Nelson, New Zealand
6.30am start on a rainy morning in Wellington saw us eating brekkers in the 7th floor of the hotel as the city woke up below. A 15min drive from the hotel to the ferry terminal and we were in the queue for the Interislander ferry. The car hire company had arranged all the tickets, so it was just a question of turning up and waving a ticket and we were driving up the loading ramp of the ‘Pride Of Cherbourg’. Ooops, I mean the ‘Kaitaki’, except of course the previous name was still visible in painted-over steel letters on the bow. She was even still registered in Southampton and flying the red duster off the stern (*). Obviously we had a chuckle about how often she must have chugged across the English Channel before ending up here, 11500 miles away, but it was to get better still – more later.
(*) That’s the red ensign of a British merchant vessel, you landlubber!
Onboard was like any cross-channel ferry you have ever been on, which is hardly surprising, eh? We grabbed some seats and on the dot of 8.30am the boat cast off and set sail. It was sit back and enjoy the ride for the next 3 hours/90km as we crossed the Cook Strait and through Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton on South Island. The first hour was pretty steady crossing the Strait, but once the ship entered the Sound, the scenery took a turn for the spectacular. The Sound is quite narrow and steep-sided with wooded hills either side and very little sign of life. Occasionally we’d pass a fish-farm or an isolated holiday home, only accessible by water, but otherwise it’s all untouched nature. The rain had dried up before we left Wellington, and in Queen Charlotte Sound the sun tried it’s hardest to get through the heavy clouds. It make for a a moody backdrop. All too soon the ‘Isle of Innisfree’ was in sight of Picton. Ooops, I mean ‘Kaitaki’ again. You see, I’d just found the commissioning plaque and it seems the old bus was built in Holland in 1995 for Caledonian Macbrayne and sailed the Western Isles for a number of years before becoming the ‘Pride of Cherbourg’ in the Channel. I wonder how long she’s been the ‘Kaitaki’ crossing the Cook Strait?
We docked in Picton so gently it was impossible to tell when we were at sea and when we were tied up. After the usual long wait on the car deck, we were allowed to drive off on to South Island. It was only 11.30am, and still tanked up on ‘Kaitaki’ coffee, we elected to take the scenic route to Havelock for lunch. This is called Queen Charlotte Drive and on the map looks like a child doing zig-zag scribbles. On the road it’s obvious why it looks like that – yet another swoopy road, only this time with beautiful vistas over the Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds. We have 30km of this to Havelock, a tiny little town where the Drive joins Hwy 6. Lunch was in a small cafe called the Wakamarinian next to the inevitable museum. I can thoroughly recommend the cafe’s bacon and egg pannini though!
From Havelock it’s only 70km to Nelson, our stop for the night. We were there before 3pm, and checked in to Trailways Hotel at the side of the Maitai River. It was nice to be able to wander round the town before they closed the place for 5pm! Some of the shops were getting a jump start though as it’s Labour Weekend coming up (so Monday is a national holiday). I am seriously glad we’re in a city (Christchurch) for Sunday and Monday nights – there’s a chance everything won’t be shut there. But Nelson is nice and has yet more Art Deco buildings mixed in with modern . Our motel is on Trafalgar Street (of course) and at the other end stands Nelson Cathedral. Originally designed at the turn of the last century to look like a typical English cathedral complete with flying buttresses and a enormous spire, due to changes in funding and that sort of thing, it’s ended up much flatter – like a bungalow cathedral! I cant help that being built from grey tufa instead of the usual pale stone makes it look a bit like it’s built out of breeze blocks as well. Still, we take a peek inside and it’s nice and modern and airy. We cal it a day at this point and head for some tea.
Tomorrow is a long, long 300km drive to Greymouth, ready to catch the train on Sunday. Here’s hoping that views over the Southern Alps make the drive worthwhile!