Today we waved goodbye to North Island, taking the Interislander Ferry [which Kiwi Satnav insisted on pronouncing Inter-is-lander] from Wellington to Picton on South Island. Our latest check-in time was 08:00 and we’d be warned of heavy traffic on a Monday morning commute so, in typical Franco fashion, I set an alarm for 05:30 intending to leave the campsite at 06:30. With Francine skipping tea, we actually left at 06:10. There being no traffic worthy of the term heavy, we made the 11kms by about 06:30. Just three cars sat before a closed gate proclaiming that check-in would open at 06:45. We waited. Duly, a couple of staff arrived and opened up. The booking that Francine had made from the UK before leaving worked like a charm and we were soon in queue #2 waiting to board at 08:00.
Boarding went smoothly. The sailing was full, as was the premium lounge so we couldn’t pay to escape the kids. Ferries seem the same the world over. The captain used seaman’s language to indicate that the crossing would be rough in the strong wind; “there will be some movement”, he said. Movement sounds so much more appealing than rough. The stabilizers calmed the ferry’s “movement” and aircraft-style seats kept us comfortable enough on the 3½-hour crossing to Picton. Regrettably, the clearer weather that we experienced in mid-channel did not continue to South Island and conditions in Picton resembled those in Wellington, heavy and grey.
Ignoring Kiwi Satnav, we took the scenic route, Queen Charlotte Drive, towards our destination of Kaiteriteri. This first half of our journey was decidedly the most twisting roller-coaster road that I have ever driven, running along the mountainous edge of one of the many sounds on this island-strewn coast. It would have been fabulous scenery were it not for this bloody weather, which soon began throwing rain into the heavy, grey mix; hardly the artist’s palette that Francine had been hoping for for her landscapes.
In Havelock, the centre of the green lipped mussel industry, we consoled ourselves with a green lipped mussel lunch. Well, it would’ve been rude not to. We chose a sampler platter to share between two. Out came a mountain of mussels prepared in seven different ways: steamed, grilled with bacon and cheese, grilled with persillade, grilled with sweet chilli sauce, battered, smoked, marinated. The helping was so generous we couldn’t manage the smoked and marinated, so we took those for supper.
So, whadda we make of green lipped mussels. [The commercially grown ones, incidentally, are marketed as green shelled mussels.] Well, first of all most of them are absolutely huge compared to those European ones with which we are familiar. Most of their shells were each about 4cms long. The mussel contained therein is so large that it must be equivalent to about six of ours. Equivalent to six in size, that is. I don’t know whether their texture is down to the increased size or the different species [these are endemic to New Zealand] but they are considerably tougher/chewier than I’d’ve liked, sort of a mussel flavour with a whelk texture. They were an interesting experience, pleasant enough but I won’t be rushing back for more. I do rush back at every available opportunity for more of our European mussels, preferably the Scottish rope-grown mussels or the French equivalent, Moule de bouchot – both are sweet, tender and an absolute delicacy, IMHO.
We’ve arrived at Kaiteriteri, largely to reacquaint ourselves with a former neighbour of Francine’s brother from Sydney. He now runs a backpackers hostel and restaurant beside our campsite.
If only the weather would brighten up, Francine could play on the beach. My fingers are crossed.