Monday, 24 March 2008

We woke up leisurely this morning, thinking we had plenty of time to drive to Picton and catch our 1:15 ferry. We let the kids play with their new friends one last time while we finished packing up. We finally left our hotel around 10:15, and as we began to twist and turn our way to Picton, we remembered that it takes longer than you’d think to drive places in New Zealand. There are mountains to cross and curvy roads to navigate. It’s not like hopping on I-35 back home, where you can drive 80 miles per hour for five hours straight. Time ticked on, we still had to check out rental car in, and we had to find the ferry . . . we began to make detailed plans of exactly how we’d exit the car and where we’d wait for Clay. This was to be a precision affair, each minute counted.

We made it, just barely. We turned in the rental car, checked our baggage, and got our tickets, just five minutes before they closed the door. Phew. We climbed a series of stairs to find the passenger deck, where we discovered that most of the people on board had arrived long before we made our appearance. They sat at all the tables, lounged in all the seats. We walked from room to room, looking for seven seats that were together. We passed one lounge full of screaming, howling, rowdy children, playing with toys and watching cartoons while their parents sat with glazed expressions. It was the “family room”. It was the bowels of hell. Even if there was room, we would not be sitting there, and I thanked my lucky stars we were not traveling with a toddler.

We finally found seven seats close together and went in search of food while Peggy held down the fort and protected our territory. We returned with macaroni and cheese, and after downing our lunch, Clay and I decided to take a stroll and take in the beautiful scenery this ferry promised to deliver. We climbed to the top deck where there was an outdoor viewing platform. Staking their claim on this platform were hundreds of people, most of them late comers like us who couldn’t find a seat indoors and so were squatting on the deck outside. Islands and blue water slid by, but we could hardly get a chance at the rail to take a picture, it was so crowded. This was no luxury liner. This was a ferry, its main purpose to get as many people as possible from here to there. From Picton to Wellington.

We descended back to deck seven and found our seats. We discovered that our particular room had no air conditioning, it was stuffy and hot. Each lounge had seats much like on an airplane, with big windows that looked out on the scenery passing by. While Clay tried to stay very still, creating as little heat as possible, I took the boys to find the play area. There we discovered a giant climbing structure, the kind you find a McDonald’s. They had fun climbing and sliding, but it was also inhabited by some really big, really rowdy boys. I knew thousands of germs were contaminating every surface the boys touched, and after letting them play for about twenty minutes I lured them away with the promise of ice cream. After they doused themselves with anti-bacteria gel.

Maurice joined us for ice cream, all of us trying to cool off from the stuffy lounge. We even ate outside, where a chilly breeze brought goose bumps up on my legs and arms as I ate my ice cream on a stick. The kids did a “treasure hunt” designed by the ship, where they had to fill in questions like “how many kinds of ice cream are being sold in the café?” and “how many flavors of juicy juice are in the refrigerator case?” I think it was a cheap ploy to get kids to beg their parents for ice cream and juice. The rest of the trip wasn’t worth mentioning, but the scenery was beautiful. After the people in cars headed down to their vehicles, we moved ourselves and our backpacks to “better” seats, where we could watch the boat being docked. After sitting down, we realized we were in direct sunlight and baked ourselves while waiting for the lady on the intercom to tell us it was time to leave. We hustled out with hundreds of others, waited forever for our luggage, and finally made our way to the parking lot to find our new rental car.

After a short drive and settling in to our new motel, we took a little walk to find dinner. We found the nearby pedestrian street, Cuba Mall, and realized we weren’t in sweet little Nelson anymore. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and it is much more urban. Graffiti was everywhere, and there were lots of kids wearing black and chains with multiple piercings, colorful hair, and skateboards. We ducked in to a Thai food place and got ourselves some dinner. On the way back to the motel, a man wearing chains and a Mohawk called out to us, “Hey! Why is six afraid of seven?” Now I knew this one, so I shouted back, “Because seven ate (eight) nine!” He gave a hearty laugh and beckoned us closer. “What’s the difference between a woman on TV and a real woman?” He had me stumped, and as I studied his face, wondering if he would say anything really offensive with our three kids gathered around, he responded with glee, “The mute button!” Hardy har har. Though his clothes and hair and general demeanor were a little scary, he was harmless enough. A big scary guy that told dumb jokes. Another face in the street.


Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Today we went to the Te Papa museum. Our guide book hailed it as one of the best museums in the world, how could we pass it up? We started off learning about the earth’s layers, did you know the inner core of the earth is almost as hot as the sun? We learned about how the tectonic plates moved around long ago to create the New Zealand that exists today. New Zealand has approximately 16,000 earthquakes every year, it lies on a major fault line, and we went into a simulator that showed how a real earthquake might feel. It also showed footage of the devastation previous earthquakes have caused, it would be so strange to feel the ground move beneath your feet.

We learned about all sorts of things. In the whale room we learned about how whales beach themselves, ways they are saved, and how a sperm whale goes hunting for a giant squid. We walked into a traditional Maori meeting house, all dark and shadowy with faces carved on the walls that stared out at us with mother of pearl eyes. We did a bush walk through a forest, explored a simulated glow worm cave, and even unearthed a dinosaur fossil of a mosasaur. Of course Benji was very interested in all the dinosaur facts, and he had me read each and every bit to him.

That night something very exciting happened. Benji was eating an apple when his snaggle got turned upside down. Maurice was the brave one who reached in there with a paper towel and helped Benji twist it loose, in the nicest way possible, as only a good granddaddy could do. At one point the snaggle could spin all the way around, but the gum hung on, and it wasn’t letting go easily. Finally, Benji took another bite of apple, gave snaggle a good tug, and it finally came free. We all let out a whoop of joy, and relief. Snaggle is finally gone, and we hope that big tooth that grew in behind will push its way up front now that it has space. I think I might miss that little snaggle tooth smile just a little, it sure was cute.