The Interislander ferry travels through the northern Marlborough Sound
Photo by Steve Waller

If you remember from my last post in January, my lovely parents gave me one of the best Christmas gifts ever (okay, aside from the jean jacket in third grade) by travelling to NZ for a visit. Of course the goal was to see us for the holiday, but we were fortunate to have time off to travel with them to the top of the South Island.

Shortly after they arrived, the six of us (four adults, one toddler, and our dog) were on our way to a ten-day trip to Golden Bay. The South Island is a hop, skip, and a jump, err ferry ride across the Cook Strait.

Travelling by ship is a common mode of transport. It runs multiple times a day, along with four other ferries. It’s a much more relaxed way to travel and while it takes three hours, the scenery is epic. My family boarded the Kaitaki (Maori for “challenger”) with 1600 other passengers, for the voyage from Wellington to Picton. I’d only been on two ferries in my life, both small in comparison to the size of this ship. I am not a cruise ship-type of person, so this was about all I could handle.

After waiting in line to check in (much easier than at an airport), there was a small hassle trying to find out where our dog was supposed to board, but soon we were filing up the stairs to the 8th floor. As we scrambled to find comfortable seats together, it occurred to me that perhaps this is where I would find Joe Wellington. Of course!

Eventually we found an open space where we could all sit together and spread out with large windows displaying the massive sea before us. Sea? Schmee. I had work to do.

I scanned for Joe Wellington while I toured the two cafes (a trim flat white, please!), briefly popped into a movie-viewing lounge (is that Robert Downey Jr.?), scoured a spacious lounge with couches (I love purple!), and glanced ever-so nonchalantly around a play area for children (hey, where’d you get the balloon puppets?).

No sighting.

Numerous people braved the wild, chilled wind to find a perch on the upper deck to hear the waves, spot dolphins or birds, and soak in the overall beauty of the New Zealand shoreline. Surely, Joe Wellington could be one of them?

As I made my way up the shiny mahogany stairwell, the seasickness hit me. It’s been over a decade since I’ve drunk to the point of having wobbly knees and a churning stomach, mostly because I don’t like the feeling. The instability of the ship in the Strait was no different. So, I had to put my search on hold while this “drunken sailor” sensation passed.

Finally docked at our destination, stomach settled, we grabbed our bags and stood in line to get off the boat. Once again, I couldn’t help myself from doing a quick scan to see if maybe Joe Wellington was among the thousand.

He wasn’t.

Now piling into a rental car in Picton, we were on our way again toward the Abel Tasman NationalPark. The winding roads led us up and up, with views of The Pelorus and The Queen Charlotte Sound. Our cameras in hand, we snapped as quickly as we could, aware there was no picture that could hold what our eyes could see.

Breathtaking colors and views hypnotised us all the way up and over until finally we arrived in Nelson. The water in Nelson was a color I don’t think I could ever even attempt to describe.

We found a restaurant along the sea so we could watch as a container ship made its way to port, reminding us of when our things came into Wellington from the USA.

Nelson, New Zealand
Photo by Lissa Carlino

People who strolled by on their bikes, scooters, or boats received a good once-over to see if just maybe I would have a Joe Wellington sighting.

I didn’t.

But what I did see was diverse landscape and a range of weather from cold rain to warm sunshine in just three hours. And, I never thought I would ever say I sailed the Cook Strait.

I saw happy people, clearly living in the moment and enjoying their- for at least the holiday- carefree life. I saw children eager to be active and families sharing a laugh, including my son with his grandparents.

Euphoria came over me as I glanced from my parents to the sea green, to my son, to my husband, and then to the sea again. This was a feeling I did like.

Yes, I was drunk on joy. And I stood secure.

Joe Wellington may not have been on the Interislander ship or in Nelson, but searching with my eyes open leads me to discover something that is much more inspirational than I ever imagined.

Clearly drunk on joy in New Zealand
photo by Steve Waller

That Captain Cook was onto something.

Stay tuned to hear about my search for Joe Wellington in Golden Bay…

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