Saturday, February 25, 2006 - Wellington to Nelson, Including the Interisland Ferry

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Wellington in the early morning

8:00 a.m. We checked out of the cesspit and fled for the ferry terminal. It was a mean feat unwedging the car from Rowena's tiny parking lot and easing down the ultra-narrow alleyway, but we were successful. The car needed to be filled with petrol before it was returned, so I pulled into a Shell station and was surprised when an attendant came out to fill the car for me.

That task complete, we proceeded to the Interislander Terminal, with only a couple of wrong turns along the way. I was thankful it was Saturday, because the traffic in Wellington is supposed to be a mess during the week. We parked in the Avis lot and turned in the paperwork to the lady inside. She simply marked my name off a list and said another car would be waiting for us on the other side of the Cook Strait in Picton. On the North Island (very inventive name) we had driven 923 kilometers (554 miles).

Next we checked in with the ferry folks, where they took our bags, found my name on another list, and handed us our boarding passes. This took about 15 seconds. Simple as can be. We'd arrived very early, and the next hour-plus was spent sipping mochachinos and watching our ferry, the Arahura, get loaded with cars, freight trucks, and even entire trains. The ferry left Wellington at 10:30 and took about three hours.

Pulling away from port, Wellington appeared quite picturesque with its colorful buildings, green hills, and the beautiful blue water of Lambton Harbour. The passengers crowded on deck to admire the scenery. An announcement told us that a movie was about to begin in the theater. Who would go inside and watch a movie during the crossing?

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Leaving Wellington

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Goodbye, North Island

Roughly half the crossing is in open sea and the other half in the Marlborough Sounds of the South Island. The Cook Strait is notoriously windy in the open portion, with the wind funneling between the islands and the mountain ranges, and today was no exception. Though enjoying the scenery, we were forced inside due to the high winds and ocean spray, so we took the opportunity to explore the ferry. The Arahura is massive. Besides all the cargo down below, the upper decks have outdoor observation decks, multiple indoor passenger lounges, a bar, a food court, a nursery, computer workstations, a souvenir shop, naturally, and of course a movie theater.

We wanted to get some lunch but were unmoved by the selections and ended up with only some hot chips (fries) and a Sprite. We ate our fries, skimmed through a newspaper, and went back outside just as the ferry entered the calm waters of the Marlborough Sounds.

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Marborough Sounds

The islands, coves, and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds are more gorgeous than I can describe. We stood on deck with the other passengers and drank in the scenery. The first house visible as the ferry wound through the sounds, standing alone on an islet accessible only by boat, looked like it might be the only house on earth.

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I love this place

On our arrival in the pretty port town in Picton we collected our luggage and our new rental car, another late-model, four-door Mitsubishi Lancer, white this time. I'm extremely happy with the quality of our Avis cars and also the price. Avis was way cheaper than the next alternative. Also, the car exchange between the islands was very smooth and efficient.

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Picton Harbour

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Picton, South Island

There is a spectacular, winding, scenic drive between Picton and Havelock, the Queen Charlotte Drive, along the Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds. We stopped at every pull-off and celebrated our good fortune of being able to travel to such a wondrous place. It's a lot of trouble to travel all the way to New Zealand, but its isolation is part of its allure. Please stay away!

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Along Queen Charlotte Drive

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Momorangi Bay

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Another beautiful bay

5:30 p.m. We arrived in the town of Nelson at our hostel, Club Nelson. After last night's debacle, we were really looking forward to our room with private bath at this much nicer hostel. Then much to our dismay, we learned they had screwed up our reservation. I showed them the email where we had reserved the ensuite room, and we bitched mightily. They offered us instead what they said was the best room in the place (though with shared facilities) for NZ$50 instead of the usual NZ$60, and we grudgingly took it.

I'm glad we took the room. It had two full walls of windows overlooking Nelson and the bay, and it was the biggest room we had stayed in since the Best Western in Auckland. We could finally spread out our crap over what seemed like acres. The bathroom was unfortunately all the way down the hall, and the hot water didn't quite last for the entire shower, but it was a giant leap up from the last couple of nights. The guests here actually smiled and seemed generally happy, unlike last night's place, where no one was enjoying themselves. There was a pool out back, but the water was just a touch cooler than we would have liked, so we skipped it.

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View from our room, Club Nelson

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View of our room

After a spicy hot "exhaust pipe" pizza dinner at a trendy placed called Lambretta's, we strolled around the city center. Christ Church Cathedral, an Anglican Church dominating Nelson's Trafalger Square, looks old but was built beginning in 1925 and completed in 1965. The gardens surrounding the church are very nice.

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Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson

Near the cathedral is South Street, the oldest preserved street in New Zealand, with cottages dating from 1863 to 1867. Tom was unimpressed with the age of the homes, but it's older than anything in my home state of Oklahoma! Anyway, the cottages are cute, but the street would be more picturesque if the homeowners would park out back.

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Cottage on South Street

I stayed up late writing in my journal, enjoying our nice large room. Then we both slept like babies in our relatively luxurious accommodations. Hey, this place even provided towels, soap, and free coffee. How about that for fancy? We're moving up in the world.

 

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