The calendar page flips over to the 14th of July (2012).
I’ve spent a quiet week with friends in Wellington, New Zealand, and it’s time I head south to see Te Wai Pounamu or the South Island for the first time. My first destination is Christchurch, and I could fly there. But I’m in no hurry, and I want to experience the scenery route with a ferry across Raukawa, otherwise known as Cook Strait.
I’ve arranged passage from Wellington on the North Island (Te Ika a Maui) to Christchurch on the South Island with ferry- and coach-service with KiwiRail. The journey begins with the Interislander ferry whose arrival is timed to match the departure time of the Coastal Pacific train leaving Picton for Christchurch.
There’s little car traffic at 8am on this Saturday morning in Wellington. But it’s also cold, grey, misty, gusty, and pouring rain: another typical winter day in Welly. As I’m dropped off at Aotea Quay, I can see the large ferry vessel. I’m in luck – I’m going to board one of the largest vessels in the fleet – the Kaitaiki.
The 815am ferry is the first Interislander ferry of the day on the winter schedule. The ferry slowly moves out and into the harbour, leaving sleepy Wellington behind, then heading east and south into the harbour. Upon reaching the deep waters of Cook Strait, the ferry heads west-northwest until we’re in sight of the South Island. At Marlborough Sounds, the water passage or Torry Channel is narrow, and the ferry must slow down as it winds way west towards Picton.
While the ferry reminds me of another ferry passage back home in British Columbia (between Tsawwassen on the mainland and Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island), the three-and-a-half-hour Interislander provides incredible and beautiful views, even through low cloud, fog, and heavy rain showers.
Sure enough, by 1140am, Picton is in sight and the ferry arrives quietly. I don’t even have to pick up my luggage and transfer it over myself; another advantage of the combined itinerary with KiwiRail is the automatic baggage-transfer from ship to rail. It’s a short 10 minute walk from the ferry terminal to the adjacent train station. I check-in and it’s just a matter of waiting for the Coastal Pacific train to leave at 1pm for Christchurch.
In addition to the Interislander ferries, Bluebridge also traverses the same route both ways across Cook Strait. On arrival at either terminal, passengers are free to rent (hire) a car or to ride coaches to reach their destinations.
In subsequent travel, I’m on two additional trains on New Zealand’s South Island: