There is still a little bit of Explorer of the Seas I haven’t shown you yet but today I’d like to tell you about our first port of call in New Zealand, Picton.
We left Sydney on Thursday evening and after two full days at sea the Captain announced that we would get our first sight of New Zealand at around 7am on Saturday morning.
Naomi and I were up early and eating our breakfast in the Windjammer buffet at six thirty so that we could be on deck to get our first glimpse of New Zealand. It was barely light and as we saw the grey misty coastline I understood why the Maori people called their homeland Aotearoa which means “Land of the Long White Cloud”.
Although we were in sight of land it was some time before we docked at Picton as first our ship had to negotiate the Cook Strait which separates the North and South Island of New Zealand. Picton is on the northern end of the South Island.
We travelled slowly and finally stopped in a bay where we could see hills and trees all around us and beside the ship stacks and stacks of timber. I wondered where on earth we were. It turns out that Explorer of the Seas and many other modern cruise ships are too large for normal cruise ship berths and we were in the container terminal. This happened at most of the ports we visited in New Zealand. Because the container terminal is a restricted area the cruise line put on a free shuttle bus to take us all to Picton which, although we couldn’t see it, was only five minutes drive away.
We had to take tickets for the shuttle and feared we were in for a long wait when we were given the bus number #16. However the bus drivers were efficient and the distance short so by around 11:45 am, roughly forty-five minutes after quarantine had cleared the ship and allowed passengers to disembark we were getting off the bus in Picton.
We had decided not to do a tour as neither Naomi nor I really like being in organised groups as a rule. Our plan for Picton was simple; we would stroll around town buy some fish and chips for lunch followed by an ice cream and generally see what people did on a Saturday afternoon.
I had always believed that New Zealand would feel a lot like Australia as the culture of our countries is similar. Picton certainly seemed like any small Australian seaside town and I felt at home there at once. We found a café and ordered fish and chips, partly for the fun of hearing the New Zealand accent I have to admit. We love to hear Kiwi’s say “fish and chips”. Later we strolled down the main street and found a place selling ice cream. You can buy New Zealand Natural ice cream in Australia at specialty shops and it is the best ice cream you can have. Right up there with Tasmanian Valhalla ice cream which is my other favourite.
We wanted to visit a second-hand shop we had read about so after getting our ice-cream we went to look for it. We found it too but sadly it had a big sign on it saying that it had closed down. Just our luck. So we went for a walk instead and found ourselves passing the local market. We crossed a bridge over the river and strolled past Shelley Beach and the marina . We watched the Interisland Ferry departing for Wellington and some yachts which were sailing around nearby, one of them capsized perhaps due to the wash from the ferry.
It was a warm afternoon and there seemed to be a lot of people out and about enjoying the waterfront. I bought raffle tickets from some young girls who were raising money for something at their school. They were quite excited as I was the first person who had bought any from them. I’ll never know if I won anything but I told the girls that if I did they should draw again as I would not be around to claim my prize.
We found the railway station and stopped to photograph a diesel locomotive shunting in the yard and to watch a small steam-powered tug which was chugging back and forth across the harbour.
We were staying quite late at Picton but Naomi and I decided to return to the ship in time for dinner. We enjoyed our day though and hope we will visit Picton again in the future as we’d like to take the ferry to or from Wellington and catch the train to Christchurch one day.
Information about Picton
http://www.steamshipping.co.nz/about_us.html-Queen Charlotte Steam Ship Company
https://marlboroughnz.com/guides/walks/picton-walks-Short walks in Picton
http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/cook-strait-rail-ferries/love-boats-or-chuck-buckets – Crossing Cook Strait