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Across the Cook Strait to South Island

(Reprint from News: January 1, 2002)

December 25, 2001


After spending Christmas Eve in the empty Portland Hotel in Wellington, I drove around the city a bit on Christmas morning.  Like I've said, though, I didn't really miss Christmas much because, with the palm trees and the balmy weather here, it didn't really feel like Christmas and it was hard to imagine people in America celebrating the holiday, especially since I was wearing shorts and thongs (that's thongs as in footwear, not thong as in swimsuit -- definitely not a pretty sight on me).


Wellington, on the southern tip of the North Island, is the capital of New Zealand and is a pretty vibrant city packed in close to the bay with steep hills on three sides.  On Christmas morning, however, the city was virtually deserted which made driving on its one-way streets fairly easy.  Although there weren't many people around, Wellington seemed like a nice city and, with the hills and the bay, it has quite a dramatic setting.  The winds blast through the nearby Cook Strait nearly every day giving the city the nickname of Windy Wellington.


For some reason, The Monkees are really popular in New Zealand, and you hear them all the time on the radio.  Here's Last Train To Clarksville.

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I caught one of the Inter-island ferries that afternoon and crossed the Cook Strait bound for the South Island, a two-hour trip.  The ferry terminal on the South Island is in the picturesque town of Picton, a town that I hope to spend more time in during my trip back up the coast.  I had made a reservation that evening in a private campground in Picton but after driving through the very bleak and crowded campground, I made a quick exit and found a nice room at the Broadway Motel in the middle of town and spent a pleasant night there. 


Pleasant, I should say, with one exception -- namely, the three mutton sausages I cooked up for dinner.  As you might know if you followed me around the U.S., my favorite dinner on the road is brats and beans.  That's "brats" as in bratwurst, spicy German sausages that are a Midwestern tradition and something I got hooked on when I lived in Wisconsin many years ago.  When I got to New Zealand, I was disappointed to learn that they don't sell bratwurst here, not even in the big supermarkets in Auckland.  They didn't seem to have plain, ol' hot dogs either.  So, in desperation, I bought a package of bland mutton sausages. 


As Jerry Seinfeld once asked, "What is mutton, anyway?"  Well, it's sheep, Jerry.  And as you probably know, New Zealand is crammed with sheep -- something like 40 million of the little buggers, which means lots and lots of mutton sausages.  I guess I'll have to find a better staple for dinner because mutton sausages are really, really nasty.  Unfortunately, the Doritos option (always a good alternative to a real dinner) is out, since they don't sell them here in New Zealand.  They do, however, sell something called "Bulk Chips" which are like a blander, thicker version of Doritos and are fairly palatable.


Other than eating mutton sausages and Bulk Chips, there are a lot of things to see and do in beautiful Picton, such as exploring the countless bays and inlets in adjacent Queen Charlotte Sound.  However, the town was pretty packed with tourists, so after spending that night there and eating those disgusting mutton things, I continued heading south the next morning.  


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Above left:  While waiting for my ferry boat to arrive, I walked around the streets of Wellington, virtually deserted on Christmas Day. 

Above center:  The Wellington waterfront.

Above right:  The Lynx, one of four inter-island ferries, pulling into Wellington harbor.  The only time I could get a reservation was on Christmas Day, and I was lucky to get that.  It takes about 2 hours to cross the Cook Strait and, with a car, it costs about US$100.


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Above left:  The Lynx pulling into its berth...

Above center:  ...and unloading vehicles.

Above right:  "Windy Wellington" is a pretty compact city with steep cliffs on three sides, and a well-protected harbor.


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Above left:  Finally, loading up.

Above center:  The lounge area inside the Lynx.  You wouldn't know we were cruising along at 25 knots.

Above right:  Saying goodbye to the North Island as we head out into the choppy Cook Strait, bound for the South Island.  Captain James Cook discovered this strait in 1769.


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Above left:  A couple hours later, the Lynx pulled into Picton, the South Island terminus for the inter-island ferries.

Above center:  Picton at dusk.

Above right:  Picturesque Picton.


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