Wanganui, New Zealand
A bright, clear and cold morning in Picton and with a ferry sailing at 10am, no rush to get up and get down to the docks. However, they still like us there an hour before the sailing, so 9am we were waiting. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be a boat. As we got closer to the 10am sailing, the lack of a boat became somewhat discouraging! Compared with the outward trip, there seemed to be fewer people in the queue – only about 40 cars instead of the 100+ last time. At 9.45 we were chuffed to seethe good ship ‘Aratere’ turn up. They then began unloading. Off came trucks and train wagons as well as cars, which makes it sound a lot bigger that the outward boat, but it turned out she wasn’t, only carrying about 350 passengers to the ‘Kaitaki’s 1000+. Eventually they started loading, starting with the railway wagons – when it came to our turn, they put us on the same deck as the railway stuff. We all had to reverse on to the ship, which had a couple of drivers in a tizzy so a harbour official had to do it for them. I noticed the official chosen for this job was a pretty girl, which sort of guaranteed no Kiwi men would fail to give it a go.
Anyway, backed on to the boat, we then had to negotiate a tangle of hawsers and chains to get to the exit and stairs/lifts to the upper decks. Much better seating on this boat – looking at the specs ‘Aratere’ seems to have been built in Spain for InterIslander Ferries and is Wellington registered. No rebadged SeaFrance boat this time. We finally set sail about 45 mins behind schedule, which wasn’t too bad in the end. By the time I’d got a couple of drinks and a choc brownie we were out of Queen Charlotte Sound and saying goodbye to South Island.
The whole crossing was pretty uneventful and the Cook Strait pretty calm. In no time we seemed to be docking at good old Wellington again. The skies were still blue, and had been all the way across. The forecast in the ‘Dominion-Post’ newspaper was pretty dire for North Island and even the boat captain had warned up it was cloudy and raining in Wellington. IT WASN’T. Overall we’ve found the weather forecasting to be pretty dire in NZ as a whole. There hasn’t been a single day without some sunshine in it so far, and today for example, it’s been sunny he whole day despite the forecasters. Whether this is due to the fickleness of the NZ climate or the crapness of the forecasters, I don’t know.
Anyway, we were straight on to Hwy 1 and heading north before you know it. Bye-bye Wellington, maybe see you again? The original plan had been to stay on Hwy 1 all the way north, which would mean retracing some of our route down. Looking at the map we decided to branch off at Palmerston North on to Hwy 3 and head through Wanganui and Waitomo. It would mean not crossing our outward tracts until the very last day’s drive in to Auckland airport, and after all, that’s what we are here for. With that in mind, we made a quick 100 clicks to Bulls for a tea break. Yes, the town is called Bulls, and do they milk it. Even my AA atlas which gives points of interest says ‘Many humorous signs’ next to Bulls. See the pics for examples. The good news was this tiny town also had many open cafes even though it was past 2.30pm! Incredi-bull (groan).
It was only a short hop from there to Wanganui, our stop for the night. We quickly got checked in to the Acacia Park Motel at the side of the Wanganui River. This has even bigger rooms that the night before. I think we’ll soon be having a house to ourselves if this goes on much longer. Took a wee walk by the river then headed into town in search of some dinner. The town is quite old and really elegant and I managed a daily fix of Art Deco. We ended up in a Mongolian restaurant of all places – it looked pretty cool and indeed turned out to be just that. You chose your own raw ingredients, like a supermarket pile-in salad, then handed them to the chef who cooked them on a huge hotplate whilst you waited. Was pretty nice. That’s about it for today – tomorrow it’s a big-mile day to put us within striking distance of Auckland. Hopefully thee’s still be me for a diversion or two though.