We’ve migrated south from the central part of the North island, and its large volcanic lakes, through Wellington (the southern-most capital city in the world) for a couple of nights before a ferry-train combination to get onto the South Island.
Wellington is the second largest city in New Zealand, with about 700,000 people, and in some ways feels a bit like San Francisco. Like our home city, Wellington is built on a host of harbor-side hills, which are dotted with wooden Victorian-style homes. It is walkable, not being terribly big, and has a similarly chilly feel because of the wind and its wet nature. The view from Cook’s Lookout was quite good, though the weather was not terribly cooperative; we could have spent more time driving around, especially in some of the waterside neighborhoods, but had to move on south.
Our ferry was roomy and comfortable- we luckily booked the largest of the inter-island fleet, which had a cinema and a small play area for the kids, which they enjoyed. All in, it was a three-hour tour to cover the 22km strait, as there were channels to navigate on either end to get out of Wellington and in to Picton, the port on the South Island. Picton had a small playground near the rail station, which we used to consume some of our layover.
Then came perhaps my favorite part of the trip so far. I’m a sucker for any mode of transport that lets me watch the scenery roll by; buses (with clean, large windows) and trains work for me. This train even had a bonus- an open-air viewing car, in which I stood for the five hour trip, drinking in the South Island scenery. I was rewarded for my diligence. The rail line roughly follows the roadway, and in places gets right on the edge of the ocean. Oddly, in neither Auckland nor Wellington (both port cities) did we get that sea-salt ocean smell in the air, but I could catch the aroma from the train car. The rocky coast, and the rivers that run down to the shore, were just stunning.
I had been wondering where all the sheep are. We saw a few on the North Island, but I found the rest on the South Island. We passed plenty of farms, but also vineyards (especially close to Blenheim) and dairy cattle too.
The South Island seems to be also suffering from the lack of rain we experienced up north. We heard a few stories of the difficulties facing farmers under these conditions. The countryside, with its golden brown grasses, looked vaguely Californian.