We cross the great water today – North Island to South Island. The ferry departs at eight in the morning, so we must crack-of-dawn it. We are up and outta there at 6:45 and walk to the Bluebridge Ferry terminal, rolly suitcases and all. To indicate WALK, stoplights in NZ make a high-pitched wheet sound, followed by five seconds of clucking. I find this sound delicious to imitate. The elevator at 54 Bleecker make a weenie noise as it passes between floors. I like that one, too. Anyway, Joss had put me on wheet probation right away back in Auckland, but this morning I get a total free ride to wheet to my heart’s content.
Morning in Wellington harbor is a lively time. Two bright red tugs pull into berths right outside the terminal, while rowers in eight-, four-, and two-man shells glide past.
Our departure seems to be delayed, the boat’s elevator is out of service, but finally we board, get settled, and order some food. There will be no nautical barfing for us. We are too swell for swells. The voyage takes three hours, the final hour of which is a majestic sail up Queen Charlotte Sound to the port of Picton. Steep, pine-covered slopes close in like walls on our port and starboard then slide away as we swan up the blue-green water.
You can’t take a rented automobile from island to island unless you return it the island from which you rented it. Therefore, it is necessary to rent a car anew. I theoretically booked a South Island auto after all that rigmarole at the KeriKeri airport with the too-boatlike Holden. Picton presents us with a Corolla, which at first Joss deems too big. She tests this hypothesis utilizing the scientific method: a Focus is found in the lot and she spreads her arms across its back, holds the pose, then embraces the rear of the Corolla and compares. Bingo. We’ve got ourselves a set of wheels. This is good because I suspect that driving the North Island is a cakewalk compared to the Alpine Adventures that await us here in the South.
Our B&B is mere steps from Picton center. We stroll into town for a meat pie, a heavenly concoction especially when accompanied by a side salad. Picton has seaside charms: the view up Queen Charlotte Sound, a main drag with one-story shops and bars, a spacious promenade and park on the water that features a striking blue reflecting pool dedicated to a WWI hero with a life-size statue of Donald Duck in the center.
Picton is home to a wonderful little aquarium that guidebooks tout as a seahorse sanctuary. The ticket guys shoos us in – “Hurry! It’s feeding time!” We round a corner to find a group listening to the authoritative gent with a lizard on his arm. It’s actually not a lizard, but a tuatara, a reptile, yes, but a singular species more related to dinosaurs than other earthly reptiles. It’s extinct now on mainland New Zealand, preserved in the wild only on some twenty islands reserved for endangered flora and fauna. We’re encouraged to touch the tuatara, to which one small child exclaims, ‘it feels like grandma’.
We will now follow this guy anywhere. It’s time to feed the fish in the big tank. A stingray about the size of a bathmat plasters itself against the glass of the tank displaying its white belly and the strange expression that its long, down-turned mouth and pair of nostrils make. It knows exactly what time it is. The edges of its body flutter and its mouth opens to receive a piece of sashimi.
When his box of chum is empty, he slips away, returning with the red plastic milk box with a Little Blue Penguin within. Disoriented at first, the bird soon develops a curiosity about its confines and its audience. It is being rehabilitated after an inner ear infection. Once it fully regains its diving ability, it will be released. People take photos of the Little Blue Penguin in the red box. A sentence kinda sums it up.
Sadly, the seahorse promo is over-hyped. There’s a single one. The pipefish, though, provide compensatory fascination. They are transparent and float vertically, like oral thermometers with a green stripe instead of mercury. This little aquarium may be a bit shabby with weird signage, but it more than makes up for it with charm and professionalism.
Back to the B&B for R&R, a wee lie down before venturing forth for dinner. I type some. Then – BAGPIPES! Are you fucking kidding me? They’re coming from right below my window. Smack in the middle of excursionary contentment, fucking BAGPIPES. They must belong to this house somehow. I suck it up. I imagine Jocelyn must have been sonically electrocuted. The remainder of the day is spent slowly decompressing from The Assault of the Giant Gasbag.