Wellington to Picton – our first ferry in New Zealand

From what we had seen of the North Island so far, which itself had been exemplary, we couldn’t wait to lay our eyes on the beauty of the South Island. We had already booked our tickets from Wellington to Picton on the Interislander ferry.

While we could’ve had more of Wellington it was time to journey ahead. South Island, we had been told, was one of the most beautiful places on Earth! From what we had seen of the North Island so far, which itself had been exemplary, we couldn’t wait to lay our eyes on the beauty of the South Island. We had already booked our tickets from Wellington to Picton on the Interislander ferry.

Easy check in at the Interislander terminal in Wellington

We had kept the tickets and our booking number for the Interislander ferry ready our phones. We went to the counter and told the lady we had a booking on the next ferry to the South Island. She just asked us our last names. We told her and helped her a bit with the spelling. That is all the information she needed. She just asked us to drop the bags on the conveyor belt, stuck the luggage tickets on them, gave us coupons to collect our luggage, and that’s it. She then asked us to make ourselves comfortable in the lounge as we waited for the boarding to begin.

The boarding began spot on time. We entered the boat and were taken aback by the size of the boat we had just entered. Had taken the wrong entrance.? That couldn’t be, because the guys at the entrance had said,“Welcome aboard the Interislander”.

Inside the Interisland ferry to the South Island

The first section was the regular rows of pushback seats. There weren’t many occupied seats so we knew there was something interesting further. The section of pushback seats led to a restaurant on one side of the boat. A proper sit down restaurant with wooden seats and all. On the other side of the aisle beyond the restaurant were jukeboxes and games. Youngsters were already lining up here to get their hands on some car racing.

Beyond this section was the cafe. This was the most interesting part of the boat for us. It was at the backside of the boat. And comfortable viewing chairs were places right at the end. So you could get your coffee, bury yourself in one of these chairs and watch the sea as your boat navigated to the South Island. Every single one of these seats had been occupied by Chinese tourists! Now we understood why they had made a dash for the front of the queue as soon as the boarding had opened up.

There were big sofas and sofa chairs as well, placed along all the windows. At this point, we weren’t interested in any of these seating options. We went straight out of the rear door on the open deck of the boat. Many others had also gathered here to feel that “wind in your face” phenomenon when the boat takes off.

Take off from the Wellington terminal on the Interislander

It was a bright sunny afternoon. We were on the blue waters, which, during our stay in Wellington, we had got used to admiring from the shore. Across the ferry terminal, we could see Wellington rise up on the hills. Through the greens of the hills, clusters of houses popped up. Standing on the deck of our Interislander ferry, we tried to identify the parts of the city that we had visited.

The boat started right on time. The captain welcomed everyone and explained our route. He assured us that the seas were calm and the weather good for a day out on the water. We passed through the Orient Bay, Lyall bay and all the other bays of Wellington. “Oh look, we walked through this stretch 2 days back” or “ This was what it was like beyond the hills we were seeing” remarks followed. Whatever bays were left for us to see during our stay in Wellington, we saw them here on our boat journey.

Soon the boat was out of Wellington and into the open seas. The hills surrounding Wellington were left behind and now all we could see was the water all the way to the horizon. No barrier of any kind also meant that it got windy enough to wear a jacket. After a while, the cap of the jacket came on as well to cover the ears. When the wind became loud enough that we couldn’t hear each other, we knew it was time to go back in the boat.

Chilling inside the Interislander boat

Those plush sofa seats were inviting in the warm insides. We got some mochaccinos and made ourselves comfortable in one of the seats next to the window. There were charging points here, a perfect place to charge the phones or get some work done. Besides, they also had WiFi. What more could we want? We used this chance to make a Skype call to a friend in India and wished her for her birthday.

This boat journey was turning out to be the complete opposite of what our boat journeys over the Amazon had been! Those had been days of stillness and solitude whereas this one was action packed! There were two TV screens at the two ends of the cafe. One playing music, and the other, rugby.

After a while, there was an announcement that the movie would start playing in 10 minutes. What? What movie? Turns out, there was a mini theatre on the boat as well. The next two hours, besides browsing the internet went by in browsing the boat as well. There was a play area for little kids, with toys and colours and things needed to keep them occupied on a boat for 2 hours. This was almost full, with many parents keeping their little ones busy here.

Into the South Island, reaching the Picton port

It was turning out to be perfect timing for our journey. Just as our boat approached the South Island, navigating the narrow turns of the Marlborough strait, the sky started turning a golden pink. What a wonderful welcome to the South Island! We could now see the tiny green islands of the Marlborough strait all around us.

Soon the boat reached the ferry terminal at Picton. It was almost dark by then, so we couldn’t get a hang of what Picton looked like.

Our bus for Nelson was just 15 minutes after our arrival at the Picton terminal. The lady at the baggage counter in Wellington had assured us it would be enough time. But since we are used to these timings only being an approximate range and not necessarily the exact time, we were a little worried. We quickly picked up our bags from the conveyor and headed out.

