Christchurch to Picton in 11 hours

Most driving times charts will tell you that you can drive from Christchurch to Picton in 4 or 5 hours. Maybe allow 6 for breakdowns or if you want to stop for lunch. But they don’t take into account having three bookcrossers in the car, two of whom are also geocachers.

We were up bright and early at 5 am (well, early, anyway – none of us were feeling too bright after a late night the night before, plus I had kept myself awake most nights that week with a bad cough, so I was already feeling “end of convention” tired, and we hadn’t even left yet!), and after a quick breakfast got on the road by 6. Wombles and lytteltonwitch had their GPSs filled with geocaches they hoped to find along the way, and I had a large bag of books I wanted to release (this is in addition to the even larger bag I had in the boot of books destined for Wellington), so we knew it would be a slow trip up, and wanted to give ourselves the maximum time to get to Picton for our 5.30 pm ferry check-in. So it was just starting to get light as we left Christchurch (Wombles commented that she’s been to Christchurch twice now, and she still hasn’t seen it in daylight!).

Our first stop was at Amberly, where Wombles and the witch dashed around finding caches, and I followed behind releasing books: Letters from Cicely by Ellis Weiner and A book by Oliver Myrrh with an untypeable title consisting of the alchemical symbol for gold in Chamberlain Park, Croak by Roger Hargreaves in the recreation reserve, and The World Upside Down by Felix Donnelly on the statue of Charles Upham.

The rest of the day followed a similar pattern – our stops were mostly dictated by GPS coordinates, and Wombles and the witch would excitedly dig around under bushes looking for the hidden container of goodies, while I released a steady stream of books. I’m not complaining though – we got to stop in some really interesting places (including one stop under a bridge somewhere in North Canterbury where there were unsprayed blackberry bushes (which used to be a familiar roadside sight when I was a child, but are normally ruthlessly sprayed these days), so after finding the cache, we had a feast of fresh blackberries!) and see things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, so it made for a fun way of travelling.

We turned off SH1 for a while to visit Glenmark (Wishful Thinking by Eric Kraft in the station for the Weka Pass railway) and Waipara (Unholy Harmonies by Elizabeth Pewsey at a lovely little country church), then it was back onto the main road to Cheviot, where we decided to stop for a toilet break (My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart) and a second breakfast.

When we went into the tearooms I was looking out for a good place to leave a book, and spotted a pile of magazines in the windowsill. I was just about to add Scruffy by Paul Gallico to the pile, when I realised there was already a book amongst them. Being nosy, I picked it up, and discovered it was a bookcrossing book! Someone had been there before us, and had released The Seeker by Jane Brindle in exactly the same spot I’d selected – great bookcrossing minds think alike 🙂 Of course, I had to catch the book (only to have it caught off me a few minutes later by lytteltonwitch, who thought it looked good), and decided to release a second book in the tearooms to replace it: Foggage by Patrick McGinley.

There was another cache in the Cheviot Hills reserve (We Find Ourselves in Moontown by Jay Gummerman), which turned out to be a lovely spot that would have been nice to have a walk through if we’d had more time, as was St Annes Lagoon (Dividing Lines by Victor Sage) – a lovely bird sanctuary which I never even knew existed, even though you can see a glimpse of it from the highway.

When we reached the Kaikoura coast Wombles was wowed by just how close the road is to the sea (she hadn’t believed the map when it showed the road being right on the coast), and we stopped in a couple of places to watch the seals and find more caches (Three Cheers for the Paraclete by Thomas Keneally).

Just before Kaikoura we saw a sign for the Cave Restaurant, advertising cave tours. I’ve always loved caves, so as we were making pretty good time I suggested we stop and do the tour. We had 40 minutes to wait until the next tour started, so after releasing a few books on the benches outside (The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian and The Hot Sun of Africa by Alan Caillou)we had lunch in the restaurant while we waited. As we were eating lunch, a woman at the next table was staring at my t-shirt (from the Dunedin convention), and eventually asked me about it. The best way to explain bookcrossing, of course, is to give the person a book, so I gave her All Day Saturday by Colin Macinnes.

Then we donned our hard-hats and started the tour:

(They didn’t have a hard-hat in Ballycumber’s size).

