Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ferry + Ferroequinologist = -Fun (that's "negative fun")

The joys of dorm living: last night three of my roommates conversed with each other in rather loud whispers (in German) until 12:30am, and then proceeded to get up at 6am and flip on all the lights and bang around while they packed. Between 12:30 and 6am I was woken up several times by the storm howling through Wellington; the rain sprayed against the windows and the gales hit the glass so hard the entire frame of the window rattled.

The highway and Wellington Railway Station
on a dark and stormy night

I checked out of the hostel around 7:20am and made my way over to the rail station (mercifully the rain had let up somewhat) and caught the shuttle bus over to the ferry terminal, meeting up with the rest of the Mainline Steam group. We walked onto the Kaitaki, the largest of the Interislander's fleet of three boats at 22 365 tonnes, a carrying capacity of 1 650 passengers, and 1.78 km of parking for vehicles. Kaitaki is Māori for "challenger", and the ferry would certainly face a challenge that day. The waves were huge and rolling as the storm hit the shallower waters in the bay outside of Wellington, transforming into 4m or more high swells.

Now for the embarrassing part... while at first it was immensely impressive to watch Kaitaki navigate these stormy waters (including rising up and slamming down with a THUD into the bottom of a wave), my stomach very quickly started to disapprove... and about fifteen minutes in up came the banana and chocolate milk I had for breakfast. Mercifully, a) I wasn't the only one; a lot of people were sick, and b) the crew was well-prepared; they walked (more like staggered, due to the ship's crazy movements) around handing out barf bags and cups of ice chips.

Even more embarrassing (but also a blessing) was one of the men from the steam tour that I was sitting with (Bob) is a retired merchant seaman, so has sea legs like nobody's business. He took me under his wing for the rest of the trip, saying, "it's nothing to be ashamed of; even some of the famous explorers got seasick" and took me out on deck, correctly knowing that the cool air would help me feel better. A kind woman who said she was a nurse also gave me two tablets that would (her words) "dry up what's in your stomach so there won't be anything left to come up."

I spent the middle third of the voyage out on the deck, surmising (correctly) that with the fresh air and temperature, I would get cold enough that my body would become fixated on cold and suppress the urge to hurl. When the waters calmed back down as we entered the protection of the South Island, I went back inside and sat down and tried to suppress my violent shivering... but at least I didn't feel like hurling.

The above explains why I have no photos of the journey over on the ferry; perhaps I will take some on the way back if the weather is better. Despite it all, though, the first glimpses I had of the South Island were beautiful; cliffs and mountains rising out of the ocean, forested in some areas, dotted with scrub brush in others. It looked a lot like British Columbia.

(Semi)- Dry land never felt so good!

When we docked at Picton I went to lunch with Grant and his wife (two other people from Mainline Steam) at a café; I had seafood chowder, which let me know that my stomach had settled and I was on my way to recovering. It also warmed me up somewhat, but I didn't really warm up until I checked into the hostel here (Tombstone Backpackers, so named because it is across the street from the Picton Cemetery, and even has a coffin-shaped front door) and had a shower. Tombstone Backpackers is the nicest place I have stayed so far: beautiful beds and rooms (and bathrooms!), a lovely water view, and great cooking and lounge facilities. They even have a piano, which I played this afternoon and made me feel calm and like I was in a home, not a hostel. If anyone ever comes to Picton, I highly recommend it: (you have to love a hostel that has "Rest in Peace at Tombstone Backpackers" as its catchphrase).

The dining area and piano at Tombstone Backpackers

Around 4:15 I went for a walk, and no sooner had stepped onto the street then I heard the whistle of a steam train. I ran down the hill and down the road to see the Jb 1236 arrive from Christchurch, which will be puling us tomorrow (our carriages are coming over from the mainland on the ferry; the other two ferries in the fleet have rail capacity). I also headed up and into the Picton graveyard that gives Tombstone Backpackers its name and wandered around; some of the tombstones are quite old, from the 1870s and upward. The most interesting one was one which listed the husband and his dates of death, and also listed the wife and her date of birth, but never had her date of death filled in... I'm thinking she must be dead, because her birthdate was in the 1800s, but it does leave open the door to the imagination of what ended up happening to her, and why the tombstone was never completed.

Jb 1236 puffing down the hill into Picton

New Zealand has the best 'Caution: Train' signs. Ever.

The Picton railyard

Picton's cemetery, directly across the street
from Tombstone Backpackers

The harbour and town of Picton as seen from the cemetery
(yes, the big cloud of black smoke is from the steam train!)

Tomorrow we head for Christchurch! Don't worry, even though they still experience little aftershocks, it is perfectly safe to visit. With a typical Kiwi dry sense of humour, the Christchurch tourism industry has adopted an unofficial slogan: "Christchurch. It rocks!"


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