Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Stunning Cook Strait -Guest Blog by Laurence Norah - Finding the Universe

I am by no means an expert on ferry crossings. Most of my experience in this area comes from childhood trips to France or Spain from the UK, and memories in this area are fairly vague, usually involving my olfactory sense.

The smell of fuel, the smell of old sick, the smell of the sea. Ferries have not, for a long time, been a mode of transport that I have seen through a romantic viewpoint, being about the destination, and not about the journey.

Recently however, my thoughts on ferry crossings have been radically overhauled, as a result of the journey I took between New Zealand's North and South islands, across the Cook Strait, from Wellington to Picton, a trip that clocks in at a little over three hours.

I should point out that circumstances were clearly conspiring to force me to enjoy the trip. Presumably the ferry gods of old were looking down on me and deciding to bless me with an unusually pleasant voyage.

So the weather, which is pretty much the make or break for a ferry trip, was incredibly good. There is a saying about mill ponds. I have never sailed on a mill pond, so I can't really know if the saying is accurate, but if a mill pond is a glass like environment where the thought of a wave is about as far from your mind as you can imagine – then this was the state of the sea on the day of our crossing. Nary a breath of wind was pushing through the air, and even the clouds had taken the day off, replaced by blue skies from horizon to horizon.

Our sailing was in the afternoon, onboard the Bluebridge ferry, which I have to say was also a rather convivial experience. A large passenger deck, equipped with incredibly comfortable reclining chairs, and even flat screen TV's showing a range of films. Not a bad option for passing a trip if the weather was poor – although in our case, the weather was so good that we spent much of the trip on the open air viewing deck on the top of the ship.

The Cook Strait itself is not that wide – the distance from North to South island is a mere 20km at it's narrowest point – so much of the time is spent winding through the incredibly picturesque Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte sound.

Here the ferry seems to pass impossibly close to the land as it meanders its way up the sound to the final destination of Picton. Houses dot the shoreline, mollusc farms are passed, and fishing boats ramble on past the hulking might of the ferry.

The Sound itself takes up at least 40% of the journey time, and is the sort of trip I would happily pay to go on as a scenic voyage, so having it included as part of my transport was rather handy.

If you don't have a vehicle, there are other ways to get from New Zealand's North island to it's South island. But if the weather is good, and you aren't in a hurry, then I can very much recommend the ferry option. It's not particularly expensive, and the experience is very much worth it. Two companies operate this route, Interislander and Bluebridge, and it's worth shopping around as prices fluctuate based on season and your requirements.

Laurence Norah - Guest Blog from Finding the Universe

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