Day 9 Sunday 23 February – Wellington, Cook Strait, Ashburton

After an early breakfast, the coach took us down to the Ferry Terminal and we boarded the Inter-Islander Ferry, the Kaitaki, for our journey across the Cook Strait to the South Island. The Cook Strait separates the North and South Islands, is 22 kilometres wide at its narrowest point and was named after Captain James Cook, who was the first European commander to sail across in 1770.

Kaitaki, meaning Challenger in Maori, is the largest ferry in New Zealand waters with room for up to 1,650 passengers and 600 cars as well as 1,780 metres of trailer capacity (this is where our coach was). Her gross tonnage is 22,365 and she is 181.6 metres long, 23.4 metres wide, her maximum speed is 20.5 knots and there are 10 decks.  It costs $54 per person one-way and $1,200 for our coach.

When we boarded the ferry, we made our way straight up to Deck 8 and settled ourselves into the Ocean View Lounge – we managed to get a table with four chairs right in the middle at the front, with a magnificent view out over the bow of the boat!!  We were 45 minutes late leaving Wellington because the another inter-islander ferry was late arriving and had to be unloaded before our ferry could be loaded – and we had a full boat, with lots of heavy vehicles.

We cruised through Wellington Harbour, out around Pencarrow Head, where we saw the oldest lighthouse in New Zealand (built in 1859), past Sinclair Head and out into the stronger currents of the Cook Strait. We saw several pods of dolphins, playing in the bow wave as the ferry made its way across Cook Strait. We entered the South Island and into Whekenui Bay, travelled along the Tory Channel, rounded Dieffenbach Point and into Queen Charlotte Sound, eventually making our way to Picton.

We thoroughly enjoyed this scenic voyage, crossing the Cook Strait through the Marlborough and Queen Charlotte Sounds to Picton. The 92 kilometre, three-hour journey aboard the Kaitaki was spectacular, especially with it being such a beautiful sunny day!!

When we were close to Picton, an announcement was made for us to go down to Level 3 to board our coach to be driven off the ferry.  We left Picton at 12.50pm and headed south on Highway 1, driving through Blenheim, which is recorded as being the sunniest place in New Zealand. This area is the Marlborough Region, which is a well-known wine making region and we saw lots and lots of vineyards, including many new plantings.

Just outside Clifford Bay, we saw a salt farm with big pinkish colour ponds – the pink colour is from the chemical used to aid in the process of drying out the salt.  The salt is used for table salt and salt lick blocks for cattle.

As we continued our journey, we came out to the coast and drove along beside the Pacific Ocean for some time, watching some clouds rolling in, as well as the magnificent views.  It was interesting that on one side there was the ocean and on the other side there were mountains.  We crossed the Clarence River and saw some seals basking in the sun. At Half Moon Bay, Malcolm/Laurie made a photo stop for us at a seal colony and we were delighted that the sun had come out!!  We saw lots of seals basking in the sun and there were even some new seal pups.

We stopped at Kaikoura, a seaside whale watching settlement for afternoon tea at The Craypot Café and Bar.  We went for a wander across the road to the pebble beach with great views of the Kaikoura Peninsula and also views back along the coast that we had just travelled.

As we continued our journey, we watched some very black clouds getting closer to us.  It was strange that to the east were dark clouds and to the west was brilliant sunshine!

After a comfort stop at Amberley, we saw a twister off to the west and then it started to rain very heavily and then we experience very heavy hail, which luckily, only lasted about 5 minutes – but there was lots of hail piled up on the edges of the road.  Shortly after that, we were back into bright sunshine again.

We continued down the east coast, bypassing Christchurch and made our way to Ashburton, which is a large town, that serves the surrounding farming district, for our overnight stop. Ashburton sits between two major rivers – the Rakaia and Rangitata – so fly-fishing is the local obsession.

Once again, we have had a very unusual, but wonderful day!

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