It was time to catch the inter island ferry. Linda dropped us off at the terminal, gave us our tickets, and went to load the bus on the ship. It’s hardly necessary to say we weren’t the only ones waiting; the place was packed. Eventually, the announcement came that boarding had commenced. We weren’t in a hurry to join the people standing in an unmoving line out the door. Departure was delayed (we subsequently found out it was a maintenance issue). Peter spent some time talking to a few farmers supervising a school camping trip. None of the kids had mobile phones. And the farmers were none too pleased with the current Ardern government.
When the queue began to shift we took our turn. We had been allocated our own sitting area to the rear of one of the upper decks so we had a great view – apart from the grubby glass. (Another Grand Pacific Ultimate perk)
Sailing out of Wellington Harbour was amazing. The coastal scenery is beautiful, hardly spoiled by the intermittent rain. I went up onto the outside viewing decks for some pictures – but only for a moment.
The ship picked up speed to cross Cook Strait between the two islands, then slowed down again for the sail through the magnificent Marlborough Sound to berth at Picton. The little town was busy with passengers from a cruise ship as well as the ferry. It’s a nice place, but the crowds and the drizzle diminished its charm. We poked about in a few shops while Linda refuelled the coach. As soon as she parked we jumped on board – certainly not the only ones.
We drove through the Marlborough vineyards heading for the Cloudy Bay winery, where we stopped for a pleasant wine-tasting with local cheeses and dried fruit. We would have been taken out to the vineyard but the weather put paid to that. Standing up next to the tasting table for an hour was a bit much for some of us but the food and wine was nice.
The coach headed south through some truly beautiful countryside. The weather improved as we drove down to the coast, where Linda told us about the devastating 2016 earthquake. This is a very remote part of the country and the main access is via a railway line and the road on which we travelled. Both were blocked when millions of tonnes of rock shifted and the land rose several metres. Rocks that used to be under the sea were exposed. Kaikoura, our destination, was cut off for about a year but in typical Kiwi fashion, the road, then the railway, were repaired. In some places we could see where the railway used to run. In places, the road has been shifted to higher ground. This website gives a brief account of the quake and its impact.
There’s a lovely story about three cows stranded on an island of land. This short footage gives an idea of the power of the quake.
The cows were rescued. Read about it here.
The coastal scenery is magnificent. The rocky shoreline is home to the growing population of NZ fur seals (sea lions) which have recovered from near extinction by sealers. As luck would have it a lookout above an active seal colony had room for a big coach. Most of us piled out to take pictures of baby sea lions playing in rock pools and adults sunning themselves.
We arrived at the pretty town of Kaikoura in the late afternoon. We stayed at a brand new hotel which I hope heralds a start for the town. Its claim to fame used to be sealers and whaling. The ocean near here is a place where juvenile sperm whales hang about all year. In the right season visitors can also see dolphins, orcas, humpbacks – and the mighty blue whale. You can see albatrosses here, too. It would have been great to go out whale watching for a day but we didn’t have time for that.
We enjoyed a lovely meal at the hotel – or so I was told. I felt a bit ordinary, so I passed on dinner. But I was fine in the morning, when we would be heading for Christchurch, which also has an earthquake story to tell. But before we did that a few of us took the chance to take a walk along the beach. It had snowed on the hills overnight.
By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.