We were quite lucky with crossing the Cook Strait to the South Island today. The strong winds from the last few days subsided and the sea calmed down a bit literally hours before our departure. But even with the relatively quiet seas the huge ferry swayed on the swell as we slowly made our way out of the Wellington Harbour, then the Fitzroy Bay, crossed the Cook Strait and meandered into the maze of inlets of the South Island's northern coast. It took three and a half hours but finally we reached Picton, a small picturesque town which is the gateway to this island for all the ferries from Wellington. The sun was up, the sky was blue and we were happy to leave the rather gloomy Wellington behind.
Today the plan was to reach Kaikoura, a seaside town roughly half way towards Christchurch on the East Coast, famous for dolphins, seals and whale watching.
The two an a half hour journey took us across the Marlborough wine region with its huge wine yards and then along the East Coast. The wind picked up and the coastal route felt a bit like the Australian Great Ocean Road, only with a spectacular wall of mountains on the right and choppy ocean on the left. The turquoise waves mercilessly slashed dark grey rocks of the coastline, raising fountains of white spray that seemed to be hanging in the air as a white thin layer of fog. It was a rough and beautiful landscape, the home of few people and countless black fur seals resting on the rocks as we were driving by. It was New Zealand as we imagined it.
We reached Kaikoura in the afternoon and left our van at the Top 10 camping ground. Across our journey in New Zealand it became our favourite chain as it offered the nicest spots and all amenities that were making camping even more relaxing and comfortable. We were also pretty lucky to always meet nice people there - both from the staff and guests alike.
This one wasn't different. We quickly made friends with the reception guy who knew all about everything worth doing in Kaikoura and seemed to spend his morning hours speeding around the camping grounds in a little golf cart. He gave us a lot of tips on what's worth doing - most notably the whale watching. It turned out that Kaikoura is one of the lucky places where you can see whales for the entire year, different species depending on the season. We booked it instantly as that was one of the things we really wanted to do and in Australia it proved impossible when we were there.
The next day was looking very exciting already but for now we wanted to finally say "hello" to the ocean and see the town before a dinner in our camper. The beach turned out to be pretty spectacular - large turquoise waves crashing on a wide stretch of dark grey pebbles with green misty mountains on the horizon surrounding the bay. The ocean was cold and the weather got colder too - our long sleeves and jumpers were out of the bags and quite likely were out to stay.
It was a beautiful and raw place and we couldn't imagine a better start of the South Island experience. With the whale watching the next day, the adventure was beginning once again!