There was one bus waiting at the corner outside the ferry terminal. And another girl waiting outside. We asked her if she was also going to Nelson and she replied yes. Relieved, we waited on. Our bus was at 6. Five minutes to six and no action. We started to get a little worried. Was this the wrong bus? Was the actual bus waiting elsewhere? What if the bus was cancelled? We didn’t have internet access now, so wouldn’t know if the company had sent a message informing us of the cancellation! Where was the bus counter? Was there anyone we could ask? Questions started flogging our mind.

The other girl, the only other passenger waiting for the bus meanwhile was chilled as a cucumber. We couldn’t help wondering if she wasn’t worried that there weren’t any other passengers or that the driver wasn’t anywhere in sight. When curiosity became too much to handle and we asked her. She was from Nelson, studying in Wellington. So this journey was something she did on a regular basis. Sometimes the route would really not be busy, she said. Also, very matter of factly, she said it was still two minutes to six. So nothing to worry about! We realised it was time we adopt the Kiwi version of timings and leave our reflex “Indian” version to the side.

We asked the girl what she was studying. Criminology came as a surprise answer. Was there really any serious crime in New Zealand, we asked. Well, while growing up, the only crime that happened in her town was a young kid stealing a chocolate bar from the supermarket! We asked if things like pickpocketing were common, to which she replied, “what’s that?”

First journey in the South Island – from Picton to Nelson

For sure, a few seconds before six, the driver arrived. He looked like the real life version of “he’s a jolly good fellow”. Tall guy, with a noticeable paunch, glasses, curly hair, with a face that looked like he had just heard a joke. He came walking by as he had just attended a children’s birthday party. A quick check of our bags and asked us to hop in.

Since this was a short route – we would be in Nelson in a couple of hours – the bus was without wifi. Which was a bit of a problem. We had sent a last-minute Couchsurfing request to a girl in Nelson and hadn’t heard back from her. We were hoping to have wifi till the last minute, so we would know if she replied.

We weren’t too worried, though. The YHA hostel was just a 2-minute walk from the bus station. A few others joined us in the bus at some other stops in Picton. Most of them were getting of at the next town of Blenheim.

One of our co-passengers was this semi-drunk man, who took charge of providing entertainment for the evening. Right from telling the driver that he couldn’t drive and was driving too slow, he should be the one driving, instead! To asking the criminology student if she was going to use him in any of her case studies. In this journey, he was the one providing non-stop commentary instead of the driver. The driver had to actually ask him to shut up for a minute, so he could make an announcement.

Our driver had himself led a pretty adventurous life. He was an engineer by profession and took great pride in informing us that he held the license to drive every kind of civilian vehicle in New Zealand. He had once been in a freak accident, which had led to his car falling off into a lake, and him getting hypothermia. He had been in a coma for a while. It had taken him six months to recover. Just before the accident he had received a job offer as a driver. We asked him, if he had second doubts about taking up driving after the accident. “Why would I, it was a freaky accident, could happen to anyone!” was his reply. He loved to drive and being paid to drive was the best thing he could think of!

Homeless on the first night in South Island?

Once we reached Nelson he gave us directions to the YHA hostel. We got to the YHA and found it locked. We were a bit surprised, we had never encountered a locked hostel in our travels before. We rang the bell and the girl at the reception opened it for us. She seemed surprised to see us and asked us if we had a reservation. We said no but we were YHA members and would like two beds. “The reservation desk closes at 8. You should have reserved our beds earlier if you were coming after closing hours.” She couldn’t let us stay in tonight.

Okay, that was a surprise. We asked if there were any other hostels we could go to. Her reply was that she didn’t know of any and in any case, they would also all be closed. Okay, could she give us a password to the wifi, so we could look for options? “No, you don’t live here. Wifi is only for guests!” She seemed keen on being unhelpful. None of these issues were monumental. She could have easily helped us out if she wanted to. She just didn’t want to. Maybe she woke up on the wrong side of the bed!

Roaming around Nelson, looking for a place to stay

There was nothing left for us to do but to step out and hunt for a place to spend the night. There was another hostel, just around the corner. Also with locked doors. But we spotted a girl sitting inside at a table by the window. We knocked on the window and tried to signal that we needed help. She came to the door. We explained our situation to her. She replied that since the owner himself was here, maybe he could help. That sounded excellent.

The owner walked out of a dark room where he’d been watching TV with two other guys. Before we opened our mouths to explain, he asked us whether we wanted a room or a dorm. We told him dorms would be fine. “It’s a big dorm, 14 beds, all empty. Sleep wherever you want.”

We choose beds that look the cleanest. We headed straight to the kitchen to have our dinner. Thankfully, Darci and Simon had packed more than enough food in the dabbas. It felt good to eat home cooked food and think of warm friendships after surviving the “are we going to be homeless for the night” scare.

Our travel in the South Island of New Zealand had begun on an exciting note!

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