Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Bay at Picton

Is this a retired convict?

Edwin Fox: the ninth oldest boat in the world

The ferries await

Leaving Queen Charlotte Sound

Moving through the Tory Channel

Goodbye South Island

Hello North Island

The Wellington Bridge

A cable car

A museum piece

A view over Wellington

The Sundial of Human Involvement

Lunch spot in the Botanic Gardens

The Rose Garden ; Botanic Gardens

The Beehive; Wellington


Today we will travel to the North Island on the 2pm ferry. The best part of our stay in the South Island has been the friends we made. My favourite bit of road was from Queenstown to Glenorchy; a road which you have to travel back on and see all of the wonderful scenery again in reverse. The best excursion for me was the sail on the Tasman Lake amongst the icebergs and the wonder of imagining the 590 feet of ice of the Glacier stretching down to the bottom of the lake. My only regret was not being able to photograph the Harrier Hawk. We have seen hundreds of these birds; sometimes at very close quarters. The moment I reach for the camera the bird circles high and away, or glides over the nearest batch of trees. Ah well, only a minor annoyance amongst so many wonderful experiences and memories.

Before our sail there is still a treat we have saved up for this morning. At Picton Harbour the Edwin Fox is berthed at Dunbar Wharf in a weatherproof dry dock. This is the ninth oldest ship in the world and one that has had a very varied career. First we went round the museum and viewed the exhibits and the video of the history of the boat. The Edwin Fox was towed into Picton from Port Chalmers, Dunedin, in January 1897, and has been there ever since. It was bought in 1965 for one shilling by ‘The Edwin Fox Restoration Society’ from the New Zealand Refrigeration Company who had used the ship as a freezer hold and later a coal hulk.

The Edwin Fox was built in 1853 at Sulkeali on the Hooghly River on the Ganges delta near Calcutta, (outsourcing?), because order books of the British Ship Yards were over-flowing. It was constructed exclusively of teak and soul woods native to the region and later was clad with Munz metal, (a hand beaten mixture of copper and zinc), to protect it from the teredo or ship worm. The ship exists today because of the quality of the materials used.

The ship began its working life as a cargo boat before being chartered to the British Government and used as a troop carrier until 1855 at the time of the Crimean War. The first assignment was to carry a French Regiment from Calais to the Baltic Sea to attack the Russian forces. After a refit she was used for cargo and in 1857 she transported 300 coolies from China to Cuba to work in the cane fields. In 1858 she was again chartered by the British Government and used to transport 280 convicts to Fremantle in Western Australia. The Edwin Fox is the last surviving boat that carried convicts from Britain.

The use of the boat continued to alternate between cargo and troop carrier. In 1873 the Edwin Fox carried her first lot of immigrants from England to New Zealand under the assisted immigrant scheme, and made a further three voyages carrying a total of 751 passengers to New Zealand. When the age of steam arrived in the 1880’s the Edwin Fox began her new life in the mutton industry, as storage space for carcasses awaiting transport to England, and was later converted to a freezer hold. Now rescued the Edwin Fox stands proud in Picton Harbour. When we mentioned to the volunteer at the till that we had a boat called the ‘Unicorn’ in our harbour at Dundee, she said, “Yes, that one is the sixth oldest in the world’. I must re-visit the Unicorn when we return home.

Due to the Edwin Fox having been a cargo boat, it was possible to walk in the bottom of the hold, rather than have to traverse between decks. Both Sylvia and I felt a real sense of history in this experience.

At one thirty we were in our allotted line and driving our van into the ferry hold. The Cook Strait can be a vicious piece of water to cross but today the weather signs are good. The journey between the islands is viewed as one of the most scenic in the world as the first part of the sail is along the Queen Charlotte Sound until turning right through the Tory Channel. By the time we reached the channel the sound of my stomach said I should be fed, so I left Sylvia traversing between the viewing decks at the back of the boat and went for lunch; returning as we left the shelter of the South Island. Long before the hills of the south faded from our gaze the North Island was in view and soon we were entering the big beautiful harbour of Wellington. It had been a good sail.

A brief journey east to the outskirts of the suburb of Newlands brought us to our camp site for the next three nights, a Travel Lodge with over 30 bays for motorhomes. We had booked our site in advance which was lucky as this weekend Wellington is full. Two pop concerts have brought fans from all over New Zealand and some from Australia; some fans will be attending both. The first stars the group Kiss and the second Alice Cooper and Ozzie Osborne. It is Easter Weekend and tomorrow we will explore Wellington.

The weather was not good for our first full day on the North Island, so after taking a bus to the city centre and visiting the tourist office to find out where the Immigration Dept. is located so we can collect our passports in the near future, we visited Te Papa. This is a celebrated museum which is rapidly gaining fame as a user friendly hands on type of place which even kids love, and it’s free. We found the museum to be everything it was cracked up to be and recommend anyone visiting Wellington to experience Te Papa.

Easter Sunday was a much nicer day than yesterday and we travelled back into the city and took the historic Cable Car up the hill to experience marvellous views over Wellington. The Cable Car Museum is located in the old winding shed and we were able to read all about the cable car history. The Cable Car was a major milestone in New Zealand engineering. It was 2,571 feet long; rose over 390 feet at an average grade of 1 in 5; passed through 3 tunnels and over 4 viaducts. It took 2 ½ years from 1899 to build. Annual passengers rose from, (if you were going up the hill), 425,000 in 1902 to over a million in 1912. We spent an interesting time, especially when one of the staff joined us to explain more of the history. It was a surprise to learn that around the local hills Wellington residents own over 400 private chair lifts with some being owned by multiple families. Just think, your own white knuckle ride.

Further round this hill top was an Observatory built in 1907 which also measures seismo-logical activity, (began 1916), and a big gun mounted on the coastal battery built 1886 to defend the harbour from the Russians. The scare past before the intended gun was mounted and the present gun was a war trophy. Next we came across a horizontal sun dial which is accurate to 5 minutes with no corrections for daylight saving; they just move the numbers on the small pillars along one. You have to stand with your back to the sun on the unusual shaped figure of eight at the correct spot for your time of year and hold your hands pointing together above your head. The shadow falls depicting the correct time. Simple and clever.

As it was such a nice day we walked back down the hill through the Botanic Gardens, eating our sandwiches near the pond where we viewed families with bags full of bread feeding the ducks. I nearly went to the herb garden for some sage and a bit of lemon pepper plant so the ducks could be well and truly stuffed. The gardens were lovely and the walk down hill, without the need to walk up it first, was a refreshing change. On leaving the gardens we walked by the ancient cemetery and the grave of Richard John Seddon, Prime Minister from 1893 to 1906. His statue stands outside the NZ House of Parliament.

As we went for our bus back to Newlands we observed, as we had last night, many fans heading for the pop concert. Most of them were wearing their Kiss shirts from last night; we had been told by fellow bus passengers this morning it had been a good concert.

Monday morning saw us leaving Wellington for a few days. Just down the road from our camp site was route SH 2 heading north up the eastern side of NZ; and I missed it. A mile down the road leading into town was a turning right which seemed to give us the opportunity to back track. Unfortunately this took us winding high up one of the Wellington hills with no where to turn until we were almost at the top. The view was really good and the morning colours almost matched the colourful language inside the van.

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