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  • Day13

    Feb 3 - South via Ferry, Train & Coach

    February 3, 2020 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 26 °C

    Will post the pictures for this footprint later today.....

    We were on the bus at 7:30 a.m. A few minutes later, we were at the ferry terminal. We had to be there good and early so that Linda could a prime parking spot for the bus close to the exit ramp. We climbed on as foot passengers (a regulation) but were able to board the coach for disembarkation.

    Our destination was Picton on the South Island travelling via ferry across the Cook Strait that separates the North Island and the South Island. In true GPT fashion, we had a lounge area all to ourselves. We promptly started spreading our paperwork out as we had to choose our excursions for the middle of the week. Linda helped us each to make our choices. Stay tuned to see what I chose. Hint - at least one is an activity that Doug would NEVER do.

    The crossing on the Interislander Ferry was 3.5 hours and today, despite the windy conditions in Wellington, was extremely smooth. About halfway through, a cart came around serving warm scones with butter, jam and whipped cream. This travelling thing can make a girl peckish, so I downed one and then helped Jenny to finish up the other half of hers. That thin milk better start working soon. I spent some time on the side deck for a while to enjoy the panoramic views through the Marlborough Sounds. Winston Churchill’s family were Marlboroughs. He was born at Blenheim Palace (Doug and I have been there) - there is a town of Blenheim along the train route that we are going to take. Somebody who named places around here liked that family.

    We arrived right on schedule in Picton on another warm, sunny day. I changed into a t-shirt and shorts from the warm clothes that I had expected I would need on the ferry. We had about an hour for lunch so I found the grocery store and got caramel yogurt and Bundaberg lemonade so I could support the NZ dairy industry and a longterm Australian company. I found a spot by the water and soaked in the sunshine while giving the lurking sea gulls and geese the evil eye.

    Picton has something that I've seen in a lot of other NZ locations - free public toilets. These ones are self-contained units - toilet, sink and hand dryer. A lovely voice tells you that you have 10 minutes to do your stuff. Then elevator music plays to disguise the sound of whatever you are doing. Canada - lets get these!!!

    About 2:00 p.m., we boarded the train in Picton to enjoy the Coastal Pacific, a spectacular rail journey that follows a thin wedge of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Kaikoura Ranges. Linda will meet us in Kaikoura and we’ll continue from there to Christchurch. We felt like a bunch of rookies being allowed to solo for the first time!

    The countryside that the train is travelling though is hilly with lots of forests. There is evidence of clearcutting on one side. We are passing farms too - just like in the North Island, things are pretty brown because of the prolong dry spell. We have headsets and occasionally there are commentaries about each area - people who shaped the area, geological events, the local industries and Maori legends that explain the topography.

    The train does go all the way to Christchurch but it would get us in very, very late. GPT has found that going as far as Kaikoura by train and continuing on by coach lets us enjoy the most scenic partsof the trip but gets us into Christchurch at a more reasonable hour. Out dinner has been all prearranged for us - we made our menu choices a few days ago. GPT knows how to make effective use of our time.

    We passed Lake Grassmere, which more a lagoon than a lake. Close to the sea, it has a high salinity. Along with the high winds and the strong sun, the area is ideal for salt extraction. A large range of salts with slightly different chemical compositions, grain sizes and shapes are produced at Lake Grassmere. All table salt produced in New Zealand is solar salt, and both iodised and non-iodised table salt are available.

    An unexpected sight that wasn’t on the GPT agenda - four guys mooned us!

    We saw huge vineyards as we passed through the premier grape growing region of New Zealand. Olive growing is now big business here too. The vineyards are enormous in comparison to the smaller, more boutique-style wineries that dominate the Niagara area.

    The train began to run right alongside the water’s edge - the South Pacific Ocean - if you looked really, really carefully, you could see the next land mass - Chile - only 9000 kms away! The water was a soft emerald green, in contrast to the very green and sometimes very brown steep hills on the other side of the tracks.

    A devastating earthquake in November of 2016 badly damaged this rail line and road that parallels it. In an incredible feat of engineering fortitude, the first train travelled on the rebuilt line just 10 months later. Repair/reinforcement work is still going on as a result of that earthquake.

    Kaikoura used to be a thriving whaling centre. When the whaling industry declined, so did the town. But then the whales came back and Kaikoura is now a major centre for whale watching expeditions.

    The views along the coastline were delightful as were wound our way along, sometimes passing underneath hills/mountains via narrow tunnels. Along the water’s edge, we got to see seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Seals like to just eat and sleep. Me too.

    We go to the hotel just after 8:00 a.m. - a long day of travel by coach, ferry and train, but a very enjoyable one that has my mind bumming with wonderful images of this gorgeous country.

    We had just enough time to tidy up before dinner. We ate in a solarium that we had all to ourselves. The food was superb and the company, as always, interesting and entertaining.

    The bathroom in my room has a heated towel rack and a heated floor. Pretty classy place - it’s a sister hotel to the one we stayed at in Rotorua, but with less bling.

    Doug and I video chatted again. He went to the gym and then watched the Super Bowl (KC beat SF much to the delight of some of my fellow travellers). We’re both counting down the days until next Thursday when there is going to be a tearful reunion at the Auckland airport.
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