I had this weird premonition something would go wrong that day. My friend Lindsay and I were at the end of our trip through the South Island of New Zealand. We planned on catching the 10am ferry from Picton, which would drop us off around 1pm in Wellington. A few of our friends were meeting us there for a small reunion – a “last hurrah” of exploring the city, bar-hopping and staying at a nice hotel to commemorate the end of our journey abroad.
So when we got to the check-in window at the ferry terminal, the Kiwi woman behind the glass told us flatly: “Sorry. The 10am ferry has been cancelled due to rough seas.” I gasped. Rough seas? It wasn’t even raining and the water in the bay looked perfectly calm. “When does the next one leave?” I asked, mustering some faith in New Zealand’s inter-island transport system. “Not until 1pm,” she replied. That’s when we were supposed to be arriving in Wellington. Fabulous.
We gathered our luggage and found a place in the chilly terminal to camp out. Nearby, a small bird had sneaked in from outside and was flitting across the carpeted floor. We watched it while we ate the last of our food stash: tuna sandwiches with sweet chili sauce and a box of Digestive biscuits. We wrote a poem revolving around the bird and the 306 minutes until our departure, a number which increased every hour. Apparently the storms had worsened, pushing back our departure to 1.30 then 2.00, then 2.30. Our patience was wearing raggedly thin.
When we finally boarded the ferry around 3pm and began our trek through the treacherous waters of Queen Charlotte Sound, I immediately longed for the comfort of solid ground. Wind and streams of salt water leaked through the cabin window next to me, chilling my every bone. As the boat bounced upon the stormy sea, queasiness filled my stomach. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably, trying to convince my body of exhaustion. But as we got further out in the open water, the sea mimicked my frustration. Unbelievably angry waves began crashing against the ferry’s bow, sending spray over 20 feet in the air. Children screamed and passengers uttered shocked sounds that echoed through the halls. In the lobby area, dozens of people were bent over paper bags. The crew moved frantically, passing out cups of ice and trying to calm seasick passengers.
The sun was long gone when we finally docked safe and (mostly) sound in Wellington at 7pm. The ferry had taken an hour longer than usual. As we shook off our sea legs and hurried off the ferry we breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Yet that sigh was quickly squelched as we were met with a torrential downpour of rain and gusts that lived up to the city’s nickname “Windy Welly”.
Our original plan of walking to the hotel was now out of the question but the last taxi had just pulled away from the curb. We waited in the rain with a large crowd until a taxi arrived. We threw our luggage into the trunk and our disheveled selves into the cab.
“Hello, take us to the James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor, please,” I told the taxi driver firmly. I liked how that sounded coming from my voice. Official. Determined. We were almost there and I wasn’t about to let anything stop us now. “Oh yeah – it’s on Lambdon Quay,” I added. The man looked over with a puzzled face. An awkward pause. Then Lindsay chimed in from the back seat. “It’s quay, Tori. As in ‘key’!” She smiled but shook her head at me, embarrassed for both of us. I’d pronounced “quay” like a silly American saying “way” with a “k” in front. “Oh, oh – quay!” I stammered. It’s been a long day…”
Send us a travel tale (preferably about Oz) and if published you’ll win a $300 travel voucher redeemable on Oz Experience passes (www.ozexperience.com), ATA NT camping trips (www.adventuretours.com.au) and with Wayward Bus (www.waywardbus.com.au). Email your tales (700 words max), with a picture of yourself, to