Monday, 17 November 2014

Camping in Wellington

As predicted we were first in line at Picton’s Bluebridge ferry terminal, which actually wasn’t hard as there were 8 lines. We arrived there just after 6am, & in fact were the 4th in line at the drive through check in booth, on a what looked to be, a perfect day for sailing!

The lady with the hi-vis jacket is from bio-security, checking all vehicles for items- fishing, boating & tramping gear- that may have had contact with water from the lakes & rivers around the South Island. Checking for didymo, commonly known as ‘rock snot’, the introduced, very evasive aquatic algae pest that is choking the pristine waters of the South Island. It has not been transferred to the North Island. Yet. Unfortunately I think it’s only a matter of time though. All gear must be cleaned with detergent or a bleach solution to kill the spores. Our boots & fishing gear had been cleaned in soapy water thanks to David’s meticulous ways but we must wash the boat down again, and the outboard, when we next inflate it.

The warm sun finally reached us as we waited in line, David enjoying a chat with an American guy & his daughter in the motorhome next door. They were keen to talk about the 5th-wheeler and their time in NZ. Before long and without any fuss we were loaded and ready to roll, it was a quiet day compared with our crossing 13 months ago when one of the opposition's ships had been out of service for weeks putting pressure on all Cook Strait crossings.

We pulled out of Picton, feeling a little sad that we were leaving the South Island behind but looking forward to catching up with family & friends in the North Island after 13 months away. And at least we know we will be back to finish exploring in the new year.

Queen Charlotte Sound looked picture perfect on this early morning spring day. I was just happy the ferocious winds of yesterday had gone. Up on the top deck this whanau (family) were having a feast, a large pile of crayfish bodies wrapped in newspaper- their version of fish ‘n chips, without the fish or the chips! Overseas tourists looked on with mouths dropped in amazement- one lady told another that she’d bought a crayfish half the size for $80 in Kaikoura and here these people were feasting on at least 8 crayfish. I didn’t like to tell them that the tails, where all the meat is, were gone, they just had the bodies & legs where arguably the tastier meat is, but it does involve a little more work in getting to it.

Now that we’ve travelled around the Sounds, viewing where we’ve been from the water takes on a whole new meaning. We pass Waikawa Bay Marina, just around the point from Picton and where we stayed in the holiday park for the last two nights.

Whatamango Bay certainly looks a lot more appealing from this distance and with fine weather. We were tucked into the DOC camp around the point on the right for two nights.

And the ridge the Queen Charlotte Track runs along, looks nowhere near as high as it does from the road.

After an hour or so we turn right out of Queen Charlotte Sound through the Tory Channel and head out into a calm Cook Strait with the North Island clearly in view. Yes! Another smooth crossing ahead of us, which is pretty lucky (for me) given that there have been some big seas lately. David gets lost in conversation with the American guy again. What’s with David, boats and Americans? I wander about in the fresh air, up to the top deck and down again, from one side to the other and back inside for a short time; diesel fumes and gentle rocking are not my friends. Finally we turn into Wellington Harbour and hit a stiff wind head on. No waves though.

In no time at all we are offloaded and on the road heading through the middle of Wellington city on a busy Sunday morning; there’s a market on in the carpark near Te Papa museum and every car in creation is picking up or dropping off people in the slow lane and then pulling out into the middle lane without looking; our lane as it happens.

Finally we weave through them all and head off up the hill and around the corner, and without any warning (that we saw), straight into Victoria Tunnel which was not what we were expecting. I had visions of the Homer Tunnel and the stories of motorhomes that have clipped the sides or got stuck inside but this is a much larger tunnel and used to having larger vehicles passing through it. Of course we were fine but it still gave me a bit of a fright to have it suddenly appear in front of us.

We were staying in Wellington overnight so we could catch up with David’s youngest daughter Liz who we haven’t seen in 15 months and who usually lives in Melbourne. She is heading back there in the new year so we were thrilled to be able to stop off and and have some time with her before heading north. And where to stay in Wellington? Well Evans Bay of course!

The large carpark at the end of Evans Bay Marina is now a designated freedom camping area, it was only confirmed a week or so ago through the NZMCA- although when I googled it today, I found an article saying that a final decision would be made in December. Hmm…perhaps we jumped the gun a little.

This is an ideal area for camping as it’s very handy to the ferries and downtown. There were no signs stating the new designation and in fact a sign on the boat shed wall still said ‘No Camping’, but we re-checked the notification and we were in the right area so we pulled in. At first we lined up alongside the water with a great view over the marina but then realised that, that section was shaded red on the freedom camping notification. There was also a constant stream of people walking and cycling past our front door and up the path on the bank.  We had to wait for some cars to move before we could shift, they were parked along the wall beside the grass bank.

The carpark looks to be used by the locals to teach kids to ride their bikes, two or three families arrived during the afternoon with pushbikes, kids and dogs. And then two different lots of people on motorbikes learning to ride them as well. Finally they all left and we pulled in along the wall, the container behind us has something about selling Xmas trees on it. It was with a bit of consternation we learn from Liz that the ‘wind wand’ sculpture used to be behind the blue cloth & scaffolding. It got blown to smithereens by lightening during a wild storm back in August. Now that would have been interesting if we'd been parked up when that happened.

We had a lovely afternoon and evening with Liz, it was good to catch up and have a few laughs. It was also a bit surreal sitting in our home having dinner near a busy Wellington intersection and with the airport close by, planes taking off and landing, along with dozens of passing Wellingtonians out walking or cycling enjoying a warm spring evening. Oh to be back in the wops….

I thought the traffic noise might have been an issue but we both had a reasonably good night’s sleep. We waited for rush hour to pass before we pulled out, we had a clear run through the city and on up the coast, the weather overcast & showery and a little windy.

We stopped for lunch at the Quarter Acre Cafe in Manakau and I thought I’d give it a plug here. What a great spot to stop for a break; morning or afternoon tea, breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s quite a large place with an outdoor garden area for sunny days or warm rooms inside. The staff extremely friendly & cheerful, the food superb and very reasonably priced too. Well worth a visit if you need a break on your travels.

Tonight we are parked up at the NZMCA Park in Marton along with quite a number of others. Initially we backed in near the large green tree at the back of the site but quickly moved when I discovered we couldn't get TV because the satellite dish was blocked by the tree. Luckily I’ve learnt to check before we set up. Most of the time.

This is obviously a popular park and well positioned for members who are moving up and down the North Island. The old Marton camping ground was purchased by NZMCA who have, with the help of local members, re-fenced, landscaped, renovated some buildings and removed others from the property. It now provides a safe and secure space for members to stay on their travels and all for the princely sum of $3 pp per night. It’s also located beside a large park and gardens and just a short distance from town.


  1. Yes Shellie, the Quarter Acre is a great cafe, and one of our favourites. The Marton NZMCA site is a real treasure too. If you walk up town you will bump into Captain Cook standing on the footpath.

    1. Hi Jenny, I did think of you guys when we came through. I knew you'd know all about the cafe. It was raining and blowing a gale when we left Marton so we didn't get a chance to walk into town. You have me intrigued now- Captain Cook? Not a Captain Cooker I suspect more a big statue I'm thinking :)


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