Thursday, January 3, 2013

Blowin’ In The Wind

January 2, 2013

I’m adding lots of photos because there has been so much going on – but that means the photos will be small, so remember to click on any photo to enlarge it and see all the detail.

It was crazy windy in Wellington, so we bundled up on New Year's Eve and headed down to Taranaki Wharf (named for the Taranaki Volcano, which is still active and apparently looks so much like Mt. Fuji that it is often used in films).  We wandered around, watching people and waiting for midnight – it was a clear night and the moon was just a few days past full and was shining on the water like a bright beacon, absolutely beautiful.  People were walking back and forth, some bundled up, some in summer clothes or party dresses – because this was New Year’s Eve, despite the weather.

And then a few official people came by to announce that the fireworks had been cancelled.  During the afternoon, when it was time to set up the barges, the wind was over 40 kilometers per hour – apparently that’s the cut off point for safety.  (And, having seen Hassel Island in the VI catch on fire twice due to fireworks, well, we absolutely understand the hazards of fireworks in high winds.)  It was a let down, but someone was shooting off Roman candles or something, so at least we had a little bit of fireworks going on.  We wandered a bit more, then headed back to our hotel.  Midnight struck as we left the wharf area, a few boats blew their horns, and everyone wished each other Happy New Year.  

The wind was even stronger on Tuesday, with periodic rain – it was forecast to hit 120-140 kph during the night.  (That’s about 70-75 mph wind.  Yes, gale force.  Hurricane force.  Strong wind.)  

We stayed inside.  I did exciting things like laundry (yes, clothes need to be washed, even when one is traveling).  And we re-packed once again, and got ready for our trip to the South Island.

Our ferry left at 8 AM – this is a HUGE ferry, the InterIsland ferry, going from Wellington to Picton, and crossing the Cook Straits.  The entire trip is about 3 hours, but about half of that is in two harbours – first the Wellington Harbour, which took close to 45 minutes to cross before we hit open sea.  

Then the roller coaster ride of Cook Straits, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean, and we bounced up and down in 2 to 3 meter swells – my photos don’t quite do justice to the height of the waves and depth of the troughs between.  Let’s just say that the outside observation decks were all closed during this part of the trip because the wind was so strong that the captain felt it posed a danger to passengers. 

And the ferry’s magazine says that Cook Straits is known as one of the most treacherous crossings in the world.  The waves definitely were impressive from our front row seats in the café area (and my photos are all taken through the windows, that’s why there are smudges.)  

After the crossing, we entered Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte Harbour, which looks unbelievably like Puget Sound except with much cleaner water in a deep aqua color.  Mountainous islands, sleep hills, cliffs dropping to the sea, rocky or cobble beaches – very dramatic, very green, very beautiful.  

We had to wait outside Picton while another ship docked – they were having some problems “berthing” (as the captain called it) due to the high winds.  So we docked a little bit late, but managed to disembark with a bit of time before our 1 PM train southward.  Walked over to the train station, got our boarding passes, and headed to a pub for lunch – the “Toot and Whistle” (really!) for the ever-present fish and chips.  (With a side salad – we chose to skip the other optional side, a fried egg.  Really.  Have you ever seen fish and chips with a side egg?  Seems to be a NZ thing, the fried egg side.)

Anyway, we’re currently on the train, having just passed through Wairapa, and heading south toward Christchurch.  Christchurch is still rebuilding after the horrendous earthquake two years ago, and is NZ’s second largest city (after Auckland).  We’ll be staying with a lovely woman I met online, and her husband – they kindly offered to put us up for our several nights in Christchurch, and we will enjoy their Kiwi hospitality.

The South Island definitely looks different than the North Island – less green, more rugged, with the NZ Alps running down the spine of the island, and dramatic hills in the distance.  The shoreline is rocky, with tons of kelp – we even saw some seals from the observation car!  And I hope to finally see some penguins – people have said that this is the place!

There are still the ever-present sheep, mama sheep freshly sheared, babies still all fuzzy and puffy.  Pastures of cows, sometimes horses, even a few deer.  But there are fewer animals per paddock, and more empty space between farms.  Also areas of dried up fields, and dried up riverbeds.  There’s a feeling of more desolation, and just a hint wilder than the North Island.

So we’re looking forward to a month of new adventures before our visas expire on January 31, and we fly out to Australia.  I’ll keep you all posted!

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