The Bumpy Strait Picton to Tongariro

Our last single-use town in the South Island of New Zealand was Picton, home of the ferry that crosses the Cook Strait to Wellington in the North. The adverts for the ferry promise relaxation, three hours of putting your feet up while the kids silently watch a family friendly film, that kind of thing.

“There’s a slight southerly swell today so it’ll be a bit rough” said the tannoy, after we’d been given similar warnings twice already. There was a liberal distribution of sick bags all around the passenger areas and before long six metre waves had us bouncing around. We could only hope that they’d sufficiently tethered Barry to the deck, lest the sea finish off what the wind on Mount Cook had begun.

We disembarked feeling a little green but intact and ready to explore. Wellington immediately gives more of a city feel than anywhere we visited on the South Island, a theme that would continue as we travelled north. The South is definitely the rural neighbour.

The Te Papa museum, which seems to be a sort of national flagship museum, is hosting an exhibition on Gallipoli for the four years of centennial commemorations of the war. It’s incredibly well done, walking you through what happened at ANZAC Cove and giving some personal stories of a few of the soldiers involved. There are giant figures of the featured soldiers made by one of the special effects workshops behind Lord of the Rings.

One of the must-sees on the tourist trail in Wellington is the Mount Victoria lookout, a view over the city from the top of a hill. The walk winds up a steep hill through an affluent suburb reminiscent of parts of San Francisco. A nice stretch of the legs before driving north!

Next stop Tongariro National Park, which is serious Lord of the Rings country, including the volcano that starred as Mount Doom in the films. A big long drive meant we arrived after dark again (so haven’t seen any of it yet!) but even the campsite shows more signs of civilisation than the wholesome experience of the parks in the South Island. Taps with running water? Only 6km from petrol? Radio reception in the camper? Phone signal in the park?! Luxury.