The Cook Strait crossing normally takes 3½ hours on the ferry – for us last night it was more than eleven. Thankfully, not because we were fighting rough seas, but instead avoiding them, by sailing in the opposite direction almost as far as Palmerston North, to give them time to abate before we headed back south into the Marlborough Sounds. Nice to know Azamara puts passenger comfort ahead of fuel economy.
It was grey and wet this morning, so when our tour driver Don announced that this is NZ’s sunniest province, there was some disbelief – but the acres of neat vineyards backed him up. Our first call was the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, which ought to have been our sole destination. We only had an hour there and to study the exhibits and appreciate the artistry of the story-telling there really deserves about three times that.
It’s Peter Jackson’s private collection of WWI aircraft and related memorabilia, all displayed with Weta Workshop panache and brilliance, and it really is stunning. Genuine aircraft, rebuilds and models, many of them staged realistically, with stories and masses of rare artefacts in cases… it’s unique and we were so sorry to have to rush past most of it. “Take a photo of that storyboard to read later,” advised the guide heartlessly. And we never got near the WWII hangar. Tch.
All we were taken to do afterwards was have a tasting at the Moa Brewery, and some chocolate at the Makana factory – both pleasant enough, but if we’d been more clued-up we’d have made our own way to Omaka and spent as much time there as we needed.
Picton’s waterfront is ok but it’s a transit town really – small and touristy and not offering much to do. It’s a shame that we have more time here than originally scheduled, because Kaikoura, along the coast, is off the itinerary after November’s big earthquake raised the seabed by two metres. It’s one of an unfortunate trilogy of disappointments this trip: the big storm a few days ago meant the Tauranga (gateway to Rotorua) stop had to be skipped; then no Kaikoura tomorrow; and after that, the recent wildfires around Christchurch damaged a bridge on the TranzAlpine track so that train trip is a no-go too. It’s all just nature, but it’s hard for some of the passengers not to feel victimised. I wonder what Azamara might come up with in compensation?