New Zealand – South Island – Part IV

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Awww! It’s so sleepy and cute

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Cindy was excited to climb over her first stile. We had to pass through a sheep field to get to a beach. These are common on English public footpaths and she had seen them on TV watching British shows.

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If you can believe this, these beautiful black swans are legally hunted gamebirds in most parts of New Zealand with up to 7,000 shot annually

Our next adventure is Picton at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island.

From Christchurch to Picton, we took the coastal scenic train. Like before, we upgraded to first class so to include drinks and food. We almost had the entire car to ourselves. It was just us and one other couple. The train departs Christchurch early which meant booking an Uber for six in the morning for a 7:00 train.

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The first-class section of the train was almost empty. All the better for us as we got super service and tons to eat 🙂

We rolled out of bed, took a quick shower, and headed to the station. Breakfast aboard the train was a real treat with a nice selection coupled with a pot of English Breakfast tea. On this journey, we experience another first. We saw dolphins.

As you can imagine, we often see dolphins from the Puffster. However, this is the first time on a train spotting dolphins. Apparently, this is not an unusual sight from this train. There is an area on the coast where dolphins work as a group and push fish toward a reef. Once trapped, the dolphins can easily feast on the fish. The feeding frenzy is complete with tons of dolphins jumping out of the water, some getting quite high and landing on their backs creating a huge splash.

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That little splash out there is a dolphin!

We noticed the other couple in the car, Americans, were drinking a lot of wine after breakfast. By mid-morning, they were passed out in their seats. It’s hard for me to fathom traveling all the way from the USA for a vacation and taking a scenic train only to get drunk and pass out as dolphins play outside the window. Oh well.

During our conversations with local people, many told us how much they really enjoyed Picton. For us, Picton will be a short two-night stop and a jump-off point to catch the ferry to Wellington on the southern tip of New Zealand’s north island. Arriving in Picton, I find it a little bit amazing why so many Kiwi’s told us it was a favorite haunt.

Walking from the train station to drop off our bags at the hotel about 3 blocks away meant we just toured most of the town. Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful little town that sits at the end of Queen Charlotte Sound with tall hills lining the bay waters. But, the optimal word in my description is little.

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The ornate Oxley Hotel – more than we were willing to pay for a room and thankfully sold out.

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We watch the ferry that we will be on the next day turn around and come into the dock

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Picton has a great smallish marina for those arriving by private boat – perhaps next time 🙂

Captain James Cook visited the region in the late 1700s, followed by whalers and traders. In 1848, Sir Thomas Picton, a Welsh military officer, lent his name to the town, which was previously known as Waitohi. Picton quickly grew as a port town due to its strategic location and natural harbor. It is the link between the North and South with regular ferry services.

It took us exactly one day to see most of what Picton offers. However, I must mention here we don’t do boat tours or scenic cruisers like other tourists do in places like this. We have a boat and going for a ride on one is not a big deal for us [smile]. Besides water adventures, Picton is the gateway to the Marlborough area known for wine. The host on the train jokingly referred to this area as The Disneyland of Wine.

We found a nicely appointed motel just a little bit north on the main street. Thankfully they had a vacancy. Most of the hotels were booked since our visit coincided with peak holiday travel time to the south island. The weather is nice for about one week a year. I say this tongue in cheek since we had great weather during our 4 weeks traveling the south island.

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At the end of the main road is a park and a great place to sit on a bench and take in the beautiful view

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With our back to the park (above), we walk up the main street

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Tons of cafes and restaurants – not many people – We’ve never had to wait for a table in New Zealand

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This is the Picton railway station – I hope the irony of it having a Subway is not wasted on just me

After two nights in Picton, we were more than ready to move on. I have to admit, I was a little bit excited about the ferry ride between the two islands. It can be a hair-raising passage since the winds in this part of the world can really whip up making the crossing, well shall we say, interesting. We read that during really bad weather, the ferries do not take on cars or RVs due to the roll the vessel can experience. For once, we are on a very big boat and not having to worry about sea conditions. We can just ride without driving.

The crossing was windy. Once the ferry steamed out of the protected waters of Queen Charlotte Sound, I am guessing winds were easily 30-knots. On our boat, this would mean a no-go and we would’ve waited for better weather. However, the ferry is large enough to handle this with ease.

It seemed most of the passengers headed for the lounge and even the movie theatre once aboard. I guess if this is a part of a person’s daily routine or job, it gets old just like anything else. But for us, we were excited about views of the coast as we transited Queen Charlotte Sound. We found a nice spot on the leeward side of the boat out of the wind and prepared ourselves to take in the scenery. And, we weren’t disappointed.

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From the ferry, I spot a dinghy race. This brings back a flood of memories since as a young kid this is how I learned to sail

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Taking in the view on Queen Charlotte Sound

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Cindy snaps a couple of pics as we exit the sound

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A nice summer day in Wellington.

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This gives you a sense of the ferry’s size. These are large trucks driving off

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People exit

A couple of hours later, we disembark in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. Besides being the capital, Wellington’s claim to fame is being the windiest city in the world. The world’s wind capital is located in the Roaring Forties region – between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees – where gale-force westerly winds often travel. As the winds pass South Australia, they channel through the Cook Strait, between New Zealand’s North and South Islands, and hit Wellington at full speed after being squeezed by the nearby mountains.

I actually Googled the above since Chicago in the USA has always made this claim. Apparently, the Great Lakes city has nothing on Wellington. And, I can honestly say, we’ve experienced it. We caught a ferry shuttle to the train station and walked the two blocks to our hotel for the night. We decided to only stay one night in Wellington since we knew we’d have to return at some point to get a long-stay visa for New Caledonia at the French Embassy. So, that night was our only night in town and we opt for dinner at a pub-like restaurant where delicious meat pies and Guinness are served.

