How does it all work?
New Zealand constitutes 3 main islands; the North and South Island plus Stewart Island. The main passenger and vehicle traffic is between the North and South Island. There are two main ferry companies operating – Interislander (run by Kiwi Rail NZ) and Blueridge Ferries (a private company). Ferry services operate 4-8 times per day throughout the season. The Interislander has a larger capacity for vehicle loads, while the Blueridge ferry has less. The main ferry terminals are in Wellington and Picton harbours.
Passenger Travel only – what is the check-in process?
With most major rental car companies (Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty) you’ll leave your vehicle at one ferry terminal and travel on the vessel as a passenger. You then pick-up another rental car on the other side. Logistically this makes sense and also addresses insurance policy issues…
…the key advantage is that you won’t have a pay to transport the vehicle across – only your passenger ticket. If you have to exchange rental cars between the North and South Island, the check-in process is similar to that of an airport. Park your car at the ferry terminal, return the key, check in your luggage and walk onto the ferry. Once you arrive at the other side, uplift your luggage, walk to the rental counter and get another car.
Passenger Travel plus Vehicle – what is the check-in process?
Some smaller car and motorhome rental companies do not allow drop-off/ pick-up at ferry terminals as they don’t have depots in Wellington and Picton. If using these companies, you will be required to take the vehicle on-board yourself. The key advantage is that you can avoid unloading and reloading your luggage, however you will have to purchase an additional ferry ticket for your vehicle.
It’s very important to know the length and height of your vehicle, as these details are requested when the Ferry reservation is made. Generally a standard car goes up to 5.5 metres in length and thereafter the cost increases for each half meter of length. Check-in time for vehicle crossings is at least 1 hour prior sailing (I’d recommend you be at the terminal for check-in at least 90 min prior sailing).
When do the Ferries sail and how long does it take?
The first Ferry crossing starts at 5am and goes right through to after midnight. Handy Hint: the night ferries are mainly used for heavy trucks. Remember you are solely responsible for driving your vehicle onto the ferry and large trucks can be intimidating in a confined space. The crossing generally takes 3 hours and 15 minutes, but this varies according to weather and sea conditions in the Cook Strait. Note: this stretch of water channel is well-known for it’s heavy seas and strong wind conditions! Prone to seasickness? Take medication for this 1 hour before.
What to do on the Ferry?
While onboard the ferry you can enjoy a range of entertainment (e.g. cinema), restaurant/ cafe and sightseeing opportunities. A playground for children is also handy for parents who also need to relax.
Travelling by ferry between the islands of New Zealand can be an exciting journey over Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds of the South Island. The Ferry Terminal, rental car companies and the Kiwi Rail train are in close proximity and staff are very helpful…
… overall travellers find this a pleasurable experience with stunning scenery to be enjoyed on the way.
It was a toss-up between the Dolphin Encounter Tour and the Albatross Encounter Tour and I’m so glad I chose the Albatross Tour. Don’t expect a large passenger vessel, plush seats and a drinks bar. This tour will appeal to a niche market of nature lovers – those who relish close-up encounters with birdlife.
It’s a rocky ride in parts and sometimes you’ll have to hang on for dear life – but it is beyond exhilarating.
There were only 4 of us on this jet-boat trip to the Kaikoura Peninsula (love those small groups). Gary, our Skipper has a legendary knowledge of New Zealand native birds, especially those of the Kaikoura Region and he’s a heck of a nice guy.
If you’re prone to seasickness, take the medication an hour before departure. When the boat’s going full steam ahead, you’ll probably be ok but once it stops and that gentle rocking begins, you might get squeamish. Gary told me to look at the landforms. It helps. Aha, the chum bag is being lowered and the Petrels begin swooping down all around us. It’s a 4D experience and the first time I’ve been at eye level with so many birds!
I’ve always admired the way Bird & Wildlife photographers can get that perfect shot in motion… can it be that hard? Yes it can and I’m lucky if I get these guys in the frame! Gary lowers the chum bag filled with the yummy fish livers…time for me to look at the horizon for a while. Hey, what a well behaved bunch of guys… all quietly waiting their turn…
…suddenly all hell breaks loose – the old favs are back on the menu and news travels fast. The hierarchy is quickly established.
The giant Petrels are incredibly aggressive and I admire the bravery of the small Petrels as they skilfully dart around the stabbing beaks of their larger cousins.
