Picking Our Way North

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 28:  Nelson to Picton

After a very interesting conversation with our innkeeper Max this morning, we departed from Nelson around 8:30, under cloudless blue skies, still thinking about a Florida couple we had just heard about from Max.  Apparently they were naively operating from an American interstate highway mindset when they did their New Zealand planning, for they decided it was feasible to drive from Queenstown to Nelson in a day.  
As the crow flies, the distance is about 350 miles.  But their rental car had no wings, so they had to travel by road, adding another 160 miles to their one-day journey.  Make no mistake, this drive bore no resemblance to the effortless 500-mile jaunt on the wide, straight, level ribbon of I-95 from Savannah to Miami.

This trip did have one facet in common with the Savannah-Miami route.  You could drive it on a single highway—the two-lane State Highway 6—but that's where the similarities ended.  Getting from Queenstown to Nelson requires traversing a half dozen mountain ranges, winding along hundreds of sharp curves and switchbacks, slithering along serpentine sections of coastal highway with sheer dropoffs and, as often as not, no guardrail as a safety net.  Throw in slow-downs for the many one-lane bridges and single-lane strips of road in the mountains, plus the novelty of left-lane driving, and it's obvious this trip will push past 12 hours.  And it did.

The hapless couple arrived at the hotel in Nelson near midnight, having driven through some of New Zealand's most beautiful scenery in the dark.  And before sunrise this morning, they sped off to Picton to catch a ferry to the North Island.  Having made similar kinds of miscalculations of our own, we felt really bad for them.  They flew halfway around the world to dash from place to place and miss much of what they came here to see.

After retracing our Monday route back to Havelock, the green-lipped mussel capital, we turned onto Queen Charlotte Drive, a 25-mile sinuous route edged with native forests.  The road continued winding lazily up and downhill past endless bays and coves and sounds, and even arms, until it meandered around one last bend into the town of Picton.

Just before we rolled into town we got a look at Waimahara Wharf in Shakespeare Bay, the exit port for some of the millions of logs exported from New Zealand each year.  One-third of New Zealand's timber exports go to China, their second largest trading partner.  
In Momonangi Bay, we spotted the Spirit of New Zealand, a 150-ft square rigger tall ship built for and used as the focus of a youth development program.  The core program accepts forty trainees, ages 15 to 18, from all over New Zealand.  Split evenly between male and female, the group is set afloat on a ten-day voyage to share the challenge of sailing a square rigger.  From their rigorous adventure, trainees reap confidence and friendships as well as a new set of skills.  And yes, more than a few bragging rights.

Spirit of New Zealand
Once in Picton, we checked into the Harbour View Motel, where our studio room featured a balcony overlooking the recently remodeled town marina.  Like many other tourists who visit Picton, we were there to catch the ferry from New Zealand's South Island to the North.  After a flavorful lunch at Le Cafe, a local bistro in the heart of town, we visited the ferry terminal to talk to the Hertz agent about the rental car process and to see the vessel we'll be riding to Wellington.

Picton port
We had heard that the international car rental companies do not permit their cars to cross from one of New Zealand's islands to the other.  As part of a single rental agreement, you drop off the car you've been driving on one island at the ferry terminal.  At your destination, the rental company has a similar car waiting at the terminal.  We were never able to determine the reasoning behind this rule, but it saved us the $100 ferry fare for the car, so we certainly did not object to the policy.

At the Picton port this afternoon, we spotted Sarah, a petite 30-something vagabond from Britain.  Wearing an 80-liter backpack on her back, a 25-liter one on her chest, and large tote bags on each shoulder, she was hard to miss. And her appearance stoked our curiosity about her travel story.  Surely she must be carrying a tent, sleeping bag and other camping gear with a load that large.  Wrong.

Sarah chuckled when we asked if she were camping, instead blaming her lengthy travel schedule for her excess baggage, which must have weighed 60 pounds or more.  She explained that she is in the final third of a nine-month trip, with three months in Southeast Asia, three in Australia, and three in New Zealand.  We were quite eager to hear about her adventures and why she would carry so much "stuff" around with her, but she had a ferry to catch, and since she laughed in response to Ken's inquiry about her penning a book about her travels, we'll never know.

Picton Town Marina
While I worked on the blog this afternoon, Ken crossed the Coathanger Bridge to Shelley Beach on the opposite side of the marina for a hike on the scenic Harbour View Trail.  Since we must report to the ferry terminal by 7 a.m. tomorrow, we turned in early to rest up for our North Island adventures.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Nelson, ended in Picton
  • Mileage - 78  (Trip total: 14,986)
  • Weather - 39° to 57°, sunny
  • Overloaded British tourists - 1
  • Frenzied American tourists - 2
  • Gas price - $6.96/gallon