Thursday, April 27, 2006

Day 9 - The High Seas

Got up early this morning. No breakfast today. This could become a nasty habit, one which I would have to squash sooner or later before it became an addiction. There had to be a way round it. We weren't particularly sad to say goodbye to Abel Tasman hotel, although it served its purpose well enough. The hotel has seen better days and it was a little lacking in character but you can't fault it's price-to-location ratio.

Even though we were looking forward to leaving, the hotel had other ideas. It's one of the few hotels within the city that has parking facilities (if you can call 8 spaces facilities), operated on a first come, first served basis. The car park is actually a glorified washroom/service entrance and is sealed tight via an archaic sercurity gate. Driving in is OK as you buzz through to reception and they identify you and let you in, driving out is a different experience entirely. As you approach the gate from the inside there are 2 buttons on the wall with a big sign directly above which reads "Press button only once. Be patient. Repeated pressing causes gate to jam". Ok, fine but which bloody button should we press? We chose the top one and waited... and waited... and then waited some more. The temptation to press the button again was excruciating. Eventually, almost 3 minutes later the gate lethargically rolled into action. Painful was not the word, especially when you consider why we had gotten up so early this morning - a 9:30am booking on the Interislander ferry which requires you to check in from 8:00. We didn't want to miss our chance to get across to the South Island.

To achieve its capital status, Wellington features the obligatory confusing major city one way system and it took some canny navigation from Kate to get us through it, so canny in fact that we arrived too early for the boat and ended up first in line for the next ferry whilst they were still boarding the last vehicles onto the 7:30 sailing.

I hate being first in the queue for any ferry, visions of driving up the wrong ramp and straight into the drink always run through my head.

Actually, taking the car across on the ferry is another big thumbs up for Ezy as many of the rental agencies require you to leave the car at the terminal in Wellington, travel as a foot passenger and then pick another car up when you get off the other side at Picton. This can be a real pain, and we bore witness to many people struggling with their luggage whilst we sat and sipped coffee in the terminal building safe in the knowledge that our 5 bags would be contained in the boot of our car for the journey.

It was a clear and sunny day but also a windy one. At this point we also took the opportunity to down some sea-sickness tablets as we heard that the voyage could be a little treacherous in poor weather conditions and the strong wind did little to comfort our fears. However, we had been assured by friends who had made the crossing that the stunning scenery on the crossing would be enough to distract from any nausea.

We took the opportunity to catch up on our emails and a final toilet before we headed back to our car to embark on the second part of our NZ adventure. - THE SOUTH ISLAND.

The journey across the strait is 92km, takes about 3 hours and was in fact extremely enjoyable - although windy, the sun shone and we stood for the majority of the crossing on one of the open decks taking photographs and blowing the cobwebs from us. Any nausea we had was strangely settled by half a croissant, half a pie and half a sprite - a great combo, particularly with no breakfast inside us.

Inside the ferry was the obligatory tourist shop, games and fruit machine area, canteen, restaurant and numerous seating areas with TVs playing something like "Top Ten Fighter Planes" or "Amazing Ferry Disasters of our Time", I forget which.

The scenery of the Marlborough Sounds was very beautiful. The North Island was fantastic but even on this plain old ferry crossing the scenery bar had suddenly been raised. There was far too much to look at and we really needed to be on both sides of the boat at once. Rolling volcanic hills swoop down to the sea, houses nestle in valleys in middle of nowhere which can only be reached by boat, all facilitated by private jettys and beaches. It's idyllic and not that expensive to live there either.

Strangely enough just before you round the corner into Picton harbour we encounted a floating "salmon farm" which somehow contained its fish within a few fenced-off squares of the sea, although that could be disputed as we heard on the news later in the holiday that the salmon had broke free and caused the ferry to run off course.

Our crossing was pretty good and we were lucky. A week later the weather turned on this side of the island and crossings were cancelled for a day and a half, we really hadn't considered the implications of this happening. Of course when it does happen there is nothing you can do apart from watch precious days of your holiday slip away. Poor people.

