The New Zealand Diaries: of ferry crossings and lessons learned (04/01/2016)


Today, apart from enjoying some new views and delights, I learned some very important lessons:

  1. A fleece and a raincoat are very useful items to bring to New Zealand. In a single day you may go from wearing flip flops and shorts to digging around for a hat, gloves, a fleece and a raincoat
  2. Sea sickness tablets can be a very useful ingredient of any first aid kit; that said, they need to be taken pre-emptively prior to any journey
  3. In the event of sea sickness striking, ice cubes work wonders to prevent the worst
  4. Petrol stations are less frequent in NZ than in the UK; maintaining a full fuel tank prior to running on your last drop is therefore advisable
  5. Wind can make a camper-van wobble
  6. Sea lions can look like rocks….until they move

Pretty good going for a day’s learning, isn’t it? No wonder, perhaps, that with a learning curve this steep, the work for my dreaded maths GCSE has rather suffered since I arrived in NZ….I need to start resuming that now that I can adopt a slightly slower pace here on the South Island. Oh blissful ntentions…..

It has been a wonderful day …….thanks to those of you who prayed for sunshine for me to be able to see Wellington. I woke up to a cold but dry Wellington and so was able to enjoy some wonderful views of the town and coast as our ferry pulled out of the harbour headed to New Zealand’s South Island via Cook Strait. I have to say melancholy  struck as I watched the North Island disappear in the distance–so many wonderful memories; so much still to see. I already know that I want to come back one day.

I managed to successfully manoeuvre the camper onto the ferry (despite a rather embarrassing parking endeavour which was worsened by the strange instructions the poor guy was trying to give me……when a woman is parking, it can be best for men to stay out the way……I,  at least, have my own technique which involve looking at lines on the ground rather than a guy standing in my way shouting things at me …….but then my spatial abilities have never been that developed).  Arriving on the passenger deck I had two choices: grab a cosy chair and table and a coffee; or cover myself in layers, head out onto the deck and face the extremely heavy winds o in exchange for some stunning views. Those who know me well will not have to guess which of the two options I picked……


And so I did see Wellington–the pretty houses on the hills, the government buildings, the harbour area, the blue waters of the bay…….as soon as we hit the open sea, however, the winds picked up and the journey got very choppy. With hindsight, it is all quite funny……occasional shouts as huge waves hit the front windows of the boat; those people who were brave enough to walk around were being thrown from one side of the bar to the other, staggering like drunkards; while those of us who sat in the middle sat in silence staring into space…..the middle section of the boat was so quiet ….everyone was pretending to be fine when they were not. One of the staff wandered round with a bucket of ice cubes and they helped me so much that I was able to stay seated and, in the end, fell asleep cosily on my arms, cradled by the sea, having prayed to God that He would calm the seas and that I would be able to stay were I was and rely on the ice cubes.

I was woken up by the guy opposite me munching a fry-up (strategic a when all I could stomach was ice…….) and when I turned to my left I saw the green hills and islands of the Sound which surrounds Picton harbour on the South Island. On went the fleece and the rain coat,  and what bliss it was to be able to walk about again, sniffing the sea air and taking in the picture- perfect sights that were welcoming those who ventured outside: crystal clear water in sandy, green bays—-the water painted in more shades of green and blue than I ever thought possible; sailing boats steaming past, whipping up white foam which added to the colour palette; closer to the harbour, sea gulls and other birds circling across the water surface trying to catch fish. The sun started peeping through the clouds and I started feeling warm-ish again in the brief moments of respite from the wind which the elements granted us……

My journey down to Kaikoura was magnificent. I passed through the beautiful Malborough area with its golden hills, dotted with acres and acres of vineyards and, of course, large and small flocks of sleep and relaxed-looking cattle….until suddenly, crystal clear blue water started peeping out from behind the hills, signalling the coast and its hidden treasures.  Photos do not capture the colour display which I was privy to while driving along…..I was in awe and so excited, despite the greater difficulties in driving today: the wind was so strong that the maximum speed a camper could risk reaching was 80km/h (when on other days I had easily been able to do 100km/h).  Must be something to do with the large surface area exposed to the elements…..I am bad at physics but am sure someone scientific out there could explain that one to me

Perhaps because I was so in awe of the new sights ahead of me, my eyes were more on the scenery than on the fuel gage —the camper seemed to be feasting more than usual today and suddenly there was an orange warning light. What do you do when you are told that Kaikoura is 40 minutes away and the nearest petrol station is 20 minutes behind you in a town you have just passed? Answer—smile at a random stranger who is smiling at you and has a dog; who it turns out you have smiled at before in remote Te Uwerera National Park (I recognised her dog in the end) and before you know it you not only have a new friend (Beate and her hubby, who are German, have been living in NZ for the last 5 years but are soon moving back home), but are also privy to some precious drops of fuel carried by organised Germans (clearly Beate has also had non-fuel gage watching moments in NZ). Lulled into a false sense of security, I continued on to Kaikoura only to find 5 minutes later than the gage was back on orange—and so started 40 minutes of fuel- related worry, which involved trying to memorise the locations of the nearest houses lest I should break down. I call the game “spot the farm-house”–farmers may have spare fuel in their sheds 🙂 So empty was my tank when I reached Kaikoura that my poor camper guzzled more fuel than its actual fuel capacity which made the petrol station staff laugh. I literally got there on the last drop, and the engine had been slowing down already ……not an experience to be repeated, methinks.

The adrenaline – filled last 40 minutes of my drive to Kaikoura did not prevent me from feeling such joy at the blue and turquoise sea and some other delights: a colony of sea lions which lives just outside of Kaikoura. I stopped in a little lay-by and spotted 2-3……but then gradually more stones started moving and there were a good 30 sea lions…bulls, mums and babies and grouchy bachelors fighting each other; mostly snoozing and then occasionally taking a short waddle only to curl up in a different position on a different rock for another rock. They were wonderful and I may drive back there tomorrow to see the baby sea lions play in the water falls nearby

Now I am happily settled here at the camp-site, seeing to chores such as “Mount Washing”, tidying up the camper (well, that is the plan) and writing this little blog before wandering into town later to explore and maybe get a nice sea food dinner. Tomorrow morning I go on a boat cruise to (hopefully) swim with dolphins (and yes, I will be having the sea sickness tablets purchased upon departure from the ferry…and yes, they will form part of my breakfast).  I hope to see these playful creatures this time round……apparently if you hum they come to you……though how to hum and breathe at the same time through a snorkel eludes me….perhaps tomorrow I will be able to provide guidance on this (or have a stomach full of sea water, or both……)