06.12.2018 - 10.12.2018 22 °C
After a hectic time clearing my section after years of neglect and then getting ready to change offices at work, it is finally time to start my holidays. My flight is out of Wellington but I prefer to avoid the obvious, so have found an interesting way to get there. First, a shuttle to the airport to pick up a free relocation rental car to drive to Christchurch.
Apart from being late, this is lacking in moment – I have made this drive many times. Because I have an early start, I stay in Addington for the night, in the former jail. It is very peaceful, with only a handful of people about. It is when I try to take a photo of my digs that I discover the first thing left behind: the memory card for my camera, so the phone has to suffice.
Two years ago, I was booked on the train to take me from Christchurch to Picton, as a precursor to a spell in Australia. Days before I departed, the Seddon earthquake struck, rendering both road and rail unusable. Although the road was open for my trip last summer, it is only this week that the passenger rail service has been able to resume. That made the train the obvious choice.
The railway line hits the coast somewhat earlier than the road, and is virtually in the water.
I don’t think that the earthquake has made many changes here: most are north of Kaikoura.
I had no idea that the Kaikoura Train Station is no longer in use: instead we make a stop at the Whale Watch office, where I can pick up a card for the camera. The coast is rather beautiful – here is where the road has been re-aligned post quake.
The white rocks are those which were pushed up so that they are now permanently out of the water.
Business is returning to the roadside.
I am surprised at the smoothness of the ride: I can hear the bogies moving about beneath me, but the train has good suspension so I am not affected. The seats are comfy, the cabins are quite well appointed for what I believe are quite old carriages.
For years, I have passed through Picton, been a bit bored with the place, but last summer I spent a few hours here and came to realise how pretty the waterfront is.
I made friends with a couple of ducks, until a young girl came and annoyed them. The same girl played a mean trick on her sister – persuaded her to go hide (in a game of hide and seek) and then ran off to join her parents.
Sadly, many of the cafes closed at 2:30 so I had to make do with some excellent fish and chips: it is going to be many weeks before I can repeat the experience, so it is an appropriate lunch.
Finally, it is time. I dithered over ferry timings and companies, then had a brainwave – what will it cost to fly? Not much more than a ferry, it turned out. Then I dithered some more: do I fly on the day of my flight out of Wellington, or play it safe and fly the day before? The plane is rather small, an 11 seater Cessna caravan.
Things are pretty informal on Sounds Air: we leave as soon as all the passengers are present, 15 minutes early for a 20 minute flight, and remove our own bags from the plane at the other end. One reason for flying was to get a different look at Queen Charlotte Sound – it mean a fairly steep ascent out of Picton airport, which had me on the edge of my seat, but the views made it worth it.
Once in Wellington, I discover a second thing left behind. I had carefully packed all of my socks and unmentionables in a stuff sack: it remains on my kitchen table. Luckily the supermarket across from the YHA can remedy the missing sock problem, but not the other. Thankfully, I have two nephews in town – after brunch they take me off to the Warehouse, where there is a surfeit of unmentionables and I can again travel in a civilised fashion.
The flights are as unremarkable as modern economy flights are: Melbourne for about 30 minutes, then Singapore for a couple of hours. This gives plenty of time for a gin and tonic but when I learn they are $30, I abstain. Tiger and roast duck are adequate substitutes. Food on the plane is actually pretty good – a fish curry is the standout dish. The planes are 777-200’s – I think Singapore Air have upgraded from when I last flew out of Wellington, as the screens and movie offerings are far superior. I binge watch Barry, a comedy about a depressed hitman who finds life in acting (when he is despatched to despatch a fellow in an acting class). One moral seems to be once a hitman always a hitman, as he finds it very difficult to break free. I also watch most of Vanity Fair – up to the end of the war and Becky Sharp’s attempts to re-establish herself at home. It is a long time since I read the book, so I can’t tell how faithful it is, but it is very enjoyable.
I am pleased my flight is into the old Ataturk airport, because it still has good transport links to the city, although I can see why a new one is needed: passengers from many flights, including mine, are bussed to the terminal. But I am processed through the formalities very quickly, n less than 30 minutes. At immigration, I am lined up in front of a young officer: she processes maybe six people before me, and never says a word or show any expression. When it is my turn, she manages to look even more bored: I laugh and she finds a small half smile for me. I count that a success. I grab a Turkcell SIM (at a fairly shocking price, twice what I had expected) but before I leave, I notice a Caffe Nero. When I was in the UK and couldn't find a specialist coffee shop, this was the next best alternative. This version is almost completely different - both in terms of the coffee preparation and the things to eat. It's not good. Time to hit Istanbul.