The ferry arrived in Picton harbour and as you drive off many travellers are faced with a choice, there are two roads to explore from here and whichever one you take means that unless you have a couple of months here you are going to miss something out. Head immediately west and you go to the Abel Tasman National Park via Nelson. We had desperately wanted to go to Abel Tasmin on the North most tip of the south Island as its beaches are meant to be spectacular. However, despite numerous itinerary changes there was no way that we could incorporate it into our trip on this occasion. Yet another tick on the list of reasons to come back. Indeed if we had had the time we would have also liked to have investigated Picton and the winegrowing areas around the Marlborough Sounds - but alas it was not to be. Instead we headed straight out of Picton and on towards Kaikoura - about a 3hr drive away.

The road here is quite desolate and it all feels kind of remote, a bit like a desert... hey wait a minute didn't we travel on a road earlier that was meant to be like a desert only it was green, lush and raining? I think somebody must have mixed up the road signs.

The barren landscape did allow us to take a couple of nice pictures though.

This is a single track road bridge with a railway track running above it. Being on the main road from the top of the South Island to the bottom this was kind of weird but single track bridges would become a regular occurance now we were down in the south. The one is different to many as it has traffic lights to control the flow of traffic, other bridges do no share this same luxury and some even share the road with the train tracks!

The first stop we made on the way was The Lake Grassmere Saltworks. We hadn't really intended to visit it after seeing a clip of the travelling chef TV Show "Anthony Bordain - No Reseverations" which was edited in such a way to portray it as the dullest place on Earth. Working in the industry we know a TV lie when we see one and Kate had noticed a quote in the guide book that "the ponds turn coral pink in late summer".

On the off chance that we were not too late in the season we made a quick detour. Not expecting great things we found ourselves confronted by an amazing spectacle of colour over the expanse of salt flats. We were the only souls around for miles, which was kind of weird but maybe everyone else had seen the TV show too. This proved to be a fantastic photographic excursion.

Shortly after our stop of salty goodness the weather began to change and this all new desert road gave us some of the most dramatic shots of the holiday.

Pulling over at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere I grabbed Kate's camera and legged it out of the car, leaving her to wonder what the heck I was up to.

Driving along I'd seen this out of the corner of my eye and was determined to get a decent photo before moving on.

The next stop was the Ohau Point seal colony, located 26 Kms north of the Kaikoura township. However, by this stage the weather had closed in (sunny one minute, raining the next), and it was now dull and raining, this was to be our first taste of the dramatic weather shifts the South Island is famous for.

Yet we pulled into the parking bay where you can view the seals from the road and got out for a closer view. Just like the weather the seals were miserable too but we were entertained for a moment or two by the journey of little baby seal who had been swept away from it's mother somehow.

His struggle up over the rocks and down through the pools was somewhat endearing, a bit like watching one of those old Disney nature films as he/she approached numerous seals in the off-chance it may be it's mother only to be turned away to continue its quest.

We arrived in Kaikoura and found our accommodation for the night. This was actually one of the most expensive places to stay in New Zealand as we had struggled to find somewhere within walking distance of the town as it was at the weekend in their peak season. However Lemon Tree Lodge certainly had all the luxury and class that our previous hotel in Wellington lacked. Describing itself as a boutique B&B, Lemon Tree Lodge is a fantastical haven which overlooks the township. Featuring just four rooms, all of them quite secluded, a garden and a hot tub which sits atop a deck overlooking the town this place is quite simply perfect. The hosts Andy and Tricia Pike offer a personal and friendly place to stay, and are eager to help and advice on how best to spend your time in Kaikoura.

We unpacked and headed straight out to check out into town to find somewhere for us to eat that night. We were given a number of recommendations only to find that many were very busy and would need to be booked. In the end we made our choice and booked a table at The Olive Branch Cafe (situated on the main rd), for later on in the evening. We spent the rest of the afternoon just driving around the coast in Kaikoura and walking around the shops.

The evening meal was delicious - bread and dips to start (pesto hummus, red looking hummus and a balsamic vinegar one), Kate then had the best lamb shanks of the holiday and I had local fish.

After that we were soon to bed as we had a VERY early start planned for the morning.

For a certain somebody, tomorrow would be the day she had been dreaming of for many years...


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