chatting, life, travel

The Day We Caught the Train: Part 1

Oooh boy, yesterday’s post was HEAV-VEE. Emotionally draining to unload about my depresh (and probs emotionally a bit draining to read) so let’s do something CUTE today. Something fluffy. Something marshmallowy.


I know.

I’ll tell you about the time Annie and I took a train trip.

Well, I’ll try. When we went to Fiji (both times) I took along a paper journal and I wrote down EVERYTHING. Half the time we’d be talking and I’d be literally transcribing as we went, which might not be the best way to actually live in the moment, but it was definitely the best way of ensuring that I had journalistic integrity in quoting whatever Annie said. (Come on. We all know what’s more important in a friendship. I regret nothing.)

However, on this train trip, I was just… existing. I took a lot of photos, and I scribbled down a kind of a scrawled mess a few days later. Naturally, I typed it up a few days later, and of course, I still have it saved in my 2015 folder, because I am anything if not organised. So, look. We’ll do what we can. I just can’t promise I’m going to remember it all.

It was August 2015. I was living with my NZ-parents after coming back from London, and in a massive confused hole about what to do next. More travel? Stay in New Zealand? Move to Canada? Become a postie? (I literally applied for this job. I think the only reason I am not in New Zealand right now with giant tanned bicycle quads is because there were no vacancies in my area). By November I would have done a Buzzfeed quiz that sent me to live in Melbourne, and yes, that is how I made that choice. But in August, I was a bit lost.

Something that never fails to help guide my inner compass is the devilish little sprite we like to call “Annie”. (Annie’s not her real name, of course. That’s the name we call her in these blogs in case one day her Mum googles her.)

So because I was a little adrift, and because we missed each other, and because she wanted to, “Annie” flew down to Christchurch to stay for the weekend. I greeted her at the airport with an A3 sign reading “BNE BABE”. Yes, BNE is the airport code for Brisbane, and yes, this is confusing when I’m holding it at a Christchurch airport meeting someone from Wellington. So why am I doing it? Well, ‘BNE’ also stands for ‘Best News Ever’, an acronym Annie made up out of thin air. Either people know ‘BNE’ as ‘Brisbane’, or they don’t know it as anything. The acronym asks more questions than it answers. But by this point it’s too late for us to find another friendship symbol, and so BNE it is.

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Still own that dress, that coat, that cardigan… writing this three years later is confronting.

I drove my BNE Babe back to Rolleston, where we ate caramel ripple icecream and chatted excitedly about our plans. The next day we were to take a train. Oh, how I love a train! Carriages clacketing along rails, the view speeding along beside you, rummaging for your ticket when the inspector comes past. When I daydream of future travels, I am almost always on a train, reading a book, wearing a very large hat.


I’d been out of London only a few months and was utterly homesick for the place that had become home even though it wasn’t. Nothing in New Zealand was quite right. I couldn’t find proper Greek yogurt. The raspberries were too expensive. Everyone’s accents were funny.

And in London I’d been utterly spoiled with transport. Dashing up concrete stairs, holding your breath to avoid the smell of stale wees, you’d emerge onto the train platform to be lovingly ambushed by INFORMATION. Want to know when the train leaves next Wednesday? The entire schedule is printed inside glass cases. What about just the next one? Glance upwards to find electronic displays rolling live updates, or pause your podcast to hear the loudspeaker announce “the train arriving on platform two has four coaches and will be stopping at Clapham Junction and Waterloo”.

At the time I complained about the crowds, the aforementioned wee smell, the cost; but that’s only because complaining was part of the British experience and I loved having a bit of a moan. At my core I loved how a train thundered past every minute and that you could get a pasty at any hour of the evening upon disembarking. How everyone talked so proper or so common but to me it all sounded so exotic.

In comparison, the Rolleston train station was comprised of a small locked building and a gravel parking lot. Instead of electronic displays or a schedule, there was instead a big white wooden sign with ‘ROLLESTON’ painted on it in red, sporting literal cobwebs in the corner. When the train arrived, well, it was the only train, and so you got on.

Annie and I had booked tickets for the TranzAlpine Express, as it was the highest rated activity on Trip Advisor that didn’t involve physical exertion or reading. Museums, botanic gardens, parks – all of these frown upon daytime drinking and require a certain amount of effort on the part of the participant. We weren’t having any of it.

As was a common theme in our travel relationship, I had attempted to build in an extra 30 minutes of buffer time to get to the station; and Annie had negotiated me down to 15. We spent the extra time on the platform wriggling about to keep warm, taking selfies and debating whether it’d be a good idea to run onto the tracks for a better photo op. I talked her out of the idea, pointing out the $10,000 fine as one deterrent, and also the very high likelihood of actual death. I don’t think either of these things had ever frightened her before or since, but she gave in out of friendship.

The train arrived – the only passenger train that would rumble down these tracks for the entire day – and after giving our names to the woman brandishing a list, we boarded and found our seats. It was 8.30am. We immediately settled in, unpacking bags of potato chips onto the floor and rummaging through bags to find a headphone splitter, delightfully pointing the view and the audio commentary.

Five minutes after the train started moving Annie was bored, and so we made our way through the carriages to the front of the train to visit the open air carriage. When we’d left the house, the grass was covered in frost and we could see our breath, so standing outside while a train whipped through the countryside was foolish, freezing, and over almost immediately.

