To the South Island
Monday, February 15
Time for our transition from New Zealand's north to south islands. We were taking the most commonly used [non-air] method: the main ferry route between Wellington (on the North Island) and Picton (on the South Island).
The crossing between Wellington and Picton is a busy one: it is served by two ferry companies - Blueline and Interislander, and between them, there are many crossings each day. Our crossing, which we had reserved in advance, left at 9:00am on an Interislander ferry called the Waikato. With brilliant morning sun slanting in below some morning clouds, we lined up with hundreds of other vehicles an hour beforehand.
The Kaitaki, as it turned out, is New Zealand's largest ferry, and it took some time for the hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people to be loaded and safely secured. We then spent some time exploring the many decks and passenger zones in the ferry, figuring out what place might be best to settle down for the three-hour journey to the south island. Andy and Andrea settled down in an airy, glassed-in area called "The Lookout". Brian and Lori found a row of seats in a more conventional area facing towards the bow.
I find all forms of transport cool - including ferries - so it wasn't in my nature to sit in a seat and let the sailing pass me by. Heading up to the outdoor observation areas, I took in the navigation out of Wellington's Harbour and out into the [very windy] waters of the Cook Strait. I was joined by Andy and Caroline, whose hair had very different reactions to the strong winds.
Greyer skies and a few drops of rain greeted our approach to the Marlborough Sounds region of the South Island. The region is characterized by many long fingers of water that infiltrate a rugged network of low mountains. Most of the land in the Sounds is connected to the mainland, usually in long, corrugated ridges containing innumerable little coves and inlets. A very complex landscape.
After winding through a narrow series of channels (similar in feel to the ferry crossing through the Gulf Islands to Vancouver Island in Canada), we emerged into the larger body of water known as Queen Charlotte Sound. After sailing most of the way down this body of water, we turned off into a smaller side bay and soon caught a glimpse of the port facilities of Picton - the southern terminus of our crossing.
The ferry terminal and adjacent town of Picton are a bit of a anomaly in the relatively rural area of the Marlborough Sounds. Presumably a big reason for the existence of Picton - at least in the form in which it currently exists - is due to the ferry terminal. With so much vehicle traffic arriving and leaving the South Island through this port, it was inevitable that some sort of infrastructure would grow up around it.
Now on dry land again, we turned our attention to our first South Island destination - the Tasman/Nelson area. Here, we'd prepare for an upcoming kayak adventure in Abel Tasman National Park.
We chose a slower-speed but more scenic (and shorter) route for our drive from the Picton ferry terminal to the Nelson/Tasman area. The route followed a superbly twisty road that wound in and out of many little hollows above the waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. Occasionally we would get a glimpse, between thick bush and jungly ferns, of a beautifully sandy cove. A small hint of what we could look forward to on our upcoming kayaking adventure.
Sections of twisty coastal road were separated by straight roads across flood plains. The highway then headed inland, following the farmed banks of the Pelorus River, before crossing a low mountain range and descending towards the city of Nelson, with a broad view of Tasman Bay on our right.
Nelson is the major urban center in the Tasman Bay area, with a population of about 50,000. Many other smaller communities are dotted along the crescent of Tasman Bay, communities heavily involved in farming apples, kiwifruit, olives, grapes, and hops. Ah yes, hops. The Tasman Bay area is well-known for hops, a fact of which beer-aficionado Andy was well aware.
Holiday Park Cabin
We navigated the traffic congestion of Nelson, and began up the highway linking the smaller communities along the Tasman Bay coastline. Our destination was one of these smaller communities - Motueka, where we had booked a couple of cabins in a Top 10 Holiday Park. Motueka worked well for us as a base before starting our upcoming kayaking and hiking adventure in the Abel Tasman area: it was large enough to have a big grocery store, and it was only a short drive from the kayak rental company and the start point of our journey into the park.
Prepping for Abel Tasman
We spent the remainder of the day getting ready for our next few days worth of adventuring. We also spent some time learning about the weather forecast over the next few days. Unfortunately, what we heard was not encouraging.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - To South Island - click map to view