For me, the most heart-stopping moment was sighting two species of Albatross from the Great Albatross family – the Wandering Albatross and the Royal Albatross. These guys can live to 60 years of age and only breed every two years. I could hear the whomping sound of those huge wings as they passed the boat and wanted to reach out and touch them. Sometimes you just have to put your camera down.
As they folded their massive wings behind them and floated next to the boat for a feed, I was struck by how timid and shy they were towards the Giant Petrels.
Pound for pound, they are heavier.
But they’re playing it safe and who can blame them while this sort of preening is going on:
We’re having a very lucky day. Overall, we counted 45 Huttons Shearwaters, an endemic species only found in Kaikoura. Along the way we saw sea fur seals and a couple of frolicking dolphins. The male dolphin was enjoying a mating dance with a female. Thankfully, no missionary has ever tried to convert the Dolphin world. The female dolphins stays on top to mate, while the male stays underneath her.
The agility of dolphins is impressive as is their infectious joy of life, but the impression I’ll take away with me from this tour is the beautiful birdlife we encountered and for now, they get the last word.
Not all our international travellers want to pay $500 plus per night so we think the Settlers Motel in Hanmer Springs is an affordable option. The units are scrupulously clean and the interiors have interesting architectural features. It’s also reassuring to have the owners on-site. Alan and Sally have the local knowledge and we trust their recommendations. On arrival, Alan escorts each guest to their unit – a nice touch.
Never underestimate the value of a well presented and up-to-date room information folder. I’m finding little gems of info at Settlers. Although centrally located, the motels are just enough out of the township ‘hub’ to ensure a quiet night’s sleep. The units upstairs have their own balconies and the large skylight window in the bedrooms gives a view of the trees by day and romantic stargazing at night!
The forest walks around Hanmer are beautiful and they’re just up the road from most of the accommodations here. It’s a mixed a mixed European forest with widely-spaced paths and imported Birch, Oaks, Cypress and Californian Pine trees. How gorgeous is this folks!
The mountain-bike tracks around here are well defined and differently graded, depending on how fit you are. This is what we did this morning and in the pure Alpine air it was invigorating. And the bellbirds sure know how to put out a great song.
If you’re a visitor, finding a good café with great coffee, can be a bit of a hit and miss affair. Alan recommended the Powerhouse Café and we’ll be eternally grateful to him:
The coffee is hot and flavoursome, the cabinet’s full of beautiful artisan baking and there’s plenty of gluten-free options for me. I had the Coconut and Lemon Slice – so buttery with a fresh tangy lemon taste.
The Hanmer Springs Hot Pools is a big hit with visitors from Christchurch but we’ll be splashing out in a different way at The Spa at Hanmer Springs. Time to sign in and go through the tick sheet.
The spa experience is not about resolving complex muscular problems. For that, you’ll need a specialist massage therapist either at a sports clinic or private Massage clinic. But what a spa like this does provide, is a variety of quality luxurious body treatments where you’ll be pampered and treated like Kings and Queens. Meet the ‘Royal Couple':
I can totally recommend the Alpine Aqua Body Experience. First I was scrubbed with a brown sugar solution mixed with lavender and other nourishing oils. I looked as though I’d been covered in crystallised ginger. Initially it was a bit abrasive on my skin but my body soon adjusted to the sensation. After a quick shower it was back on the table for a blissful massage with a hydrating body butter rub, leaving my skin incredibly soft. While all this was going on, the staff were careful about preserving my modesty. With the flair of magicians, they swished the towels around ensuring that not an inch of bare flesh was unnecessarily exposed. Afterwards, I felt like a new woman! Later, to round off the day, we dined at Restaurant 31.
We’ve found that travelling and working on the road has it’s challenges . We’re out for a good part of the day either on tours or meeting operators, so we often work on our business until very late at night. When it’s time to relax, we really appreciate quality food and good service from wait staff. We understand why Restaurant 31 is Hanmer’s pride and joy. Hey, put the cellphone away Michael!
The chef is well known from his days at The Old Post Office Restaurant and his reputation is solid but his wait staff also deserve the accolades. When our dessert arrived late, the staff apologised profusely and offered complimentary tea and coffees. Speaking of dessert…
Woke up this morning to see white fluff on the mountains and hills – the weather’s turned crazy. But this beautiful little Alpine town looks good in any weather – the greens really ‘pop’ when it’s wet. And it’s magic when you’re sitting in the hot pools with gentle snow flakes descending around you. Only 2 days here, so much more to experience, but what a great taster – another lovely memory to store away.
