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Windy Wellington, and Across the Cook Strait

After spending Christmas Eve in the nearly-empty Portland Hotel in Wellington, I drove around the city for a bit on Christmas morning.  I didn't really miss Christmas because, with the palm trees and the balmy weather here, it didn't 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 as in swimsuit -- definitely not a pretty sight on me).

 

Wellington, located on the southern tip of the North Island, is the capital of New Zealand and is a 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 a breeze.  Although there weren't many people around, Wellington seemed like a nice city and, with the hills and the bay, it has a dramatic setting, something like a semi-tropical version of San Francisco.  And speaking of breeze, the winds blast through the nearby Cook Strait nearly every day, giving the city the nickname of Windy Wellington.

 

I boarded one of the Interisland ferries, called the Lynx, that afternoon and crossed the Cook Strait bound for the South Island, a two-hour trip.  It was a smooth and pleasant ride on the catamaran-like Lynx, and the boat was packed with festive travelers.  And I mean packed, to capacity.  I had snagged one of the last spots on this crossing when I had reserved it several days earlier from Auckland.

 

Above:  The waterfront in windy Wellington.  Wow, what a wharf.

Late in the afternoon the ferry pulled into the South Island terminal in the picturesque town of Picton, a town that I hope to spend more time visiting during my trip back up the coast.  I had made a reservation for that evening in a private campground in Picton but it was very bleak and crowded, so I made a quick exit and instead found a nice room at the wonderful Broadway Motel in the middle of town, where I spent a pleasant night.

 

Pleasant, I should say, with one exception:  the three mutton sausages I cooked for dinner.  I mentioned this before briefly but I'll discuss it in more detail here.  As you may 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 sausage that's a Midwestern tradition and something I got hooked on when I lived in Wisconsin many years ago.  I've been disappointed here in New Zealand not to find any bratwurst, 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 mutton sausages.

 

 

For some strange reason, the 1960s group The Monkees are really popular in New Zealand and you hear them all the time on the radio.  Here's Last Train To Clarksville.

   

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 nasty.  Unfortunately, the Doritos option (always a good alternative to a real dinner) is out, too, because they don't sell them 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 packed with tourists, so after spending a night there and eating those disgusting mutton things, I continued heading south the next morning.

 

       

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

Above center:  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 two hours to cross the Cook Strait and, with a car, it costs about US$100.

Above right:  The Lynx pulling into its berth.

 

   

Above left:  Unloading vehicles.

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

 

       

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 during his first voyage to the Pacific in 1769.

 

   

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

Above right:  Picturesque Picton.

South From Picton

The next day was sunny and warm, and I left Picton and headed south on Highway 1 while enjoying the beautiful scenery on the east coast of the South Island.  After a few hours, my gas gauge began pushing the big "E," so I pulled into a petrol station south of Blenheim and filled 'er up, then walked inside to pay.  New Zealand gas stations (er, "petrol stations") are generally much more appealing than the drab mini-marts in the U.S., like Circle K's and 7-11's, and this one even had a "tea room" inside.  Very nice.

 

Above:  The Picton waterfront.  Not as windy as Wellington.  Whew!

I wasn't in the mood for tea, but I hungrily eyed the assortment of ice cream barrels by the cash register, so I asked the friendly cashier about one of the flavors, something called "Hokey Pokey."  In the U.S., the Hokey Pokey is a stupid dance done at weddings (one reason I've never gotten married).  And as any American who has ever attended a wedding can tell you, the Hokey Pokey is also "what it's all about." 

 

But the Hokey Pokey in New Zealand, as I discovered, has nothing to do with weddings or the meaning of life.  Instead, it's a type of ice cream that's filled with butterscotch, gum drops and other sweet goodies.  Two big scoops of Hokey Pokey in a cone it was, then, and I got back on the highway heading south, steering with one hand and slurping my yummy ice cream cone with the other.  And as I slurped my way down the beautiful coast of the South Island, I decided that this is what it's all about.

 

Later that afternoon I stopped at a couple of public campgrounds run by the Department of Conservation (or DOC, pronounced "dock"), which is New Zealand's equivalent to America's National Park Service, Forest Service and BLM all rolled into one.  Neither campground was very appealing, with tents there crammed next to each other, so I kept going and spent the night in the pleasant coastal town of Kaikoura (pop. 3,600), where I was lucky to grab one of the last vacant motel rooms in the entire town.

 

Above:  A vineyard on South Island.

The next morning I decided to press on to Christchurch, take refuge in a motel there for a while, and spend a few days updating my website and returning emails while avoiding the crowded roads, campgrounds and towns.  I figured that it would be after New Year's by then and the crowd situation might be a little better.  As I drove south from Kaikoura, I passed by -- quite seriously -- a bearded guy on the shoulder of the road wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes, way out in the middle of nowhere.  I'm sure he had an interesting story but before I could comprehend what I had just seen, I had driven a half-mile past him.  Every now and then, you see something pleasantly odd like that in New Zealand.

 

I arrived in sunny Christchurch around midday and, from the name, expected to see lots of churches, ministers, and pious-looking people here (perhaps even a Flying Nun or two).  As I discovered though, Christchurch isn't all that religious.  But it is the second-largest city in New Zealand, with a population of about 300,000, and is the largest city on the South Island.  Being on the South Island and away from the strong Maori influence on the North Island, Christchurch is probably New Zealand's most "English" city.  In fact, many people call Christchurch the most English city outside of England -- just as Quebec, Canada is probably the most French city outside of France.

 

Christchurch was named in 1850 by the early settlers, members of the Church of England who wanted the town to be more stratified and hierarchical than those wild-'n-crazy places like Wellington and Auckland.  It started out that way, but then the class barriers started breaking down and -- horrors! -- Christchurch became pretty much like the other cities in New Zealand.

 

I've spent most of the past four days in my motel room working on my photos, website, and other tasks, so I haven't checked out Christchurch much yet, but I like what I've seen so far.  After I get this update posted, I'll get outside and explore Christchurch more and will, hopefully, post a review in my next update.  Let us pray.

 

   

Above left:  "Poppies!  Poppies will make them sleep."

Above right:  The scenery in New Zealand is spectacular.  This is Highway 1 near Clarence.

 

       

Above left:  The Pacific Coast near Kaikoura

Above center:  Rocks on the coast.

Above right:  Because the camping situation in New Zealand has been so crowded, I've decided to stay in motels.  Fortunately, New Zealand motels are wonderful.  Most of them are small and family-owned, and have "self-contained" rooms (i.e., with a kitchen, refrigerator, and dinnerware).  They're pretty reasonable, too, averaging around US$30 per night.  I've stayed in some nice ones for less than $20 a night.

My Next Update

There aren't many places in New Zealand where I have local access to my ISP, Earthlink, which is why I haven't been very good lately about responding to my email.  For those non-techies out there, to update my website or check my email, I first have to plug my laptop into a phone jack (usually in a motel room), then dial the local number of my Internet Service Provider, Earthlink.  For some reason, though, Earthlink has about a million places in Australia with local internet access -- including in an oddly-named town called Toowoomba -- but very few places here in New Zealand. 

 

I'll try to update my website again once I get to Dunedin (pronounced "Dun-EDEN"), which is south of Christchurch and is supposedly the most Scottish city in New Zealand.  Yummm, I can almost smell the haggis!

 


 

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