Waiting to board the ferry I turned and marvelled at what we had managed to stuff into our late 90s mid-sized sedan.
Bags full of clothing along with computer gear, an irreplaceable sewing machine, books, interior design magazines, kitchen ware, bedding and a huntaway, had commandeered our Nissan’s humble storage capacity.
“We’ll just have to buy a new vacuum once we get there,” I told my fiancée, who was lamenting the extra expense.
We had spent three years working in Wellington. We’d gained professional and personal skills by immersing ourselves in our nation’s capital, but it was time for us to return to our roots and move back to the South Island.
Both in our 30s, our lives had evolved to require the space, scenery and lifestyle that Christchurch and the Canterbury region offers. The pull of our families and the Southern Alps became too much to ignore.
Sailing to Picton
Two weeks before our tenancy ended, we had decided to move out and sail to Picton on the same night. I had bought two tickets for $118 on one of two Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries called the Straitsman. My online booking confirmed a boarding time of 1:30am with a departure 2:30am.
We chose Bluebridge’s super sail option which included vehicle transportation for $140, one twin private room with bunk bed for $40, all at a total cost $298. There are three different types of sailings to suit all budgets: the saver sail (non-refundable), the super sail (50% refundable) and the flexi sail (100% refundable).
At about 8:30pm, the night before the Cook Strait crossing, the moving men had finished emptying our belongings and our diminutive Khandallah flat was finally ready for inspection. Shortly after I received a text message from Bluebridge advising that those who had booked a room could board the ferry early, if they reported to the terminal before 11pm.
Two wary, south-bound travellers were greeted by a friendly check-in representative who told us to park the car at the entry of the dock until we were advised to board.
At 11:30pm we were given instructions to board the ferry and about 20 cars drove single file into a very clean and impressive vessel.
The Danish designed and Dutch built Straitsman (built in 2005), is the more modern of the two ferries and was formerly called the Dueodde. The ship joined the Bluebridge fleet in 2010 after connecting the Island of Bornholm with the Danish mainland. It was renamed in recognition of Strait Shipping’s first vessel, which was in service for 11 years from when the company first launched in 1992.
Once we parked the car in the Straitsman, a crew member spotted the dog in the back and said that I could find her if I thought he needed to be checked or have his water bowl topped up. Bluebridge offers a kennel for just $10, although the crew member admitted that most dogs seemed to prefer being in their owners’ cars and tended to sleep throughout the cruise.
The ferry still holds much appeal as a way of entering the South Island. Three families, each with three children, had suitcases and ski equipment pressed hard up against the back windows of their 4WDs.
The children were visibly excited. It was a new experience and they had a chance to learn about the Cook Strait, the boat and New Zealand’s unique landscape.
Each child receives a free activity pack when they travel with Bluebridge. The packs include a 16-page activity booklet containing games, stickers and colouring pencils. There are also recent, family-friendly movies to choose from and indoor lounge spaces that include play areas for children.
The novelty isn’t lost on adults either. I remarked to my fiancée that the slower pace was very much welcomed after years of stale, regimented air travel.
The crew wouldn’t just offer forced smiles and rehearsed salutations; they were prepared to answer any questions and were up for a chat. It’s a true experience and a wonderful way to see parts of the country which cannot be accessed by car or viewed properly from inside a plane at 25,000ft.
Bluebridge says that on a day cruise, as you sail the short stretch of open water between Wellington Heads and Tory Channel, dolphins, whales and other wildlife have been known to swim alongside.
The route through Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds is something that everyone should witness for themselves. Undulating hills, densely covered native bush which reaches right to the water’s edge, are dotted with the occasional remote holiday home. The cruise through Queen Charlotte Sound approaching Picton shows off pristine beaches and bush walks.
Our cabin was small but delightfully functional for the three-and-half-hour journey.
All cabins have air-conditioning and under floor bathroom heating with adjustable controls, a power point, a desk with chair, wall-mounted reading lights, hanging space with coat hangers, free Wi-Fi, a telephone with wake-up call instructions and a wall mirror. Complimentary fresh linen, towels, body wash, shampoo and soap, made the crossing an effortless one.
There are different configuration options to choose from, with each varying in price. Single rooms are available for $30 per crossing for one person, twin rooms are $40 per crossing for up to two, and twin bunk rooms (ideal for families) are $60 per crossing and accommodate up to four people plus a small child or infant.
Family-sized four berth cabins can also be hired on the Straitsman, costing $60 each way and can include a portacot if required at no extra charge.
The food and drink menus were well-appointed and wouldn’t look out of place standing on the table of a good café and restaurant. The range was also similarly priced.
Farewell the capital
As the boat launched we looked through the circular window of our cabin as the lights of the Wellington CBD grew smaller and dimmed to nothingness. Our time in Wellington had come to a close.
At about 5am a perky voice announced over the speaker that we were approaching Picton and would dock at 6am, bang on schedule.
Mercifully, the cruise was smooth with only a small swell briefly hampering an almost perfect crossing (as reported by my fiancée who didn’t sleep quite as well as me).
We returned to our car and I tapped on the back window to wake up the dog. His puffy eyes suggested he had no trouble sleeping.
The trucks and cars were seamlessly unloaded with precision and we were back on the Mainland with nervous anticipation of our new lives together.
But first, we needed to find a bakery with the first batch of bacon and egg pies before we embarked on our journey down the east coast; bound for Christchurch.
Elliot Sim was, until recently, a journalist with the New Zealand Law Society, based in Wellington. He is now principal of LawType Media, based in Christchurch.
Built: Volharding Shipyard, Harlingen, Netherlands, 2005
Beam overall: 23.4m
Gross tonnage: 13,906
Main engines: Two MaK 9M32
Service speed: 18.8 knots
Freight capacity: 1248 lane metres (freight and vehicles)
- Contemporary Scandinavian interior
- Comfortable modern private cabins
- Reclining seating areas
- Reception area
- Family area
- Viewing lounge
- Green features including greater fuel efficiency and utilisation of waste heat for heating hot water and passenger areas
- High-tech navigation aids, stabilisers, two powerful bow thrusters and in-line high lift flap rudders for better manoeuvrability
- Extensive decking
- Toilets and family change areas
For more information about Bluebridge and its holiday packages visit www.bluebridge.co.nz.