Off We Goooo

A brief stop in Picton

May 01, 2017 | 7 Minute Read

“You’re in lane 3. There’s a 4 meter swell today, so we’re expecting a choppy crossing. Thank you.”

Um… what!?

Our view at Red Rocks in the morning. As my mom always told me, “red sky at morning, sailor take warning.”

After spending a pleasant morning waking up to the sound of crashing waves and a pink sky at dawn at Red Rocks, our next step was to board the ferry to Picton. I’d never done this in a vehicle before, so I was excited to see how it goes when you’re in a car. All smaller cars and vans like ours go through the same street and hand their ticket to the person in charge, who told us where to go and warned us about the conditions. We drove into our lane, which I felt was surprisingly long, and then one by one the lanes were directed to drive ahead and board the vessel. Inside the vessel is slightly like a regular parking garage; We drove up a very steep ramp onto a higher level, then backed into a spot while other vehicles were directed to drive forward into other lanes. The staff were very friendly, but it did feel a bit stressful moving so many vehicles into this giant boat.

Driving in our line to board the Interislander.

A voice recording kept asking drivers to ensure any car alarms are turned off and that their parking brake was on. I would soon learn why. We made sure our van was secure, then headed up into the passenger area. I’ve made the crossing with Blue Bridge before, a competitor ferry line, but was more impressed with the InterIlander ship. I didn’t check out all the rooms, but we went to a main social area in the front with a little cafe, lots of tables and chairs, and a tall table with stools which we chose so we could work on our laptops during the ride. I got myself a coffee and then we were off!

The sun was shining brightly as we slowly drifted out of Wellington. About midway into the harbor I could begin to feel the conditions they were talking about; The boat was lurching forward and back quite a bit, but nothing too disturbing. I even opened up my laptop and art tablet and got to drawing. Soon, though, as we neared the exit of the harbor, the real choppiness began. The seats Loïc and I chose faced the side of the boat, so as I was drawing I kept swaying side to side. At one point I nearly slid off my seat and decided that was enough drawing for the day. I packed up everything, and just in time, too. The whole front and sides of the big room we were in had tall windows looking out to sea, and the boat had just lunged into a giant wave that sprayed back at the windows on all sides, submerging them completely. I felt like I was on a roller coaster as the boat lifted up again, only to dive back down into the next wave. A few parents and their children were cheering and shouting “wee!” to keep calm, but several passengers abruptly left the room and hid in the hallway. The boat continued to dramatically lurch down into the water, then peel back again in long sways, and more and more people left and started to retch into vomit bags. The fun roller-coaster sounds children were making earlier were replaced by a serious quietness as people nervously watched and felt the boat make its way out of Wellington harbor.

And this was only the first half hour of a 3 hour journey.

I decided to stand up during this part. I’m prone to getting car sick, but boats don’t affect me as much. This boat was massive, though, and I found myself feeling incredibly nervous and starting to feel a bit dizzy. Standing and moving with the ship seemed to help. Thankfully, it was a beautiful and clear day, so I kept my eyes on the faint outline of the South Island ahead and focused on not throwing up.

About midway through, conditions became much much calmer. Loïc took a break from his work (the sea didn’t bother him one bit), and we went outside on the deck to watch the waves. It was frigid outside in the wind and spray, but beautiful. We stayed on one side of the boat (tribord) that was protected from the wind and watched the water for a bit, and even saw a seal pop up and check us out for a bit before diving back in. I was feeling fine by this point, and it seemed most people who had gone into the hallway to throw up had returned to their seats.

It was a bit of a challenge to stay on my seat and prevent the laptop to slide along the table while typing but it was a lot of fun and everybody was very quiet which made it perfect for working.

What was really impressive though was how powerful the impacts with the waves were as the head of the ferry was diving back into the sea and the size of the projections, reaching above our window on the 7th deck.

I actually wanted to come to New Zealand via cargo boat but couldn’t due to time constraints, the trip from Le Havre to Auckland taking between 3 to 4 months.

I hope to be able to undertake such trip one day! In the meantime, I have to travel through the words of Josie Dew in Saddled at Sea.

When we finally arrived in Picton, we were starving. We first went to the post office to ship a giant and heavy box of stuff we couldn’t pack off to France (it cost us over $300 to do so), then found a place to eat. Picton is a cute, but sleepy town, and by the time we were done eating the restaurant was already closing up. We did a bit of a walk around town to get some fresh air and enjoy the sunshine, and investigated a possible hike we could do. Loïc seemed more keen than I was.

Rocky boats make you hungry! We each ordered a plate and split a bowl of soup.

Picton is often just a pass-through city, the ferry happens to stop there but you’re not.

At times though, you might actually want to stick around and that what we did with my friend Arlen a couple years ago. We wanted to ride part of the Queen Charlotte track but unfortunately it was pouring rain the night before our arrival and we were advised not to go.

If you end up in a similar situation, fear not, there are actually a few things to do around:

  • take the hour long walk on the surrounding mountains for an amazing view of the city
  • rent a car and check out the Nelson lakes
  • check out the aquarium or the maritime museum
  • rent a kayak and explore the Marlborough Sounds

Anyhow, we will be back in about 4 weeks and hopefully this time, I’ll be able to take a day hike along the Queen Charlotte track!

Loïc enjoying the sun in Picton after a terrible summer in Wellington.

Finally, we got on the road and headed West to “Sunny” Nelson.