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Worth it for the windswept selfies, though.

Back inside, we decided that we’d start the holiday off on the right foot with a toast. We joined the queue in the dining car, watching the man behind the counter serve up cappuccinos and hot egg & bacon rolls. When we reached the front of the queue we asked for two small bottles of Lindauer. He looked at us and narrowed his eyes, turning his head thoughtfully to the side, opening and closing his mouth. This was clearly a man working out the best way to phrase a reply. And I could guess what he was about to say. It was 8:49am, after all. Far too early for alcohol.

I was prepared to make an impassioned argument on how pre-9am drinks were fine, given how rarely we see each other. Using this an excuse has never worked. In Munich, an older woman with Trump hair and elaborate jewellery had told us off for being too noisy. She may have used the word “embarrassing”. I took that as an opportunity to feel quite bad about myself for ruining her day. Annie took it as an opportunity to half rise from her seat to say “um, you’re being SO rude, we NEVER get to see each other, she is my BEST friend”, before declaring we wouldn’t let “this old bitch” spoil our fun. I mean, yes, we were in cleavage-baring traditional dress in a locals beer garden, yes, we’d been drinking for most of the day, and yes, we’d been screeching about dildos for the past half hour. But we NEVER get to see each other.

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Annie is many things. ‘Quiet’ is not one of those things.

Despite the historical lack of success, I was ready to argue with him, until he said “don’t get those little ones, you’re wasting your money. Get a big bottle of the Oyster Bay, much nicer”.

Annie had replied “SOLD” before he’d even finished the sentence, and soon we were back at our seats sipping cold bubbles out of plastic cups.

Soon the bottle was gone. Scenery whipped by. We visited Arthur’s Pass, and if you’d asked me before writing this if I’d ever been to Arthur’s Pass, I would have said no. But there we are, smiling, in a photograph.

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Who would have thunk it?!

We kept our plastic cups and split a bottle of beer we’d snuck onto the train. Then we had another bottle, and then more, until somehow we’d finished six bottles, I’d eaten most of a bag of caramel popcorn, and Annie was standing on a table squealing that she could see a lake.

It was 11am.

We rolled off onto the platform in Greymouth, and an hour later we’d checked in to the hotel and exhausted the tourism possibilities of the town. We looked at the sea wall, a bridge, and gone shopping – leaving with a wig, novelty drinking glasses, and a ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ pin.

“Should we try to get arrested?” Annie asked as we walked past the police station, “maybe steal a van?”

We decided to be responsible and save those activities for later, as a last resort, and arrived at a nearby brewery to book on to the next tour. The brunette behind the bar shook her head at us, saying “it’s closed, mate. They’re welding back there. You here tomorrow?”

Our afternoon plans thrown into disarray, we figured we’d have a beer to discuss our next plan. Choosing just one was too hard, so we ordered a tasting tray each. In every other establishment I’d been to, a tasting tray offered small flared glasses, the kind that if someone said “do you think you can drink all of that in one go?” you’d say “no problem!”. This brewery filled their tasting trays with half pints, starting with cider and working their way up to stout. The trays were heavy enough that you needed both hands to carry them.

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Palpable excitement.

Annie and I sat down with our trays and set to work planning the rest of the day.


Two hours later, Annie was in the brewery carpark. We’d moved on from tasting trays to proper pints, and with proper pints comes fries, and with fries come lethargy about leaving the pub. At some point we’d seen someone park a car with the numberplate ‘DICKZ’, so Annie was crouched on the gravel, her tongue extended for a photo, trying to make it look like she was licking it without actually making contact.

Well, I’d like to hope that’s what was happening. It’s been three years since this happened. It’s possible she really was just tonguing it.

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Readers, what do YOU think?

In my memory we were at that brewery for a few casual hours having one or two casual drinks. I remember an old school friend dropping by, I remember a man trying to get us to go for a ride in his Mustang. It doesn’t seem like it was that long. But when I look at the timestamps on the photos, we were there nearly six hours. There are endless Snapchat videos I saved for posterity. A video where Annie screams “wake up you fucker!” down the lens, a video where I inexplicably sing the Men in Black theme, a video where Annie flails around like she’s being electrocuted.

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We also drank a lot of beer through those glasses.

At some point we decided that the schedule be damned, we would simply hold our OWN tour of the brewing company. The welders had left, or maybe had never been there at all, so we made a big show of going to the ladies room and then sneaking off to the side, stealthily leaping over the gate into the brewing section.

This is a bad idea. I do not recommend it. The video footage (oh, another bad idea – filming yourself flagrantly breaking rules) shows us flashing the camera and yell-whispering “we’re cheating the system! Free tour!”. We scuttle back and forth across the floor like little crabs, delighting in breaking the rules. In the background there are big vats with “CAUSTIC” written on them. In one photo I hug one of these vats.

Hours before, Annie had pretended to lick the word ‘DICKZ’ on a stranger’s car. We were in the dark surrounded by volatile chemicals and tools. It’s truly a modern miracle we didn’t die back there.

Before we left the brewery that night we took ourselves on one more “free tour”, clambering over the wall again, dashing across the concrete floor, narrowing avoiding death with a complete lack of awareness or reverence for our good fortune. It was only after vaulting back over the wall that we found a small, unlocked gate; allowing unfettered access, no clambering required.

Seriously. Modern miracle we’ve made it this far.


Come back tomorrow for Part 2!

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