It’s not every day that you’re invited back to a private home as part of a tour but this is an integral part of the Maori Tours Kaikoura half-day tour. Maori Tours Kaikoura is a small company owned by Maurice and Heather Manuwatu of Ngai Tahu descent. If you want a less commercialised and a more boutique cultural tour, this may be a good option.
They’re bang on time collecting us from our accommodation (a good sign).’Uncle Major’ is our driver and Rebecca, our Tour Guide, immediately establishes a great rapport with us. We’re driven by mini coach to one of the Pa sites located on a beautiful scenic part of the Kaikoura Peninsula where a Pōwhiri is delivered by Heather’s niece. This traditional welcome is always made by females.
Rebecca gives a brief history of her ancestors and the land deals that took place between Maori and Pakeha. Hard to believe it’s been only 16 years since settlements were finally made! Be warned, you cannot remain anonymous in this tour. Group participation can’t really be avoided but who would deny themselves a chance to sing and laugh. Believe me, there’s a lot of this!
Songsheets are given out. Rebecca sings a Maori song composed by her sister. She’s tuneful and pitch-perfect but when it’s our turn to sing, it’s a dismal warble. We get better. Next is the Hongi greeting which involves the pressing of noses. Slightly challenging, but I’m open to new cultural experiences. Rebecca chooses me first and I think it goes rather well (briefly lost it’s appeal when one of the Brits almost head-butted me.) Next stop, this lovely reserve at South Bay.
Don’t you just love these beautiful Maori sculptures. This one really blew me away!
Here we are being introduced to flax-weaving and just look at those ‘arty farty’ folk go!
I’m making an absolute hash of it so it’s time to enlist the help of Uncle Major. He takes charge and weaving furiously, creates the perfect flax flower. I hold it up triumphantly, basking in the glory. Uncle Major keeps ‘schtum’, bless him.
Now for the unexpected surprise. Refreshments are usually served in the open at a picnic spot or in a café along the way. Not this tour! We’re invited into the house of Heather’s niece who exudes the type of hospitality Maori are famous for. It’s a humble, welcoming home with traditional carved Maori sculptures and artwork on the walls. We’re served an array of ‘yummies’ – fruit kebabs, pikelets with jam and cream, fudge slice and homemade egg sandwiches (just like mum used to make) and Kawa Kawa tea. Time for some more singing.
This type of hospitality is getting so rare nowadays and it’s a sad and sweet moment of nostalgia for me. No room for melancholy though as we’re caught up in the moment of saying goodbye and head off for a forest walk. This is such a beautiful and informative part of the tour. There’s a gorgeous perfume wafting through the forest and it’s coming from the Matai Tree. It seems to cleanse the whole forest and Michael’s loving it.
So many of these plants have effective healing properties and Maori still use these today for bees stings, cuts, burns, digestion problems and much more. We European Kiwis use little white pills with chemical components…after the quick fix. I can’t help thinking that the Maori answer to good medicine, is the better way.
Small group tours are only as good as it’s Tour-guide and Rebecca’s knowledge of history and plants, plus her infectious enthusiasm, created a positive energy. Her strong mana contributed so much to this tour being an enriching experience for us. E noho ra Rebecca and many blessings.
Sylvester is probably the most photographed Llama in the country. He’s a very sensitive boy, especially when there’s a hint of danger or if something unexpected happens. If my body language reflects alarm or if I raise my voice, Sylvester will be seriously spooked! Believe, me this is a useful piece of information and just a snippet of what I’ll learn about Llamas during this unique tour. Say hello to Sylvester:
We’re taking the one hour ‘teaser’ to learn about what Llama Trekking Kaikoura is about. Firstly you have to be a true animal lover. Secondly, you’ll need to enjoy a close interaction with these magnificent doe-eyed creatures…
…and be curious about what makes them ‘tick’.
On the half-day trek you’ll view the seal colony, stroll the coastal walkways and visit a restored Whaler’s cottage and musem. And what better way of getting rural views and seeing the beautiful mountain backdrop of Kaikoura!
We’re each allotted our very own Llama (actually they do the choosing) and we trot along beside them, holding onto their lead. (Llamas should never be ridden). The Llamas do carry the small saddle bags containing a picnic lunch with homemade treats for the tour. I think Sylvester and I have found our rhythm.
With the half day trek, you’ll be picked up from the Kaikoura I-site carpark which is centrally located in the Kaikoura township. Families with older children will love this tour and you’ll be well looked after by Kevin and Lynn who are passionate about Llamas.
Missing Sylvester already.