The Interislander Ferry departed at 08:15 and I had to be there to check in 1 hour before, which was good because it made me get out of bed at 6am for the first time since my road trip started. I’d forgotten what sunrise looked like, but it wasn’t a memorable one because it was still pelting down with rain and blowing a hoolie. At the ferry check-in I was told the ferry was delayed until 10:00 due to the very rough weather across the Cook Strait and so I rode to the departures hall to wait and have breakfast in the canteen.
There waiting with me were a couple of hundred people who had been waiting all night after the ferry had crashed into the dock at Picton (South Island ferry terminal) and was subsequently cancelled. I met one old gent who was on the ferry for 10 hours while it sailed from Wellington, crashed at Picton and then had to sail back to Wellington again with all passengers still embarked – what a laugh that must have been! He wasn’t too impressed, as you can imagine, particularly when all passengers were only given one free cup of tea for their ‘inconvenience’.
The old boy told me he was 84 and had immigrated to New Zealand from Devon (UK) after WWII in the 40’s, where he subsequently bought a farm and made a good living and a new family with hundreds of grandkids. Still funny and full of beans, I only hope I can be as fit and active when I get to his ripe age! Something tells me I won’t though, considering the amount of bones I had broken over the years. I think I’m certainly going to have to immigrate to a warmer country so I don’t seize up.
When 10:00 came I once again made my way to ferry check in and was redirected to wait in the ‘bikers shed’. Still raining and hoolie blowing, 3 bikers welcomed me into their bus shelter and we all talked about how boring it would be to be sitting in a warm car with nothing to do except turn the heater up. As these were the first bikers I’d come across since leaving Auckland, and the fact they were all South Islanders, I took this opportunity to pick their brains about the best roads and routes I should take on my sightseeing tour. In return I received a wealth of information, beginning with the beautifully twisty coastal Queen Charlotte Drive immediately off the ferry leading to the ‘mussel town’ of Havelock.
Another interesting thing I learnt from them is on no account must I leave my motorcycle unattended for more than a second in Wellington city centre, particularly in the bar/club/red light district area. When I told them this was exactly where I had left my bike all last night they all gasped and wondered how I still had my bike with me. Either it was my lucky day, or things aren’t quite as bad in Wellington as folklore tells. However, we all agreed as to why anyone would want to live in Wellington anyway, as it was ALWAYS cold, wet and windy!
The ferry crossing took 3 hours and so I took the opportunity to catch up on this blog, which was running hopelessly behind as usual. I’d checked the forecast and the South Island was supposed to be bathed in sunshine, which I found hard to believe looking out the window, as it was only 60 miles away and still monsoonal. However, exactly as forecast, after an hour and a half we entered the sheltered Marlborough and Queen Charlotte Sounds of South Island and out popped the sun! I must say it was a very welcome sight, and I took my fish’n’chips (not a patch on British ones) up to the upper deck to look at the beautiful scenery.
Outside I met Scott who had also moved from UK to NZ, but more recently in the hope of migrating permanently. He was a tree surgeon on South Island but had split up with his NZ girlfriend in favour of an American one. However, that was also on the rocks, so I told him about what Trevor had told me – that there’s 10 women for every bloke in NZ fighting over a limited number of scarce men. Scott was surprised to hear this as his experience suggested otherwise. Of course I couldn’t really comment because women always fight over me wherever I am (ha ha!)
By now we were approaching the ferry port on South Island at Picton, so I wondered down to the truck deck to start un-strapping my bike which I had secured in preparation for The Perfect Storm. Indeed, I had secured her a little too fruitfully, because it took 3 of us to release the fixed straps that had been stretched to full extension and locked fast. That, at least, was better than the alternative!
The nice thing about riding bikes on ferries is that they usually let you on and off first. This was the case today, and I waved my farewells to my fellow bikers as I accelerated up the twisty mountain coastal road that is Queen Charlotte Drive. And what a great road it is too!
I’m no corner ninja but for some reason the Tiger’s foot pegs were soon scraping along the road at almost every fast corner. I soon deduced this was due to the smaller 19” front wheel on the road Tiger and lower suspension, as opposed to my 21” front wheel & higher travel on the taller XC (cross-country) version. However, I like to think I am becoming a corner demon after all, and started mischievously enjoying the scrapping sound. The smaller front wheel certainly turns into corners a lot quicker, and took some time to get used to at first. However, despite this I still prefer the steadier, taller XC version, which I can lay down just as far (but hopefully not all the way!).
I was heading to Abel Tasman, a nature park 4 hrs northwest of the ferry port, which I had been told was spectacularly beautiful. I had booked into a backpackers in Motueka, a small town just to the south of the park, ready to explore it first thing in the morning.
So far everyone I have met in New Zealand has been incredibly friendly without fail. Even the Policemen are friendly, particularly the lovely copper who pulled me over on the way to Motueka doing 111 kph in a 100 zone. I’d heard that the police were very strict on speeding and it was very rare anyone got let off with a warning, but this must had been my lucky day as we just started chatting about my journey and he let me off with a slapped wrist. Thanks nice Mr Policeman! I don’t believe anything people say about you…
What is it about us Norwich boys? I met 2 in the USA in quick succession, and I’ve also met two here in New Zealand within 3 days. The first one was 18 and had just packed in his job in sunny Norwich and travelled to NZ in search of a better quality of life, and was now hanging round the YHA in Napier begging for cornflakes. The second one I have just met and did the same 8 years ago (minus the cornflakes probably) and now runs ‘The Laughing Kiwi’ Backpackers in Motueka where I’m staying tonight. He seems to think he made the right move, and apart from the fish’n’chips, I would not disagree.
After moving into my very comfortable single room in the superb Laughing Kiwi (best backpackers by far I’ve ever stayed in – must be the Norwich influence!), it was Saturday night and I fancied a pint. So, I donned by best biker’s glad rags and ventured out on the 10 minute walk into the town centre. Unfortunately Motueka isn’t renowned for its kicking nightlife, and although the high street has half a dozen pubs, I had trouble finding anyone inside any of them. Yes, all Best Men should certainly make a note NOT to go to Motueka for the Stag Party, unless they want to see only one old fart sitting at the bar eating pickled eggs (not me, by the way). I plumbed for the best of them (2 people inside) and ended up in a German pub. I have been surprised to find quite a few German tourists visiting NZ and the only person I met that night was a new German barmaid, but that was OK because she served me locally made ginger lager, which was delicious!