Day 5: Marlborough Sounds Ferry Cruise
Unlike yesterday, today was another early morning. We were all on the bus before the sun came up and well on our way as the day’s first light appeared. Although it was most certainly Fall, the temperatures were remarkably mild—even for someone used to Hawaii’s balmy forecasts. We also managed to enjoy a mostly sunny excursion with only brief periods of rain—most of which came during our time on the bus.
Again the scenery was beautiful today, and as we headed east towards Picton and the Marlborogh sounds for our ferry crossing of the Cook Strait, or the ditch as many Kiwis know it, the views out our windows are especially pastoral. We seem to pass endless amounts of sheep and cows, and the grasses covering the fields are a stunning green in the sunshine. Small farms and long fence lines are common, and in the distance, a formidable line of hazy gray mountains guard the horizon.
The ride took a little longer than I expected, and we ended up waiting quite a while at the ferry terminal as a line of trucks, many carrying livestock, piled onto the ship. Known as the Aratere, which means quick path in Maori, our ferry was a monster and just under five hundred feet long. Capable of holding more than 230 cars and nearly 400 people, it was certainly one of the larger boats I’ve been on.
Packed with all sorts of comforts and amenities, including a restaurant or two, a bar, and even a small cinema of sorts, there was a great deal to see and do on the ship. Most folks, however, seemed to eventually find their way to the bow and the large outdoor observation deck to take in the extraordinary view of Queen Charlotte sound. The water was again astonishingly calm, and snaked its way between two olive green shorelines covered in native forests, punctuated here and there with little coves and beaches that were often home to what looked like incredibly secluded houses. A number of birds flew about the ferry as we went, and I thought I saw a seal or two. There was even a pod of dolphins that made a brief appearance at the bow. I could just make out the dark stripe running along their sides as they zipped in front of the boat, lingered there only an instant and then darted back along the starboard side before disappearing completely.
As we left the sound and entered into the strait, the water became much more choppy and the wind picked up quite a bit, so I headed back inside. Several of us actually played a little poker to pass the time, but I didn’t fair well: total losses equaling 10 dollars New Zealand in around a half an hour. When the North Island and Wellington came into view, the game broke up and many of us headed out on deck again. An unmistakable odor of ocean salt and a vigorous wind greeted us, but the view of Wellington harbor growing in the distance was marvelous. As the tall buildings and ships increased in size, the wind and water calmed a great deal, and an almost tangible excitement seemed to grow amongst those of us enjoying the view.
Te Papa: New Zealand’s National Museum
One of the windiest cities on the planet, Wellington is the country’s capitol and home to nearly 400,000 people. Built directly over on an active fault line, the city is also no stranger to earthquakes and one of the most tectonically active in the world. New Zealand, in fact, experiences so many tremors that it has earned the nickname, “The Quaky Isles,” and actually owes its existence to the collision of two of the earth’s massive tectonic plates.
We got a chance to learn more about the country’s unique geological history today at one of Wellington’s most prized attractions: New Zealand’s National Museum, Te Papa Tongarewa. Actually three museums wrapped into one, Te Papa serves as the country’s National Art Gallery, combined with extensive Natural History and Cultural History exhibits. In other words, just about everything you might like to know about New Zealand and its people is covered within the walls of this marvelous building.
Because we arrived late in the day, our tour was on the brief side. Te Papa itself is a huge complex and there’s really no way to take all of it in only one day, let alone a little over an hour. But we did get a chance to hurry through most of the exhibits, and everything we saw was really expertly crafted, full of bright colors and imagery, and wonderfully informative. The extensive art galleries were filled with an impressive collection of sculptures and countless striking paintings. Te Papa also offered us a detailed and far-reaching look back at the people of the islands, and there were many wonderful Maori treasures as well as comprehensive exhibits about the country’s broad mixture of European immigrants. And I particularly enjoyed the natural history exhibitions, especially the presentations about the country’s geological history and the information about its animals and their evolution over the centuries.
Te Papa also has a lot of thrilling activities, including hands-on traveling exhibits, a virtual earthquake experience, and a bungee jump simulator—just to name a few. On my next visit to Wellington, Te Papa will definitely be my first stop.
Night 5: The Duxton Hotel
Accommodations : Tonight, believe it or not, I actually stayed in the presidential suite. Having Neil as a roommate has certain advantages apparently. Did I mention he was an important person at Scenic Tours? At any rate our room was outstanding: leather couches, a gigantic bathroom, extra half bath, powder room, large dinning table, two TV’s, a full bar, and remarkable views of Wellington’s harbor and skyline. Chris, Sam, Yosh and I—along with the Dutch couple, Wouter and Renata—took advantage of the large facilities for an animated game of poker this evening. I faired much better tonight and won back most of what I lost to Yosh earlier on the ferry.
Dinner : Another fancy three course meal tonight at the hotel. I enjoyed a marvelous vegetable soup, and some excellent muscles. And as a group we enjoyed some birthday cake and a raucous rendition of the standard sing along. The occasion and the evening belonged to Karla, one of our tour’s most colorful characters.