We first caught sight of the South Island from the deck of the MV Santa Regina, our ferry from Wellington to Picton via Cook Strait and the Marlborough sounds, with our car stored safely below deck.
From Picton we headed down the east (Pacific) coast, anxious to see the furthest points south and then work our way back up, camping and snapping pictures along the way.
The South Island is full of spectacular scenery, much of it not even listed in guide books. This sight, for example, was in a poorly-marked viewpoint off a side road that was recommended to us by a local woman selling hand-knitted goods at a roadside craft fair.
Most of New Zealand’s wines come from the South Island, so of course we felt obligated to try a few. The vineyards offer almost as much in the way of sights as tastes.
On Tuesday we made it as far as the 45th parallel, which was commemorated by a roadside plaque, and by somewhat perplexing adjacent distance markers. (Anyone have any explanations?)
And you know what happens once you start nearing the South Pole… penguins! And not in any zoo either – we watched a few Yellow-Eyed penguins land on the beach after a day’s fishing and climb up a cliff to their nests, passing right by our platform. There was also one confused (and lonely?) penguin perched on a hillside amongst a couple wooden replicas placed by the Department of Conservation to cultivate the area for settlement. He’d apparently been there for a couple of hours, and the volunteer ranger thought he might be smitten.
We also saw some Little Blue penguins, which are only a foot tall. Pocket-size, Becky thinks. They return to land at dusk in groups of a dozen up to thirty, and after frolicking and scouting around (for good reason — there was a seal napping on their beach when the first ones arrived) they scamper off like crazed little wind-up toys. (No photography allowed where we saw them though, because the clicks and flashes scare them.)