Everybody waves as the Coastal Pacific passes. Road crews in their fluoro vests, the girl with the stop/go sign, tanned retirees sitting in deck chairs in their back yards, passing truck drivers. Even a fur seal basking on the beach lifts a languid flipper as the train goes by.
You would think their enthusiasm for waving at every passing train would have waned by now, but the train is a welcome sign of a return to normalcy. After the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in November 2016, the seaside town of Kaikoura and nearby villages were largely cut off from the outside world by massive landslides for many months. Over a billion dollars has been spent to get the crucial road and rail links between the North and South Islands of New Zealand reopened.
From the open air viewing carriage it’s easy to see where the earthquake has left its mark - in some areas the rocky coastline has been lifted up out of the water by up to five metres(16 feet). Just some more real estate for sun bathing, as far as the fur seals are concerned. From a distance the rocky outcrops appear to be studded with black slugs, which resolve into sleek sunbathing seals as the train approaches. They are surprisingly good climbers, making their way up jagged islands of rock that a human climber might find challenging. Down below seal pups play in the rock pools. Before the earthquake there was a waterfall here that the seals used as a creche for the pups. It was buried in a rockslide, but the seals still return here every year to breed.