New Zealand: Wellington to Kaikoura

Maui office

Our first stop of the day was the Maui office. We actually drove past it as we hadn't understood that it was actually in the campsite and not next to the campsite. So we quite happily drove out of the campsite and then had to come back in again!

The office itself was more or less what we'd expected in Auckland - two desks in a portacabin. We approached one guy with some trepidation (due to his rather thugish appearance) but he turned out to be extremly nice and after producing the snowchains he was really interested to get our opinons on the camper, our experiences in New Zealand so far and our plans for the South Island. Finally he spent some time suggesting places to see in Wellington itself and the best place to park the camper.

A rather typically helpfull kiwi and a good example of why not one shouldn't judge by appearances!


We decided to follow his suggestion regarding parking and drove to Te Papa - the national museum. There was a metered section reserved for campers and as it was half-empty we were able to find parking easily, however we could see that if it filled up we could have a problem getting out (more on that later) so for the first time we parked nose in - as the camper was easier to manoeuvre in reverse.

As we only had five hours before the ferry we had decided to skip the museum and go directly to Lambeths Quay which is where the government buildings are concentrated. In particular we wanted to see the Old Government Building, which is the largest wooden building in the Southern hemisphere.

Although we walked quite quickly through the city centre we couldn't help but compare it to Auckland, Wellington seemed to be a much more European city; full of coffee shops and interesting little shops with an obviously triving arts scene.

We quite admired the various government buildings and enjoyed sitting in front of parliment watching the various politicans and civil servents bustling in and out.


The penultimate stop planned for the day was St. Paul's Cathedral but when we approached it we couldn't see any way to get in, all of the doors appeared to be closed (and presented a rather forbidding appearance). Eventually we decided to just try one and were pleasantly surprised to find it unlocked.

Upon entering we started the gradual circle common to all tourists when visting churchs but this was brought to an abrupt halt when a rather distinguished elderly gentleman approached us. At first we thought that he had come to throw us out! However we were quickly soothed by his first words "I've just opened the bell tower if you'd like to take a look". Rather taken aback by this offer we quickly agreed and eagerly followed him in the indicated direction.

As he led us towards the bell tower lift he enquired as to our origins and was delighted by our answers of Ireland and Barcelona! He explained that he'd been on a coach tour of Europe a few years previously and had been captivated by both places. We started to chat about Gaudi and then about the similarities between New Zealand and Ireland - in fact we were so engrossed in our conversation that it took us a while to realise that the lift wasn't moving - which was quickly solved by a simple button press!

Once in the bell tower proper he was able to explain the history of each bell and the reasons behind each name, as well as entering into fastinating detail as to the design elements required for the bell tower. He explained to us that "we took the set of bells to the architects and told them to build a tower to fit these".

Parliment building

He then led us through the rafters of the church to a balcony and pointed out the various buildings nearby and explained that Lambeth Quay was orignally by the sea but that due to plate tetonics the land had risen.

As we descended into the main part of the cathedral again we were treated to a detailed explanation of the different elements (including the main organ which has 3,531 pipes!

Ladys Chapel

We were also shown Ladys Chapel which was our favorite part due to the warm and inviting appearance caused by the sunlit wood and the fact that we were treated to a private concert on the chapel organ (rather smaller than than the main one but still impressive). In fact the Ladys Chapel was moved to the cathedral from Paraparaumu in 1990 which involved lifting it bodily over the cathedral by a crane! As our guide explained "we have so little history we need to preserve all we can".

All in all we spent over two hours in the cathedral and thanks to Mr. Richard Hudson learnt more that we could have hoped for!

Leaving Wellington

Civic Square, Wellington

Unfortunately as we hadn't noticed the time passing we were now rather late and had to rush back to the camper, we did however make time to pass through Civic Square for a quick photo.

When we got back to the camper we discovered that the car park had filled up in our absence and we now had little room to extract the camper. However with some carefully manoeuvring we were able to get out of our parking space only to find that due to our length (7.2m) and the cars on each side we couldn't make the turn into the exit lane. As we were inching back and forth to get the right angle a helpful passer by stopped in front of us and started to use hand signals to indicate what to do. This was very welcome as we were well aware of our lack of driving experience!

Luckily however it only took a couple of near misses for us to realise that he was giving directions as if he was in the drivers seat: when he indicated left we needed to go right, when he waved toward himself we needed to reverse etc. etc.! Once we had figured this out his advice was very helpful but before that it was just confusing. In the end we got the right angle and by driving up onto the kerb on the other side of the exit lane we were able to get out.

Now rather late for the ferry check in we blundered our way through Wellington but made it to the ferry terminal with time to spare (although not much!).

Interislander ferry

The ferry arrives

We stayed on deck for the three hour trip and although cold it was worth the slight discomfort, the voyage has been described as "one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world" and we would certainly agree that this is a very apt description.

In fact the rain and low cloud that we saw made the trip even more spectacular even if it did mean that the photos we took don't adequately capture the view. As we sailed into Marlborough Sound (the gateway to the South Island) we ran from one side of the ferry to the other like excited children pointing out different features to each other.

Arriving to the South Island A sheltered bay Another sheltered bay Looking out towards Cook Straits Joel is happy!

The Sound is full of little inlets and our ears perked when another passenger remarked that it was a great place for a sailboat. As is common in Ireland and New Zealand but few other places we struck up conversation with this complete stranger and were soon exchanging our life stories.

Joel and Eric deep in conversation

Eric was an avid sailor who had taken early retirement from the film industry and was travelling to Picton in order to sail his 45 foot steel ketch home from her summer berth and was delighted to be point out noticeable features as we passed them. A quote that stayed with us was "I've made this journey hundreds of times and I always remain on deck as each time I am entranced by what I see". This was confirmed when his wife came up to remind us all that we needed to return to our vehicles!

The car deck of the ferry was arranged with three lanes on the port side pointing towards the stern (and the exit ramp) and two lanes on the starboard side which pointed towards the bow. As we were in the last row on the starboard side we had assumed that we'd be last off the boat and we were so surprised when the camper in front started up that we dropped the keys and had to fumble to pick them up. Then once - we got going - we discovered that were too long and could only make the turn at the bow until the cars in the inner lanes had left! The joys of being a long vehicle!

Picton to Kaikoura

The sun was setting as we left the ferry and we started our journey to Kaikoura in twilight. We'd expected to take two hours to get to Kaikoura but between the steep mountain roads and the dark rainy night we went slower than planned. As with the trip to Wellington the truck drivers on the road didn't seem to appreciate our caution but we were now experts in letting them pass when there was the slightest opportunity!

Due to the darkness the journey was not as remarkable as others we took but it was clear that we were passing through some incredible countryside. At one point we were driving along beside the ocean with sheer cliffs on the other side and with just enough moonlight to see the breaking waves a few meters below us!

At slightly over the half way mark we saw an open cafe and pulled in to stretch our legs and relax a bit. The Store turned out to be another gem, they weren't serving food by the time we arrived but the friendly waitress (from Country Antrim in Northern Ireland) presented us with such a selection of cold snacks that we were almost unable to choose!

We took advantage of the stop to call ahead to the Top 10 campsite in Kaikoura and ensure that they would be open when we arrived (they were open until 21:30 so we had plenty of time. Then we drove off through the rain once more.

Our waitress' estimation of the time to Kaikoura proved spot on and after a little more than an hour we were parked up for the night.

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