This is a bit of a transitional post. Not because it’s late (that’s kind of my thing, isn’t it) but because it’s the long-awaited crossing from the North to the South island. Now, when I say “long-awaited” that in reality is four or five days, but if you’ve read the previous posts you know so much has happened in just four days that it seemed like a long wait until we finally got to Picton. Here’s what it looked like from the ferry when we finally got there:
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The downside to this crossing was that, pressed by time, we had to get from the Tongariro Mountain straight to Wellington in order to catch the ferry early in the morning. That meant we arrived in the capital closing on midnight, went straight to the hotel, showered (always advisable after a whole day of hiking and sitting in the car), and went to bed with less than five hours of sleep ahead of us.
We woke up to a steady drizzle at dawn. It continued throughout the morning, while we were waiting in line to embark the “waka” and followed us all the way to Havelock.
“Waka” means canoe in Maori but since the Maori never had any other type of vessels, it’s the only word for one they have (I presume). That means it’s used also for a ferry that carries dozens of cars, caravans and buses, as well as hundreds of people. It was funny to see the word “canoe” printed on the side of a huge ship like the one above.
We found the viewing gallery at the back of the Interislander ferry, where you can watch as you leave the bay through the tall windows that made up the whole back wall:
Once we left Wellington Harbour and lost sight of the North Island, the view quickly lost its appeal. So I read up more about what awaited us on the South Island while Nikola slept, curled up on a rattan sofa, for an hour or so out of the three and a half hours the trip takes.
We both stirred up when we entered the Marlborough Sounds. Similarly to the ones in Fiordland but not actual fiords, these sounds are several branches of fiord-like gulfs, with long necks of land protruding far into the ocean, and tens of islands of different sizes scattered all around the multitude of bays and coves.
To my huge disappointment, we didn’t have the time to take a trip (only organised ones available) to Motuara Island. The tiny island in Queen Charlotte Sound has been purged of all imported pest (rats, possums, etc.) who pray on local birds and is currently a bird sanctuary. If you happen to be there – like we were – in November, make sure to put a day aside for the island and the general Picton region. I read you can also go swimming with dolphins but that might be better suited for later in the Summer. In November, however, you can go to Motuara Island, gently lift up the tops of the artificial nests and see Little Blue Penguin babies!! We never managed to spot one, but the Little Blue Penguin is very rare and only nests in Southern Australia (mainly Tasmania, I believe) and New Zealand.
Another island where you can spot the cute little guys is the Great Barrier Island north-east of Auckland. If you’re into penguins at all, you know they’re worth it! 🙂
So no penguins for us, but we made do with a great lunch at The Mussel Pot – a lovely little restaurant in Havelock, just west of Picton. It took all of our persistence and the full extend of our stomachs to finish the pot of green lipped mussels in cream, basil & garlic sauce, and the generous plate of Spaghetti Vongolé (which means Cockles – those clams whose hard little shells you’d always find at the beach – with chilli, garlic & parsley) but it was totally worth it.
By the way, if you’re wondering why it was such a challenge, you’ve obviously never seen a green lipped mussel. Let me illustrate that with a shutterstock picture:
This really is how big they tend to be! And they’re delicious, so we couldn’t let even the last few ones go to waste. Luckily, I was not driving so I could wash them down with a glass of local Sauvignon Blanc, which put the fine finish of the meal. Just thinking about it makes me salivate so I won’t dwell on it.
The rain had finally let go when we left The Mussel Pot with pot-shaped bellies ourselves. We got back in the car and, after snapping one last photo of the cloudy Queen Charlotte Sound, set off for Marlborough wine country.