Our journey across Cook Strait took about an hour in which we clutched the upper deck railing, battling strong winds and stinging sea spray from the two meter high waves slamming against the hull. The experience was exciting and we scanned the horizon from the open, choppy sea east and west, to the windswept landscapes of New Zealand’s islands.
We had taken a ferry across the North Sea from mainland Scotland to the Orkney Islands last June. But that journey had only been about 45 minutes, also against strong winds and sea spray. Our smaller Scottish ferry was like a row-boat compared to our multi-deck car and truck ferry we took across Cook Strait. Our Scottish ferry was more heavily pummeled by the strong currents where the North Atlantic Ocean collides with the North Sea in the narrow 15 km channel. You can read more about our Orkney – North Sea adventure here.
As we approached the Marlborough channel, we got our last view of Cape Terawhiti on the north island and Arapawa Island in the south.
Departing Cook Strait, we passed Arapawa Island where Captain Cook landed in 1770. Climbing to the ridge of one cove, Captain Cook looked west toward the Tasman Sea and acknowledge that he’d discovered the strait that was named after him. When Cook’s ship Endeavor departed Arapawa island, it sailed toward the strait. But winds calmed and the Endeavor was almost grounded on the rocky coastline.
The winds calmed and the sea smoothed as we entered Tory Channel. We appreciate the change in weather which allowed us to admire the interesting coves and hillsides of Arapawa which looked almost habitable compared to the wind-whipped and barren southern tip of the north island.
Whalers came to Cook Strait in the 1790 and established stations on Arapawa in 1820 where they processed whales harvested in the strait. Some twenty whale species, including southern right, humpback, blue, and sperm whales thrived in the strait. After whaling was banned, whales slowly returned to the strait where they breed and feed. Orca, seals and dolphins also inhabit the rich waters of the strait.
Nineteenth century British whalers also brought cattle, sheep, and goats to Arapawa to stock small farms. When the whalers left in 1960’s, the animals became feral and roamed the island. One species of goat became extinct in Britain but still lives on Arapawa.
Our ship turned from Tory Channel into Queen Charlotte Sound where the scenery became more colorful, lush green hillsides and golden valleys with a haze of purple almost like an Impressionist painting. And we saw our first signs of life on the southern island, small farmhouses with hillside pastures and fishing boats anchored in coves. We even passed a fish farm.
Our destination was the port of Picton in a protected harbor nestled in steep hillsides. The weather was pleasant sailing down Queen Charlotte Sound. The afternoon sun warmed the air and we passed sailboats and fishing boats sailing toward the strait.
The upper deck was packed as passengers relaxed at the railing and took photos of the beautiful scenery. It was an international gathering; we heard Spanish, German, English, Russian, French, and even the familiar Aussie accent. But no Americans that I can recall.
Picton looked picturesque and calm as we docked. We’d had thrilling three hours of a sailing adventure, gorgeous scenery, challenging weather, and a dose of 18th century nautical history. That’s why we travel!
Crossing Cook Strait was our most adventurous experience in New Zealand so far. But we knew many more were ahead of us.
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