Crossing the strait to Picton
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Drone image of campervan driving along water

Hannah Klein
/ Categories: NZ blog

Crossing the strait to Picton

 

Words by Emma Fenton-Wells

Blog #6 of her solo trip in NZ

 

 

The ferry to Wellington had a very early check in. I recall it being 5am (when realistically it was probably 7am and I’m being dramatic). We had absolutely superb cruising conditions, sunshine and flat waters. Excellent. I’d gone to see the Wahine Disaster exhibition the day prior at Wellington Museum and was positively terrified of an impending nautical disaster. 

As I’ve already pointed out, I was being very dramatic. 

There are two options to get to Picton. The Interislander Cook Strait Ferry or Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry. I picked one based on availability as I booked only the day before. They’re pretty similarly priced (from what I could tell) but it does pay to 1) book early and 2) book a flexible ticket.

 

Photo Credit: Wolf Zimmerman

 

The ferry itself requires a bit of patience. Due to the variety of vans, cars, horses and people loading, you spend an hour or so waiting in a queue to drive onto the boat. Good thing I was driving around a kitchen as I passed the time by making a proper breakfast. No dodgy ferry sandwiches for this traveller!

Now, I’ve been told that this journey can be on one hand idyllic and beautiful, as you dart between the sounds, and also a nightmare chunder fest with the tides throwing passengers around like a washing machine (note: they just don’t run if this is the case). Generally speaking, travelling earlier does promise slightly smoother conditions, so the insanely early wake up was well worth it. 

I spent a bit of time facetiming friends as we travelled the open water, and then out of nowhere these beautiful mounds started to emerge from the water. We had entered the Marlborough Sounds. Any prospect of productivity on the boat was lost as I hung over the side gawking at the sights. And I wasn’t alone. 

This crossing is often described as one of New Zealand’s great journeys, and I promise you it is.

 

Photo credit: Mark de Jong

 

Getting into Picton was a breeze and I spent a bit of time wandering the town’s streets with an ice cream in hand. Where in Wellington it had been a cold few days, in Picton’s microclimate, I was baking. As per usual, I visited the smallest museum I could find - the Picton Heritage and Whaling Museum. You’ll find that a lot of the South Island’s colonised history involves some kind of jaunt into whaling and sealing, so do keep in mind you’ll see as many whale bones as Moa bones. If anything, a chat with the locals at this museum were well worth the $5 entry fee. 

 

 

I had it on my mind that I’d take a dip given the hot weather and drove down to Shelley Beach. Rocky beaches lined by clear, beautiful water. It was nice to be in it rather than sailing over it. 

One of the best parts of catching the ferry into Picton, is having the opportunity to drive the Queen Charlotte Drive. It’s a stunner. It’s not exactly a simple Sunday drive, and will take three times longer than expected as you’ll want to stop at every look out, but well worth it. This is also the starting point for the Queen Charlotte Track. Passes do need to be purchased for this, so I recommend checking the availability and logistics on the Department of Conversation website first. 

 

 

 

As I was planning on driving down the West Coast of the South Island, I looked up a spot to stay heading that way and found Smiths Farm Holiday Park. Let me tell you, as if this day wasn’t already one filled with staring at nature in wonder, Smiths Farm Holiday Park was the cherry on top. 

The campsite is, as described, on a family farm. You’re greeted at the front desk by either Chris or Barbara, the couple who own and run it. You’re also greeted by baked goods. Ah, the dream. In my case, Barbara showed me around the campsite and let me pick wherever took my fancy. She then gave me a hand drawn map with GLOW WORMS written on it, a bag of animal feed, and pointed me into the forest. 

Little had I known, that they have a personal creek and falls filled with these magical creatures. At dusk (around 8.30pm in March), I set off. I fed a few overly friendly sheep on the way, and sidled past their naughty goat (for which I was given prior warning of), and headed into the thick bush. Above, I could see the pink sky slowly turning dark but no sign of glow worms. As the sky grew darker, I became concerned than I was going to end up on the national news with the headline “WOMAN LOST IN LINKWATER ON QUEST FOR GLOW WORMS.”

I reached the falls as night properly fell and then, one by one, carefully and quietly, they switched on: nature’s fairy lights. It was like being in Avatar. Honestly. No camera or video could capture how truly magical the experience was. 

The next morning, I headed off the short drive to Havelock in search of mussels. This ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ town is the home of the green lipped mussels and my god, do they deliver on that reputation. Down at Mills Bay (a restaurant Barbara recommended) I absolutely feasted. The mussels were incredibly fresh and I would trade my brother in for their aioli recipe (sorry Alex). 

 

 

The breakfast of champions

 

Havelock is also home to the famous Perlous Mail Run Cruise which came highly recommended from a number of people. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t quite work out but I plan to return to it! 

On the crew at Mills Bay’s recommendation, I headed to Perlous Bridge for a hike that included two swinging bridges and a dip in the cool water. Heaven. 

I finished my day by reading on Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, and it looked like a damn Turner painting. When it comes to campsites in Nelson, there aren’t a huge variety of options and in retrospect, I would have probably stayed closed to Perlous Bridge and just spent the day in Nelson instead. In saying that, this was meant to be a rest stop to stock up ahead of the drive into Takaka, Golden Bay. 

 

Tahunanui Beach, Nelson. Photo credit: Mathew Roswell

 

And then the weather turned. Overnight the rain moved in and what was first predicted as mildly wet was washing away any plans I had to relax on the beach and take in Abel Tasman National park. In the morning, I panic paced The Suter Art Gallery in town (which, by the way is excellent) and over a panic eaten cheese scone I decided to flip my entire trip on it’s head and hit the east coast first. 

 

The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson

 

That is the beauty of travelling by campervan. Everything I needed was already with me so I did have that freedom. And it was a brilliant decision. 

 

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