The Big Trip (Northern Leg) Day 1: Christchurch to Wellington

You know that saying “Red sky at night…”? Well, it’s not true. The night before we left for Wellington there was the most glorious sunset, yet the next morning dawned grey and drizzly.

The Outlaws had returned the campervan when they got back from the West Coast, so we were taking the train and ferry to get to Wellington, where we’d hire a car. The original plan had been to keep the campervan for the whole trip, but taking it across on the ferry was going to be so expensive that even taking train and plane fares into account, and even though we’d be staying in backpackers in the North Island rather than at camping grounds (because the tent would be too big to carry coming back by plane) this way would work out cheaper.

The only trouble with taking the train to Picton is that it leaves Christchurch at 7 am. Which means that you have to check in at 6.30. Which means leaving home at about 6. Which means getting up at about 5. Whose stupid idea was this anyway??? Somehow we made it to the station on time, and caught the train. It’s normally a spectacular trip up to Picton, with wonderful views along the Kaikoura coast (which is why I’d suggested (oh yeah, it was my idea, wasn’t it) the train and ferry rather than just flying to Wellington), but our good luck with the weather had well and truly run out, and the rain didn’t let up the whole way, so there wasn’t a lot to see.

We got to Picton and transferred to the ferry (which, as a foot passenger, means a walk of a few blocks, following the arrows painted on the footpaths – we didn’t have to carry our luggage, luckily (the train company transfer it to the ferry for you), but the line of passengers trudging along through the rain still looked (and felt) depressingly like a line of refugees fleeing the country (it’s funny, no matter how Tranz-whatevertheyare try to modernise their image, there’s still a touch of the old state railways about their operation – I mean, how much would it cost them to run a shuttle service from the station to the ferry terminal?)). We were supposed to have an hour or two in Picton to look around a bit, but the train had arrived late so we only just had time to get to the terminal and check in for the ferry. Which was probably a good thing, given the weather – it wasn’t exactly conducive to wandering around admiring the town.

Picton in the rain

The other reason for taking the ferry rather than flying was because of the Marlborough Sounds, which the ferry sails through for the first hour or so of the trip to Wellington. More spectacular scenery, totally hidden behind a curtain of rain.

Trust me, it really is spectacular on a nice day.

After braving the outdoor viewing deck for long enough to realise we weren’t going to see much scenery today, we retreated back inside and had lunch in the food court. After that, we went our separate ways for the rest of the trip – the Outlaws to find somewhere warm and comfortable to sit, and me and MrPloppy back outside to find a slightly more sheltered viewing deck (despite my family history, I have no sea legs whatsoever, and being outside in the fresh air (no matter how cold) is the only reliable deterrent for sea-sickness I know of). Once we’d left the shelter of the Sounds, the wind got stronger and colder, so we retreated back inside, but although the sea wasn’t too rough the wind was blowing at a right angle to the ship and making it pitch enough that within a few minutes I was feeling ill again. So I left MrPloppy happily reading his book in one of the lounges, and spent the rest of the trip out on deck. By this time the rain had eased off, but the wind was throwing up a lot of spray, and the relatively sheltered spot we’d found before was full of people smoking (and if anything’s guaranteed to make me throw up, it’s the smell of tobacco smoke), but eventually I found another spot at the stern that was sheltered from the worst of the wind, and spent the remainder of the trip watching the wake and practicing the one seamanship skill I did pick up from Dad, which is the ability to stand upright on a pitching boat without having to hang on to the railing (it’s really fun to do that when other people are staggering along having to hold on to something so they don’t fall over, and they can’t figure out how you are staying upright (it’s really easy, actually, and pretty obvious – you just sway your body in the opposite direction to the boat, in rhythm with its movement – but it’s amazing how many people don’t figure that out)).

Once the ferry arrived in Wellington we regrouped and caught a shuttle to the railway station, which was conveniently across the road from the backpackers’ we were staying at. At reception there was a book (Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith) waiting for me from Sherlockfan. I’d contacted her and discoverylover earlier in the week to let them know I’d be visiting Wellington, and to suggest a meetup. Unfortunately, Sherlockfan was going to be out of town, but discoverylover was keen on meeting up and suggested Olive Cafe. Once we’d got settled in (and taken a few photos of the backpackers’ to send to Sherlockfan when we got home, because she is looking at it as a potential accommodation recommendation for next year’s BCNZ convention), it was nearly 7 pm, so MrPloppy and I set out for Cuba Street to find the cafe.

When we got there I couldn’t see anyone who looked familiar, but I’d only met discoverylover once before and wasn’t confident I’d recognise her, plus I didn’t know who else would be turning up, so I asked one of the staff if they had a booking for a bookcrossing group. “We did have some sort of book group booked in, but I think they cancelled.” She checked the bookings book, and yes, the book group had cancelled. We discussed that it seemed odd that they would have cancelled without letting me know, so she very kindly gave me the name and telephone number of the person who’d cancelled the booking. I didn’t recognise the name, but that of course isn’t unusual with bookcrossers, where half of us don’t use our real names even when we meet in real life. I rang the number, and got through to a switchboard for a company, who told me that yes, X did work there, but had finished for the day hours ago.

I’ve worked on switchboards myself, and know most have a policy of never giving out personal numbers, so I explained the situation and asked the operator if she could contact X and ask her to ring me back. There was a bit of confusion about why I didn’t know whether X was actually the person I wanted to talk to or not, why I didn’t know anything about her or even her full name, and what this whole bookcrossing thing was anyway, and then the operator said “This is going to get too confusing. I’m not supposed to do this, but how about I just give you her phone number and you ring her yourself”.

So I rang X. An elderly woman answered – obviously not discoverylover, but perhaps one of the other Wellington bookcrossers had made the booking.
“Hello, is this X? This might sound like a strange question, but are you a bookcrosser?”
“A what? I’m in a book club, is that what you mean?”
“Well, sort of, bookcrossing is kind of an internet book club.”
“Oh, I never go on the internet.”
Eventually we established that her book club was nothing to do with bookcrossing, and it was sheer coincidence that they’d booked a table in the same cafe at the same time. I, of course was very apologetic for having disturbed her with such a strange phone call, but she was really sweet about it, saying “I thought at first it was going to be a dirty phone call..
. pity it wasn’t, really.”

One mystery had been cleared up, but there was still no sign of the bookcrossers. MrPloppy and I decided to just order some food anyway, and see if they turned up. They didn’t, but we had a really nice meal – I can highly recommend the Olive Cafe if you’re ever in Wellington. They have a fantastic little back room with walls completely covered with artwork, hung literally everywhere there’s a space (you can hardly see the colour of the wall between the pictures!), so I released Cat Portraits by Jill and Martin Leman there.

(We did eventually find out what had happened to discoverylover – when we got back to Christchurch I contacted her, and we worked out my PM confirming the arrangements had gone astray (as PMs are wont to do), so as she hadn’t heard back from me she thought we weren’t coming…)

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One Comment

  1. The very thought of catching the ferry makes me feel seasick 🙂 I’m hopeless in rough waters.

    That Kaikoura coast is spectacular, isn’t it? Pity about the rain.

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