(Day 27) Wednesday, September 28
I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get from Nelson to Picton in time for my ferry. I was thinking of hitching, until the Universe threw up Jackie, a biologist and rugby referee from California, whom I met in Punakaiki. She is staying at the Nelson hostel and kindly offers me a lift. She is, fortuitously booked onto the same 10.30am crossing of the Cook Straits, which makes life very easy for me.
Jackie’s hire car smells like a Speight’s brewery. She only got in at 4.30, and probably only got two hours’ sleep. Pulling out of the car park, the first thing she does is to start driving on the right hand side of the road, instead of the left. Thankfully, this appears to give her a jolt of reality, and she’s proficient as gold following this little driving misdemeanour.
Two hours of forest roads (that apparently look very similar to California) and good chat, and we arrive at Picton ferry terminal with half an hour to spare before our journey across the Cook Straits.
Time to leave the breathtaking scenery of New Zealand’s South Island behind me, most likely forever. This island is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have had the great fortune to see. At times, it is damn near perfect in fact. I thought it was going to be the place where I would ask someone to spend the rest of their life with me but, instead, it is where I began the next uncertain chapter of my life, alone. In this sense, I am pleased to leave the South Island, because the carefully planned daily itinerary I had devised here was not intended for a solo mission. The good news for me is that I had/have very little planned on the North Island, and so the travel companion ghosts and thoughts of what would have been will not be in anyway so vivid when I begin travelling there today.
It takes three hours to cross the Cook Straits, which is a little reminiscent of the Stockholm archipelago as you leave Picton. Copious amounts of travel and rugby are ahead of me, with three games in three days over this coming weekend. Part of me though still feels inclined to lock myself away in a dark room instead for a few days.
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, comes into sight first as a dot on the landscape and then as a small, attractive city built on a series of hills. It’s an ideal size if you ask me, around 150,000 calling this home. Once in the city, Jackie, who has been great company, is off to the airport for her flight to Hamilton; while I book into the first backpackers I can find and get rewarded with a 24 dollar 20-bed dorm. Dread.
Wellington is regarded by many as this country’s top city but the downside here is that it tends to suffer from bad weather, especially gales blowing in off the Cook Straits. This fine Wednesday it is mild and sunny and ideal for a stroll along the attractive quay. It is a bit like a miniature version of Vancouver, especially given its proximity to sea, mountains and forests. Many quality of life reports list Vancouver as the most liveable city in the world but to me it is way too big to be considered that. Give me a city the same size as Wellington instead any time. There is a relaxed atmosphere here and even the suits look relatively unstressed; most of them minus their ties. I like how Wellington city planners have attempted to make much of the new architecture here look slightly dated, with something of a Colonial appearance. Highlight of the day is the Te Papa national museum of New Zealand. It is free, as I believe all national museums should be, and makes for a good couple of hours of exploration. I particularly like the small hut you can enter where the force of a 6.5 magnitude earthquake is available to experience minus the real dangers of falling debris. Leaning on the wall, it takes me unawares when it first starts which proves interesting for my heart rate.
Following on from my theft of a piece of bread the other morning, my crime spree continues as I bag a hostel towel after leaving mine somewhere a couple of days back. Bread, towels, whatever next? It seems like a life of crime for me from here on in. Needs must on this occasion.
I cook the biggest meal I have eaten since I was in England and collapse on a lounge sofa. I feel absolutely exhausted. All the delights of night time Wellington, which many travellers have raved about, are out there waiting for me to discover but I just feel so bloody tired. You wouldn’t think I would be really (after all, I am on holiday), but the constant moving about, early mornings and disturbed sleep in dorm rooms feel like they are taking their toll. I would just love to have a night to myself in my own hotel room but I can’t really justify all that cash, especially as I am well over budget at this stage in the tour.
Go out! Go out! The voices in my head are shouting. You only pass this way once in life!
Watching Georgia v Romania in the hostel bar, still torturing myself about going out when clearly I’m not up to it, I find that I have one eye closed and the other eye pretending to be awake. Even with the noisy delights of a 20-bed dorm, I am so knackered that I barely remember getting into bed before I am asleep.