February 16, 2016
I am currently sitting in the queue to board the inter-island ferry that connects the North and the South Island. I am not sure how many others are here but possibly hundreds. It is campers, cars and trucks as far as the eye can see. After Norway, we feel that we are ferry experts. As experts we understand that this is not the ferry operator’s first time. Despite what appears to be confusion, there is a certain order and process that is universal. Turning off the gas canisters in the RVs is important and someone will certainly fail to follow instructions and be subject to a great deal of harassment and possibly not be allowed to board. What is more common and irritating are car alarms. Despite continuous warnings to turn them off, there will be plenty of them responding to the shaking of the ship and start their chorus. Thankfully, we will miss the concert since we will be upstairs. The only question remaining is whether the coffee is any good at the cafeteria.
Since we are talking about moving around, I should take the time to explain why we are cooking so much. This is not our usual travel pattern. But Down Under, customs are different. Tourism is now the largest sector in the New Zealand economy. Everyone understands the Importance of keeping the tourists coming. I have already commented on the quality and quantity of relief facilities. These necessary places are frequently neglected or non-existent in most of the US. Who has not cringed at the prospect of sitting on a public seat along Interstate 5 near Tejon Pass?
What is strange to us is that the standard motel room includes a kitchenette including dishes and a complement of pots. My hypothesis is that the motels do this to lure travelers away from the ubiquitous Caravans or as we call them RVs. It is a big business in New Zealand. Traveler’s are encouraged to drive and see the sights. The idea of camping and driving is hammered home in International travel literature. The caravans range from the humble station wagon with a sleeping pad to the elaborate self-contained luxury ecosystems. Before our decision to drive a car, I explored these caravan options. Being frugal (not cheap), I quickly realized that this type of vacation would be more than I cared to spend. Thus the decision to find motels, guest houses, Youth Hostels, and such. What I did not anticipate was a kitchen in every motel room. Besides who wants to drive and park a gigantic vehicle in a land of curving roads and single lane bridges?
We also find that restaurant options are usually limited outside of cities. Within the cities, the options are pretty normal except that New Zealanders seem to have adopted Asian food like we have adopted Mexican food as our main alternative to hamburgers. This even applies to supermarket delis with their rice concoctions and sushi to go. We find plenty of stuff to barbecue with veggies in aluminum foil as the side dish. Quick and easy with plenty of decent beer and wine to supplement. We are not alone or are we seen as strange. It is quite normal. We do eat in restaurants in the cities that we stay in about 20% of the time. We are proud to say that we have not darkened the door of any McDonalds or KFC or Burger King. Usually after a few weeks of travel we have visited one of them at least once. Usually we are drawn to them because of the cleanliness of the bathrooms. The excellent quality of the NZ public facilities obviates this need.
The ferry is moving and we can see some blue sky. The weather forecast for Wellington is sunny. Enough of this for now.
After three hours of sailing through Queen Charlotte Sound and then crossing the Cook Strait. Never did they mention over the intercom that Cook Strait is one of the most dangerous waterways in the world. Despite the danger, we never felt any rough seas. It was a little disappointing. After reaching Wellington the excitement revolved around getting off the boat and maneuvering through city traffic. Peggy is getting very good at reading the maps and directing me. She would still prefer that we our old buddy “Tom”, the GPS.
We drove the scenic road around the harbor. The ride of some 20 miles was quite nice compared to city traffic. The road had beaches on one side and residences of varying ages on the other. Much of the road is in Blue Penguin breeding areas. Some of them roost and mate under people’s houses. We stopped several times for pictures and shell hunting. Bobbie found a New Zealand abalone shell. Peggy and I found plenty of yucky dead fish. Bobbie was definitely the prize winner for the day.
We returned to the center of the city and our hotel. The one way streets and traffic were worse than San Francisco. I dropped off the girls with the luggage and found the parking garage. It was a challenge. I can say this with some expertise as I have parked in many weird places.
The Te Papa National Museum was a couple blocks from the hotel. We walked. It is one of the larger single building museums in the world. Enjoyed the animal and fish exhibits. It was kind of a review of what we have seen and haven’t seen. The Maori boats, houses and carvings were the highlight. I think we are ready for our visit to the historic areas of the North.
By this time we were hungry so we trudged up to a pedestrian street with plenty of choices. A plate of pork ribs at an Irish restaurant won our patronage. We are back in the hotel doing laundry and trying to find a TV channel without NZ reality shows. We are ready to leave the city in the morning.