Julie Anne Genter

Cycling to Southland – Day 1 (the easy part)

by Julie Anne Genter

When I initially conceived of this journey to Southland by bike, I hoped to cycle down the west coast from Picton. But a quick look at the distance (over 1000km) and the calendar made it clear it would be impossible to get to the festival by the 21st.

So I decided to take the train from Picton to Christchurch, a journey that can be arranged in conjunction with the Interislander ferry from Wellington. And to my pleasant surprise, the two modes are quite well integrated. It’s only a 4minute walk off the ferry to the train station, and you can arrange to have your luggage transferred for you upon check-in the ferry terminal.

Bicycle facilities on the ferry are sorely lacking, and I am hard pressed to understand why. You pay extra to bring a bike, and there is plenty of room for a nice rack in a clean and well lit area, which would hardly cost much. I was told to walk to the end of the car storage area, with no instruction how or where I should secure my bike. I saw another bike already tethered to some sort of railing ensconcing barrels of what appeared to be motor oil. The ground was wet and oily, and there were a few random ropes that I used to tie my bike to a filthy railing.

My beautiful bicycle was treated better on the train, which has quite new and very comfortable carriages. The luggage operator expertly secured my bike with a small, new bungee cord to one of the luggage racks. But there isn’t much room for growth in bike/train tourism as they would not easily be able to accommodate more than a few at one time.

The Picton-Christchurch rail service is lovely and efficient, with some of the most stunning views of the Kaikoura coast. I highly recommend taking this train. At about 5 hours, it competes well with driving for time, and is far more comfortable than a car, as you can read, move around, and enjoy the gorgeous scenery.

The only problem with the alternative journey from Wellington to Christchurch is it’s comparable in price to flying, if not more expensive, even though it takes far longer. How could that be? Surely an airplane is more expensive to buy and operate than a small train, and one would expect the ferry to be more cost effective for passengers only.

I suspect the answer lies in the relatively low demand for rail, which may have roots in unintentional subsidies to other modes, and the asset stripping that occurred when the rail line was privatised. I’m also curious about subsidies or initial state investment that enabled airports to get up and running, though that merits more research in the NZ context.

If externalities such as climate pollution are included, the ferry and train could become more attractive, despite the longer journey. As demand for these slower but lower carbon modes increased, there would be more opportunities for services (making it more convenient), fixed costs could be distributed over a larger pool of consumers, we would see potentially more competition with the ferries, and consequently relative prices may fall, or at least have more variation as airline tickets do.

What do you think?

Arriving in Christchuch I was a short ride from Riccarton, where I am staying — a neighbouhood well endowed with bike shops, outdoor gear outlets, and cheap tasty Vietnamese food. Everything a girl could dream of, except the surplus of big empty car parks behind the shops of course.

All in all, it was a great day and journey. I have some photos to illustrate the post, but I may have to upload them later.

Now I just hope the wind stays a nor’easter or dies down, or it’s going to be a hard slog to Ashburton tomorrow!

Next Post: Day 2 — The windy Canterbury Plains

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Julie Anne Genter on Sat, January 14th, 2012   

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