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Exploring New Zealand's South Island
Sunday, January 25, 2015  
Our 2015 New Zealand adventure began with an excellent flight on Air New Zealand in their Premium Economy Spaceseat, then continued with a 15-night cruise of the Sub-Antarctic Islands on Silversea Expeditions' Silver Discoverer (read blog here). After a wonderful day exploring the port city of Wellington, New Zealand, we boarded the Interislander ferry to Picton at 8:30am. The Interislander ferry and Coastal Pacific train from Picton to Christchurch work in concert with each other. When we checked our large duffel bag with the ferry, it was checked through all the way to Christchurch ---very nice.

The Interislander ferry Kaitaki

Picton is located at the north end of the South Island. The ferry cruise across Cook's Straight takes about 3 1/2 hours and the seas can be very rough. However, today, the seas are calm. The Kaitaki is the largest ferry operated by Interislander and can carry up to 1600 passengers, some of whom drive their cars and motorcycles onto the ferry. We arrived at the departure terminal 45 minutes early, as recommended, and a long line was already forming. After we checked in, Rickee decided she wanted to upgrade us to the Premium Lounge. The cost for this was $45 per person and includes access to the lounge, free Wi-Fi, complimentary soft drinks and coffee and snacks. When we boarded the ship, the Premium Lounge was right around the corner on Deck 7.

Premium Lounge on Kaitaki

A nice buffet breakfast was being served when we entered the lounge. We found a couple of couches with a small coffee table in between and quickly snagged them. Fortunately, the lounge never filled to capacity, so it was very comfortable for the entire sailing. After about two hours, the Premium Lounge also put out a buffet of morning tea snacks including scones, cookies and quiches. Once we entered Marlborough Sound, the scenery began to improve dramatically with beautiful pine tree- covered mountains so close you thought you could reach out and touch them.

Marlborough Sound

We disembarked the ferry a little earlier than expected. Upon exiting the ferry terminal, signs direct you to the train station which is only a four-minute walk from the ferry terminal. They have even painted a stripe on the sidewalk to guide you. The train station is on the opposite side of the street.

Train station signage

When we checked in for the KiwiRail  Coastal Pacific train ride, the agent told us we could try and take our roll aboard luggage onto the train, but that they might not fit overhead. She offered to have us check them and have them placed in the luggage car. We opted to have them placed in the luggage car and she even gave me Fragile stickers to place on my roll aboard which has all of my camera equipment. We watched as they loaded the luggage car and the handlers were very careful will all bags, unlike most airline baggage handlers.


The KiwiRail train to Christchurch was much shorter in total length than expected. We purchased First Class tickets, but I visited both cars and could not tell a difference in the seating. Maybe everyone had First Class? There was a Cafe car with a selection of food and drink items for purchase. Our car was the first one, just behind the Observation car. The seating was comfortable and there was audio narrative during the 5-hour train ride and headsets were provided. The Observation car was open air and allowed for great photo taking.

Great scenery along the Pacific Coastal train ride to Christchurch

When we arrived in Christchurch, we retrieved our luggage and found a taxi waiting outside the terminal and got in for a drive to our hotel, about 20 minutes from the train station. The cost was $42 NZ, so taxis in New Zealand are not cheap. In fact, NOTHING is cheap. Food is very expensive and gasoline is about $1.70 to $2.00 per litre. That's about $7 US per gallon! Compare that to what I paid in Texas before we left...$1.89 per gallon.

Tomorrow, we pick up our rental motorcycle and will begin exploring the South Island on two wheels!

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