Cook Strait and Kaikoura

Nov 10, 2015

Actually it wasn’t that noisy last night, the kids quieted down pretty early. Which was a good thing because we were up at 6:30 am to catch the ferry across the Cook Strait. Everything went smoothly—walk over to the car, turn it around in rush-hour traffic, fill it with petrol, drive it to the ferry, hand the key to the Hertz man standing in the car park—and we arrived in time to check our large packs in and line up to walk onto the ferry. Phew!

Farewell to Wellington

Farewell to Wellington

The ferry crossing would take three hours and luck was on our side weather-wise, with blue sky and calm seas. We headed up to Deck 10 (or “Dick Tin” as the captain said), which was the top deck with outside seating. We dried off two seats and settled down for the journey. For the start and end of the trip the route was in sheltered waters, and it was only in the middle section that the ship was exposed to winds. But we had fortuitously chosen to sit on the lee side, so we had a great trip. We didn’t see any albatrosses or other sea birds, but at one point we had a pod of dolphins behind us.

Our ferry’s sister ship

Our ferry’s sister ship

Arriving in Picton we claimed our packs and then found the Hertz rental kiosk. It didn’t take long to get our car, which turned out to be a brand new Mazda 3—we would be its first renters! It had a keyless ignition, which means that you just press a button to start it, and it turns itself off when you’re stopped at a red light. Once we found which button to press we were off, driving south down Highway 1. This northern part of the South Island was farming country, fairly flat as we went through fields and vineyards.

Arriving in Picton

Arriving in Picton

Soon the highway reached the Pacific coast, which we found strange because first of all it’s on the east side of the country and not the west, and second of all it’s turquoise like the Mediterranean and not grey. Near Ohau Point Rosemary called out “Pull over, there are dolphins!” A lot of other cars were there so we joined them. But there weren’t any dolphins; they turned out to be New Zealand fur seals who have a colony there.

New Zealand Fur Seal

New Zealand Fur Seal

We arrived in Kaikoura at about 3:45 pm and stopped in at the Albatross Encounter office to check in for tomorrow’s albatross trip. Yes, they said, the boat leaves at 6 am. But… we were the only two people signed up for that departure, and they had a minimum trip cost. So we were asked to pay another $40 for that trip. Did we want to pay another $40? Well, not really. So after some talks with the manager we were given the option of a somewhat shorter trip for no extra charge. We weren’t really happy about that either but we accepted it.

Kaikoura view

Kaikoura view

We then continued along the road to the hostel. Our room looked out over the bay towards snow-capped mountains, a fantastic view. After unloading the car we walked back to the main shopping area, a 20-minute walk, to stock up with food for the next few days. We asked the checkout clerk if there was a bakery nearby and he said “Yes, go up to the main road and walk along for about ten minutes and you’ll find one.” But, we said, what about the bakery café right across the street? And the lady behind us in line said “I wouldn’t buy anything there!”

Lupines in Kaikoura

Lupines in Kaikoura

So we walked for another 15 minutes to locate the bakery, which turned out to be closed because it was after 5 pm. And back in town the bakery café was also closed. No buns for us! However we saw a fish and chip shop so we decided to have fish and chips for dinner. There was a little fish-and-chip shop under the highway bridge and the prices were fairly comparable to what we had paid in Paraparaumu; this time we ordered two pieces of fish and only one scoop of chips! This turned out to be the right amount. The fish was really tasty, very similar to what we had had previously. Our sales slip said “Elephant” rather than “Fish” and when we checked with the owner, she told us that today’s fish was elephant fish. We found it in the New Zealand Fisheries poster on the wall and it was the ugliest fish there!

Elephant fish

Elephant fish

After dinner we stopped at the ice cream shop for dessert. Rosemary had “hoky poky”, which didn’t impress her much, and Paul had “choconana”, which is indeed chocolate and banana flavour. By the time we got back to the hostel and unloaded our groceries it was close to 8 pm. Both of us were tired and as we had to get up very early we set the alarm for 5:30 am and went to bed. It didn’t take long to get to sleep.

Nov 11, 2015

Up at 5:30 am to get ready for our albatross trip. We looked out of the window to see that the weather had changed; it was overcast and the clouds covered the mountains almost all the way to the bottom. We had made a small breakfast the night before, so we got dressed and headed down to the Albatross Encounter office.

When we went outside we realized it was windier than we thought, and when we arrived at the office our guide came over to meet us. “Not looking good” he said. Nevertheless we got into the van to drive over to the south bay, where we would board the boat. When we got there it was even windier and the sea had whitecaps and large waves. Needless to say the trip was cancelled and we were given a refund. That was just fine with us—after last month’s whale-watching disaster near Tofino we had no desire to go out in big waves.

So we headed back to the hostel, only to find out we didn’t know the key code for the front door. Luckily it wasn’t raining so we sat outside and ate our packed breakfast, hoping somebody would get up early. Finally somebody was up before 7 am, and they let us in. We made a proper breakfast and then packed our bags and checked out. Today we were heading across the island to Punakaiki…

Next: West Coast

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