Day 165: From South To North

Fri. 25th January 2013

Chugging our way to PictonAn early start today as the alarm wakes us at 5:40 and the sun is only just coming up. Luckily our motel room has cooking facilities and we breakfast on the end of our supplies from the van, tea and toast (that is apart from the ham sandwiches already made last night for lunch today). Just as well, as there are no facilities at the railway station and Dave is anxious for the train buffet to open for his first coffee of the day.

Viewing carriageThe train is smaller than I expected with only three coaches and leaves promptly at 7am on its way up the coast to Picton. The carriages, like the coach to Milford Sound are purpose built with large windows and headphones are provided to hear the commentary broadcast for parts of the journey. There is also an open sided viewing carriage at the rear of the train to make photo taking easier.

Our route takes up back along the coast and we recognise some of the towns and scenery. In Kaikouri we had walked to the station. We had also stopped by the rocks to see the seals, which we see again today – but no photos this time! I am engrossed in a trashy unputdownable book on my Kindle at the moment but have to remember that it is my blog day so photos need to be taken and scenery digested.

Salt mounds and red lakesAlthough we have driven down the coast the views from the train give the landscape a different perspective. There are also times where the road and railtrack part company providing us with new sights. For example we pass by lakes covered in algae turning them red which are beside some salt flats, reminding us of Bolivia but on a much much smaller scale. A local from Dunedin, who is on a day trip with his wife to Picton and back, is quite exited by this sight as he has driven the road many times but it is his first on the train.

Ex Pride of CherbourgBeing cautious and also being used to British Rail I had not booked the 1:10pm ferry crossing as there is only two minutes between arrival time in Picton and check in time for the ferry closing. We had non refundable tickets for the 2:30pm ferry and so I wanted to make sure we did not miss the connection. However as it turned out if we had booked on the 1:10pm ferry we could have checked our luggage right through to Wellington from Christchurch. As it was only a two minute walk from Picton station to the ferry terminal we went straight there to see if we could catch the earlier ferry and for a fee of $9 we could, even though boarding was in progress and we just made the last call. We love these friendly and helpfully Kiwis. We notice that the ferry used to be the Pride of Cherbourg as the name can still be seen on the bow!

Leaving South IslandPicton is a small compact town surrounded by green mountains on all sides. The ferry leaves promptly and takes about 45 minutes to wind its way through many green islands before reaching the open seas. We are never away from land but I am still glad it is a flat calm day as I have read it can be bumpy as this is where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea.

On the ferry we reflected on South Island and whether we would do anything differently with what we now know.

  1. We visited most places we wanted with the exception of Mount Cook and we would have liked to have had more time in Dunedin. We just didn’t get Dunedin right – we didn’t do the museum in town and we only had time to do part of the drive round the peninsula. In hindsight we should have stuck with original plan for me to do the museum whilst Dave did the brewery tour.
  2. We missed getting some insight into the Maori culture and history and feel that we don’t really know enough – especially compared with how much we learned about native South American cultures.
  3. We discussed campervan v car. We enjoyed the freedom the van gave us to be self sufficient and provide morning coffee as there were frequently no coffee shops or cafes en route. A car would have been more nippy and cut down on travelling time and also allowed us on some of the smaller roads. So pros and cons of both. In the end we agreed that the van was part of the experience so glad we chose it.

Whilst waiting for our backpacks to be unloaded from the ferry we checked in with the car rental office to see if we could collect our car from their town depot instead of traipsing back to the out of town Islander terminal, which was just as well as their system expected us in town but our voucher said the ferry terminal. To get from ferry terminal to town, well as far as the railway station, there is a shuttle bus for $2 each. We had booked a hotel close to the railway station but on the town side so it was only a 10 minute walk with backpacks. It was just enough to get us back into practice of carrying all our stuff, which is growing and will need to be culled soon as we have an overflow bag to carry too!

Bye Bye cable car we are walking backOnce in town it was gone 5pm and places were closed, except fortunately the cable car which stays open until 10pm. It was still bright sunshine so we headed the two blocks to the cable car and hopped on with a one way ticket. The walk down is passed the cable car museum (shut) and the Carter Observatory (shut) and on through the Botanic Gardens down the hill. Two Botanic Gardens in as many days – very floral. Surprisingly the rose garden in Wellington did not have as colourful or prolific a display as Canterbury. As we wandered down the hill we were able to listen to ‘70’s rock from an open air concert in the area of the gardens called Soundshell and we could have easily spent the rest of the evening sat there (drinking white wine which would have been relaxing – not here, John) but we had more to see and stomachs to fill (lunch had only been ham sandwiches!)

Old Government BuildingThe downhill path to the city then passes through a cemetery split in half by a motorway. As the plot was full by 1890 the graves are now covered in roses and other plants giving it an unkept feel.

Parliament BuildingThe upper part was reserved for Jews and the lower for everyone else. The path then ends close to the Parliament buildings, both old and new, which are both impressive. The Old Government Buildings are the biggest wood building in the world, I think I read. By this time the sun is getting low and shadows long making it difficult to photograph.

Scenic walk over we head down to the waterfront as this is often a good place for restaurants. It has been a long day so we stick to food we know and eat at Wagamama and have a pleasant chat with a couple from Kettering who are travelling from North to South and so we exchange tips on what to do.

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