. For flavour and bouquet it challenges the world, and is not only the choicest but the least harmful because its nicotine is largely eliminated by toasting. The only genuine toasted brands, Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Cavendish, Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold are everywhere on sale. Don't accept substitutes.*

Above me are the Alps,
The palaces of Nature, whose vast walls
Have pinnacled in clouds their snowy scalps,
And thron'd Eternity in icy halls
Of cold sublimity, where forms and falls
The avalanche—the thunderbolt of snow!
All that expands the spirit, yet appals,
Gather round these summits, as to show
How Earth may pierce to Heaven, yet leave vain man below.

Mt. Barron, Otira. (A tonnel monument is erected on the summit of this peak.)

Mt. Barron, Otira. (A tonnel monument is erected on the summit of this peak.)

page 40