The cave (Maori Leap Cave) is a sea-cave, so it’s pretty small, but still has some nice limestone features – in a couple of million years more it’ll be pretty impressive 🙂 One feature that did interest me (because I don’t think I’ve seen it in the more elaborate limestone caves I’ve been in on the West Coast) was flints embedded in the walls (see the first photo below).

(The tiny boots in the fifth picture are there because that particular feature is called “The Tooth Fairy’s Palace”, so someone placed some little boots and a few teeth in it to amuse the kids – give it a few thousand years and they’ll be covered in limestone…)

We stopped for a few more caches between Kaikoura and Picton (the total for the day was 16 caches, which is apparently a very impressive number), but by this time the lack of sleep was catching up with me and I
was starting to feel ill, so I mostly stayed in the car napping while Wombles and lytteltonwitch searched. So my only other release was South by Javahead by Alistair Maclean on the Kaikoura waterfront.

At Picton (where we arrived at 5 pm, 11 hours after we’d left Christchurch!!!), we’d arranged to meet my brother and family so they could pick up lytteltonwitch’s car (we’d decided not to take it across on the ferry, because it was going to cost more to transport the car than all three of us put together, and we wouldn’t have that much use for it in Wellington anyway), but the mental effects of sleep deprivation were obviously kicking in, because although I’d seen their car drive into the car park, I spent several minutes watching a completely different car and wondering why they hadn’t seen us, when they were actually standing right next to me!

We had a few minutes to chat with brother and SIL and to play with the kids (and for me to stand in a daze looking confused by everything – I really was totally out of it!) before we had to board the ferry. We had a bit of trouble getting the “secret project” (lytteltonwitch’s Ballycumber costume) on board, because we didn’t want it to go as checked luggage in case it got damaged, but they said it was too big to take as carry on. In the end, just when we were starting to think lytteltonwitch might have to end up wearing it, they finally accepted our argument that although it was a large bag, it was incredibly light (5 year old nephew #1 could lift it with one hand!), and let us carry it on.

Once we got on the boat we claimed a comfy corner and piled up our bags, and lytteltonwitch settled down to get some sleep (I felt a bit guilty complaining about being tired when she’d been the one doing all that driving!). By this time I felt like I was about to pass out, but I knew if I tried to sleep I’d probably get seasick, so I decided to make the most of the calm while we were still in the Sounds and have something to eat, hoping some sugar in my bloodstream might perk me up again. It worked (only just, though – for a while I was worried I’d fall asleep face down in my food before I’d eaten enough for the sugar to kick in!), and I was able to join Wombles in exploring the ship a bit. We found a great spot out on the bow deck to watch the passing scenery, and soon the fresh breeze off the sea had combined with my increased blood sugar to wake me up properly, so I was able to enjoy the rest of the trip across. A good thing, too, because it was a lovely crossing – very calm, and the weather had cleared up again after the rain in Kaikoura. I even released a book on the ferry: Private View by Audrey Slaughter. The only disappointment of the crossing was that the clouds were still covering the Kaikouras when we looked back towards the South Island, so Wombles yet again missed out on seeing proper snow-covered mountains.

In Wellington we somehow managed to pile all of our bags into a taxi and headed for the YHA (which we weren’t entirely convinced the driver knew how to find, but we got there eventually). There was the usual confusion with their booking system (I don’t know if they’ve got a terrible computer system or they just don’t train their staff to use it properly, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a straightforward booking in a YHA), but eventually, after totally confusing the poor guy on the front desk, we managed to get everything sorted out and we checked in. Only to have otakuu arrive, and the confusion started again while he tried to get his head round the fact that there were now four of us (it should have been simple, because although the six of us who were sharing the dorm were arriving at different times and staying for a different number of nights, we’d booked the entire dorm for the whole four nights, but for some reason their computer just couldn’t cope with that). But at last we were all checked in, and headed up to our room for some much needed sleep… ok, for several hours of excited chatter, and THEN some much needed sleep.

We left Christchurch at 6 am, and arrived in Wellington at 9 pm, meaning it took us a total of 15 hours to travel a quarter of the length of the country. If we’d done the sensible thing and flown, we could have been there in 40 minutes. But it wouldn’t have been near so much fun!

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  1. I got tired just reading that! The sea crossing would *not* suit me, as I get seasick easily.

    My blacksmith ancestor lived in Amberley, and we’ve passed through there a few times.

    That Kaikoura coast is stunning isn’t it?

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