Well, folks - I made it back to the east coast! I found the only way of getting back and was dead jammy/blessed to make it - as you will see.
I woke at Franz Josef Glacier village to a layer of snow on the ground, for only the second time in five years, apparently. The bus driver, whom I had met in the pub where I had a pizza last night (and was staying at Cat & Mouse Land also), was confident we would get to Greymouth OK - "as long as we get through Hercules (Pass) OK. Well, Hercules only just reached the snow-line so that was a breeze - onwards we went and made Greymouth on time.
All morning every road pass was closed due to snow. But, as we arrived in Greymouth (a town, by the way, that lives up to its name), the radio buzzed with the (good?) news that Lewis Pass (further north, a long detour) was open at the moment but they couldn't guarantee anything. The only probable way through was by the famous Tranzalpine train, that winds its way through scenic canyons, tunnels, over rickety viaducts etc but costs loads of money.
The driver explained that I should go on the train because it was only 20% chance that the Lewis would stay open, but that I couldn't get a refund because it wasn't closed yet. Stuff the refund, I wanted out! So I enquired about the train and managed to get - wait for it - the very last seat on the train. The bloke behind me in the queue was not very impressed. The train was 30 minutes late and when it came in from the other side of the mountains it had snowdrifts up its engine and between all the carriages. On we got, and the countryside quickly turned from wet and dreary to snowy spectacular. It was a bit like going across Alaska - vast expanses of trees laden with snow, no people, no movement. Massive pebbly creeks with snow everywhere, even flowing down the river on clumps of grass, looking like icebergs. Some of the way we followed the (shut) road and at one point saw a massive landslide which had crashed a massive tree across the road. When we emerged at the top of Arthurs Pass, the snow was about a metre deep, because we had the chance to get out and take photos while the engine recovered. We had a similar journey down the other side, wasteland snowy wilderness all the wya till it got dark. We emerged into Christchurch station an hour late, but relieved.
I got the last bed available at Charlie B's, the place I stayed at on the 13th - apparently with the snow problems every bed is booked through the whole city, so I was dead jammy/blessed once again.
Tomorrow I'm due out on the plane to Rotorua - blizzards permitting - I'm planning on going first thing to the "Antarctic Experience", Christchurch's most famous claim to fame is that it is the stopping-off point for Antarctica, but I feel as if I've already had a taste of it.Oh, and to cap it all, I have just been told that the Lewis was only open for an hour and it was shut by the time I would have been up there, and I wouldn't have made it had I tried. Yes!!!!!