The first day of our vacation was never going to be fun: we had to drive to Wellington, a trip of eight hours, to catch the ferry, which departed at 9:00 p.m. and took three hours to reach the South Island. We packed our bags the night before, woke up early (for us), loaded the car and set off from Auckland.
Luckily, we avoided much of the weekend holiday traffic as the only ferry booking we could get was the Monday before Christmas. We only ran into one traffic jam: a herd of cattle moving down the road! The cows were holding up a few cars, so the guys herding them tried to get them off to the side of the road while we drove slowly through the group.
Note that this road was not some obscure rural back road, but actually a main, numbered highway. Even the main freeway south from Auckland only has multiple lanes in each direction for less than 100 kilometers before it turns into a two-lane, undivided road with the occasional tractor cruising down it. These things keep driving in New Zealand interesting!
We stopped for lunch– the first of many cheese sandwiches– by a nice river south of Lake Taupo. It was a nice spot to relax and stretch out on the small beach, but we still had another four hours to go.
The next obstacle was the imposing-sounding Desert Road, which runs along the east side of Tongariro National Park. M and I were expecting some sand or interesting rock formations, but it turned out the road was just through some scrubby plains. It did have great views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, though!
After this small excitement, we were just ready to be in Wellington. Finally, after a long drive down the southern section of the North Island, we reached the capital city. We had about an hour before the ferry check-in, so we stumbled into a local chain restaurant and had some nachos before joining the queue for the ferry.
Loading a hundred or so vehicles onto a ship is a slow process and on this occasion was delayed for a reason we never found out about. With the late departure, it was nearly completely dark by the time we were on board and sailing. Sadly, this meant that the observation decks were closed and blinds were shut, so we couldn’t even see outside even if there had been any light to see!
We were on the biggest of Interislander’s ferries– the Kaitaki– which is well-equipped with facilities including airliner style reclining seats. We put these to good use and napped until we arrived in Picton- finally we were on the South Island! With the earlier delay, even with a smooth unloading it was nearly 1am by the time we were off the ferry, so we were very grateful we’d picked a hostel less than 200m from the ferry dock (and one used to late arrivals). Tomorrow, our South Island adventure would begin in earnest!