On our way to eat, we actually had trouble walking down the street. I once read that typically, a strong gust of wind with speeds exceeding around 80 kilometers per hour (50 MPH) can potentially knock a person off balance or make it difficult for them to maintain footing, especially if they are standing upright or walking against the wind. Anything over this can actually lift a person off the ground.

On the way to the pub, we had tailwinds and didn’t think much of it. On the way back, and after a couple of pints of Guinness, we did indeed struggle. No, we didn’t become airborne. I think this was in part due to the meat pies adding some ballast. However, it was really an effort to get back to the hotel.

Back in our room in the high-rise hotel, we could feel the building move a little bit as the gusty winds increased that evening. I know right, very eerie, indeed. The movement was faint, but the sensation was most definitely noticeable.

The next morning came early and we made our way to the train station, once again. This time we had a very long day with an eleven eleven-hour train ride ahead of us as our destination was Auckland, some 650km away. The scenic North Island train is called the Northern Explorer and has an interesting history which we learned about via the commentary while in route.

We learned about the famous engineering feat known as the Raurimu Spiral. It’s a famous section of railway located on the North Island Main Trunk Line near the town of Raurimu in the central North Island of New Zealand.

The Raurimu Spiral was built between 1898 and 1908 as part of the North Island Main Trunk Line, which is the main railway line in the North Island. The spiral is designed to help trains negotiate the steep gradient between the Raurimu and National Park areas. Instead of going straight up the mountain, the track loops around itself in a series of tight curves, allowing the train to gain altitude gradually. Since we were going down, we often went into a tunnel or under a bridge below the same track we’d just been on. Very cool.

This engineering marvel allows trains to climb or descend over 132 meters (433 feet) in altitude within a short distance, using a relatively gentle gradient. It’s a stunning example of railway engineering and is often considered one of the most impressive feats of its kind in the world. Today, the Raurimu Spiral is still in use and is a popular attraction for railway enthusiasts and tourists in New Zealand.

This particular train has yet to add the Scenic Plus service. We enjoy comfortable seats and big windows but with quite a few more people about us. The seating is assigned like on an airplane. We felt perfectly comfortable leaving our backpacks in the overhead space while we went to the Café car for breakfast. For lunch, the Café car was packed and we ate our sandwiches in our seats using the tray tables. The food on this train wasn’t nearly as yummy as the first-class sections we had on the other trains. But, it did the trick.

One of the funny things we notice is how the animals in the countryside react to the train. When passing sheep, and there are soooo many of them in New Zealand, all we’d see was their rumps as they ran from the train. Once one got skittish, they all took off. Cows would just stare at the train like cows do with those big eyes of theirs.

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The large windows on the train allow people to take in the stunning countryside

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When I think back to NZ, I will remember cows, sheep, and hay bales

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We see snow-capped mountains – keep in mind it was still summer at the time

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We pass over a few gorges

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The views from the train help the long day pass quickly

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I do love a good train ride

Trains are, and always will, be my preferred method of travel. However, 11 hours makes for a very long day. We arrived in Auckland right on time at 19:00. After grabbing our checked bags we took a taxi to the Marriott.

This is one of the few times we’ve taken a taxi in New Zealand and found ourselves being ripped off by the driver. He added a lot of extras to the meter making the short trip very expensive. It is because of drivers like this we use Uber whenever we have the opportunity. Frankly, I was just too tired to argue with the guy and paid the fare. He offered his card and told use to call him if we needed any more rides. Ha! Like that is going to happen.

We stay at the Marriott for free. I still have a ton of points from my days as a road-warrior. At check-in, we had a super friendly guy and we asked about places nearby to eat dinner. He gave us a few recommendations but finished with suggesting their restaurant. I have stayed in enough Marriott hotels to know very well their in-house restaurants can be hit or miss. However, he was very convincing. So, we gave it a try.

I can honestly say, we enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve had since arriving in New Zealand and we’ve had some great meals here. Accompanied with a bottle of Prosecco, we slowly ate ourselves into oblivion. Our plan was to take advantage of being in the heart of Auckland for the next couple of days and walk to the area attractions. This didn’t happen.

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The Sky Tower – Auckland

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The Auckland Ferry Terminal

The weather in Auckland was horrible. It rained all day and was cold. Yes, it was still summer. We went out for a couple of hours and had to basically duck into a coffee shop to stop ourselves from dying of hypothermia. And then, I hurt myself.

I managed to throw out my back. Ouch! It was the worst back pain I’ve ever experienced. Even sitting still, I’d get spasms of agonizing pain that would almost bring tears to my eyes. I wish I could write here that I was doing something heroic like lifting a child out of the way of an oncoming bus, or perhaps carrying something of great weight and importance to save the world. But alas, I have to admit I hurt my back taking off my pants. I was removing my pants that were damp because of the lovely New Zealand weather and something gave.

For the next day, we hung out at the hotel. This was not a bad thing since the weather had gone from bad to worse. It was now raining hard for most of the day and I swear if it got any cooler we’d have snow (keeping in mind it was summer).

The following day, with me pumped full of Advil, we caught a bus back to Whangarei and returned to the Puffster. This completed our journey of 84 towns, using two taxis and five Ubers. We rode on four trains, had two rental cars and went on three buses. To sleep, we stayed in five hotels and four rental homes (either AirBnB or VRBO). We also stayed at an awesome vineyard. We charted one helicopter, traveled on two planes, and one ferry.

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Heading north on Hwy 1 – We snag great seats on the bus at the very front

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On the 4 hr journey, we have a nice long chat with the bus driver – super nice guy

This brings our four-part series to a close. I think it is fair to say, we visited the South Island of New Zealand.

Categories: New Zealand, Sailing Blog, South Pacific Ocean

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