The last two weeks here in New Zealand have been busy. Work, having resumed after the break, has been consuming far too much of my time, and I’ve been putting off writing my next blog post for long enough. It’s time to resume the story of our holiday trip.
Our story resumes in the Carillon Motor Lodge in Wellington, a strange but perfectly comfortable place to stay the night. Our alarm woke us unfeasibly early the following morning; we rose, we showered, we dressed, we left. I did, in amongst all of these activities, attempt to pay for our stay, but there was nobody at reception to take our money. I followed their lead from the night before, left my key on the counter with a note saying “We’ll be back tomorrow; we’ll pay you then,” and then loaded up the car with bags and family, and left.
We drove through Wellington, the skies grey and leaden above us. We followed the signs leading us up Lambton Quay and around the harbour to the ferry terminal. There are two ferry companies working the Cook Strait, Interislander and Bluebridge. We chose Interislander based on price; their $230 return fare for the three of us (two adults and one twelve-year-old) made the decision for us. Interislander, the government-owned service, is, we’ve been told, usually the luxury-and-comfort option, with Bluebridge, a private operator, apparently the more budget-oriented choice, but when we were booking, Interislander offered us a lower price and won our vote.
I parked in the ferry terminal car park, a somewhat dingy-looking place, a gravel-and-mud (lots of mud; it was quite a rainy day) affair surrounded by fencing and covered by a motorway overpass. I duly paid the overnight parking fee, and dragged a suitcase to the terminal building,where The Girls were waiting for me. Deborah had already checked us in; I handed over our suitcase, and we made our way to the cafe for breakfast — pies and coffee.
We marched up the gangway at about quarter past eight. The Kaitaki was our ship for the day, the largest of the three in the Interislander fleet. We made our way up to the observation deck, made ourselves comfortable, and waited for departure.
We had planned to take our car with us, but the prices we were quoted were just that bit too expensive. We decided that the journey itself would be the destination; everything we’d read about the trip, sailing from Wellington, out across the Cook Strait, then through the Marlborough Sounds and into Picton, told us that we were about to experience one of the most beautiful sea voyages in the world. And I have no doubt that, in good weather, this is probably quite true. When we sailed, however, we found ourselves sailing through the most disappointingly foul conditions.
The water, mercifully, was still. But the sky was slate-grey, the wind stiff (although not, I’ve been led to believe, as stiff as it can be in those parts; not by a long chalk), and the rain drizzly and miserable. We ventured, intermittently, outside, but the views were just a little too saddening and gloomy. We remained inside, enjoying our coffee and chips, until the ferry finally arrived in Picton.
Once ashore, we took a taxi to our hotel for the night, the Yacht Club. Picton being a rather tiny place, the Yacht Club was barely a sixty-second taxi ride from the ferry terminal, but, given the weather and the fact that we were, frankly, just feeling bloody lazy, we were glad of the lift. We arrived at what we had imagined would be a rather upmarket lodging for the evening, and found that there was some quite extensive renovation and construction work going on. Rooms were being gutted from the outside in, cranes littered the car park, and, as we sat in reception waiting to check in, we had to cover our ears against the noise of a drill that endlessly hammered its way into a wall out by the swimming pool.
The noise, I suppose, could account for the fact that whoever had taken my booking over the phone earlier in the week had misheard my name as “Phyliss.” But no matter; we checked in, and the manageress led us to our room. We had booked a basic room with a double and a single bed; because of the atrocious noise, we had been upgraded to a suite. And quite a suite it was, too — from the fully-equipped kitchen (and it was, indeed, fully equipped — coffee press, sandwich grille, three different sets of wine glasses so that one need not drink ones Pinot Noir from ones Champagne flute; that simply wouldn’t do, now, would it?) to the dining table with stuffed-leather dining chairs to the 50-inch plasma-screen telly hanging on the wall to the under-floor heating in the bathroom, this was a comfortable room. We lounged for a few minutes, then ventured out into Picton.
Were it not for its being Wellington’s South Island counterpart for the Cook Strait ferries, Picton would be utterly unknown outside, well, Picton, probably. There was nothing wrong with Picton, but nor was there anything particularly right with it either. It had a pleasant harbour, an unremarkable number of yachts bobbing in the water. A pleasant sea-front park was close to a pleasant crescent with pleasant cafes and a pleasant high street with only a slightly-higher-than-normal number of gift shops indicating that this was anything more than just another New Zealand town. Lunch was another overpriced cafe; at this point on the trip, much as we were reveling in the joys of astonishing views and pleasant towns, we were becoming a little tired of the ultimately somewhat samey cafes. We had soup, or pies, or maybe a sandwich — after a while, the memories start to blur a tad. I had a coffee, though — of that I’m quite sure; I always have coffee. But that’s just me.
Picton’s joys and delights were expended in about an hour. We adjourned to our suite, and flicked through the television listings. Deborah found herself utterly engrossed in The Weakest Link; Daughter heartily enjoyed The Suite Life On Deck. I nipped out to the chippie up the road and brought back fish and chips for tea. I had looked in the Four Square for a bottle of local wine, but while the fridge was filled to bursting with plenty of Hawke’s Bay and Gisbourne plonk, the Picton Bay sauvignon blanc or chardonnay that I happen to know are rather pleasant simply weren’t available. It was a tad disappointing to arrive in the ground zero of New Zealand’s wine industry and not find the local drop for sale, but we found comfort in the wine we did enjoy that evening. After the third bottle, we decided that it didn’t matter that much, after all.
Next stop: not dying on State Highway 5