The Shepherds’ Arms Hotel is a historic building from 1870 located a short walk away from the CBD, Parliament House, Westpac Stadium and the War memorial. Most importantly for us, it was under 4 km from the quay from where we would board the ferry to Picton in South Island. Accordingly, we had planned to have breakfast by 7 am and depart for the ferry terminal by 7.30 am. As it turned out, as there was no sign of breakfast close to 7 am we decided to have breakfast in the ferry. We reached the vehicle check in point, following the marking on the road and sign posts, fairly easily and within 10 minutes of leaving the hotel.
That is when the scare happened. The lady at the check in counter told me that the ticket was dated for the previous day! I just didn’t know how this mistake happened. I had booked the ferry ticket along with the Apex Car Rental and had paid fully for it. The lady told me that I could go to the departure lounge and check out what best could be done. A friendly old man at the counter told me very politely that he would not be able to revalidate the ticket for this day’s journey as the ticket had been issued by Apex Car rentals. I would have to contact them for any refund, if applicable. Fresh tickets were issued without any problem, but at a payment of NZD 347! It was indeed His Will that we leave the hotel early so that we have the time to deal with this emergency, which mercifully was resolved without much of a problem. This time the check in was not an issue and we were asked to join the vehicle queue in lane 2. Vehicles of different sizes were asked to queue up in different lanes.
Once we had parked in the queue it was time for a cup of coffee. A small van near the parking area was vending coffee and light snacks, where we ordered cappuccinos and lattes. From the conversation with the owner we made out that boarding would begin only by 8.15 am and that was more than 40 minutes away. The lady at the check in had told us that boarding would start in 10 minutes. The reason for the contradiction was obvious as we were sipping coffee and clicking away the glorious views of the Interislander ferry and the neighborhood. The cargo trucks started loading within the time mentioned by the lady. Our turn would be much later.
I had been on ferries during the drive to London from Cochin in 2014 and was familiar with the modus of loading in the ferry. When our turn came the loading was smooth. On the way I was flagged down by one of the supervisors who told me that it was still a public road and, therefore, I shouldn’t be using a phone as the driver of the vehicle! After disembarking from the car with the essentials to be taken on board we walked up the stairs to the lounge on Deck 7. All the vantage positions that offered views of departure of the ferry from Wellington had already been taken. We explored the various cafes and restaurants on Decks 7 and 8 and decided to have quiche, fruit tart, vegetable bap, roasted mixed vegetables and chicken and bacon croissant. The quiche and fruit tart were superb.
We went up to the observation deck on the 10th level and were blasted by the cold and windy conditions. The views were such that we had to brave the weather if we were to leverage the experience to the hilt. The ferry was so smooth on the waters that we barely could make out that we were moving at a fast pace. The entire crossing was scheduled to take three and half hours, with the midpoint about two hours from the departure from wellington. Last evening when we were discussing the ferry crossing with Reuben he told us that the Interislander ferry is the better one across the Cook Straits. The other one, Blueridge, is known as the ‘Vomit Express’, because of the amount of retching that happens on board due to pitching and rolling of the smaller ship in rough weather. We did see the Blueridge alongside us for a while during the journey and was pleased that we had plumbed for the Interislander ferry. Sometime after the halfway mark we also crossed the pairing Interislander vessel on the way to Wellington from Picton.
The highlight of the ferry trip was winding route through the many island and inlets that made up the Southern group of Islands. The captain also announced the names of the islands, asked us to look out for the whaling stations and mussel farms. The waters were still and the ferry vessel was steady. We made many trips to the open observation deck and were driven back by the icy winds and freezing temperature. Finally, we managed a few seats at the lookout point inside the vessel, which was air-conditioned and hence, comfortable. We made friends with a couple of middle-aged women, who looked so much alike that I asked them if they were twins. They were mighty pleased and told us that they were two among four sisters who looked pretty much similar.
Announcement was made for the passengers with vehicles to move to their respective vehicles. We reluctantly trooped with the others after taken final glimpses of the ferry docking in Picton. The disembarkation of the cars was faster than the loading. Picton in Marlborough District is claimed to be the “Heart of Sounds” and Marlborough is where the “South begins”. In New Zealand is where I came across the use of the term ‘Sound’, like Milford Sound or Queen Charlotte Sound. A Sound is a large sea or ocean inlet bigger than a bay, deeper than a bight and wider than a fjord, according to a definition from a source on the Net. Immediately after we had left the ferry terminal and taken a couple of km on the Queen Charlotte Drive we stopped at a couple of lookout points which gave a bird’s eye view of the Port of Picton and the humongous log export business from the port. We stopped at numerous other points too and were bewitched by the colors of the waters along the bays.
The Mororangi Camp site was the ultimate experience. It is a camping site with superb facilities for on-site camping. We met an old lady who was in one of the campers and she described the absolute natural beauty of the South Island. The sun shining down on the clear blue green waters, rocks abutting the beach, a short wooden jetty and glorious weather combined for the godly experience. We spent quite some time walking around enjoying the scenery and taking in lungs-full of fresh air.
The Bug Backpackers Hostel was not far from the city center. The bearded young man at the reception – he was asked the same old question by us too, because the Wi-Fi password is Ryansbeard2017 - quickly checked us in and led us to the aesthetically done up rooms in the thoughtfully provided hostel. Once the luggage was moved in we went on a small ride to a few locations mention by the receptionist. The center of NZ we went to first because it was the farthest. It is so named because it was the central survey point in the early 1800s. We drove a bit into the Maltai Valley admiring the autumnal hues and a small river that ran by the side of the road. Realising that the place is more for hiking and walking we decided to go to the Founders Heritage Park, a museum. When we reached there the reception was closed but the gate to the museum was open. At the entrance to the museum is a giant windmill, which seemed to be a functional one. The museum is a mix of original donated houses and replicas of ancient ones. The open museum has been done up extremely well, which has a railway station, fire station, post office, FM radio station, barber shop, church, school and many other building in a fine state of preservation. The Sun had gone down and the lights against the windmill made it look awesome.
We drove to the area nearest to the Trafalgar Street and parked in the Countdown parking lot, with the intention of shopping there after a short walk in the street. The streets were deserted almost, with most of the shops and even cafes closed. It looked to be the fashion street in the city. The Christ Church, an Anglican church towers over the Trafalgar Square. The tower of the church is more than 35 metres tall. The church was closed and hence, we had to take a round of the perimeter of the church and walk back the street. Dinner was decided in a Burger King outlet. By the time dinner was over, plans to shop in Countdown also vanished and we beat a retreat to the hostel.