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Full Circle

Day 146: Wellington to Kaikoura, S. Island

Cook Strait, New Zealand 
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Cook Strait, the last headlands of North Island.
Michael Palin - Full CircleWe're crossing to the South Island today. New Zealand was the staple diet of my O' Levels and whereas the North Island had the odd volcano and a hot spring or two it was, in my sub-teenage mind, tame compared to the glaciers, mountain ranges and storm-lashed black cliffs of the wild southern coast, beyond which there is no landfall before the shores of Antarctica.

The morning looks unpromisingly free of wildness. The Festival of Wind being over, a stiff breeze has picked up. Though it is enough to flick up the anorak hoods on the ferry, the Cook Strait remains resolutely placid as we move across the 25-mile, three thousand foot deep channel that has a reputation of being one of the roughest in the world.

By the time we enter the first of the jagged network of sounds and channels that mark the submerged valleys of the South Island coast, the sea has turned an astonishing jade-green in the sunlight and the day is as dazzling as the fresh-painted white hull of our Danish-built ferry, Arahura - 'Pathway to Dawn'. The crew are relaxed. There's not much to do but take in the warmth of the sun and wait for arrival at Picton. They're employed by New Zealand Rail, which has recently felt the full force of the sledgehammer de-regulation of the old state industries. Its workforce has been cut from 25,000 to 5000 in four years. Most of those I talk to grudgingly accept that the nation's economy is now leaner and fitter as a result of the changes - 'Australia'll have to do the same thing soon,' they say. 'You watch.' One of the crew men is thinking of trying emu farming. He maintains they're low in cholesterol, low in fat. The pelt's good for body leather and the feathers are in big demand in China. 'I reckon I can fit two hundred in eleven acres.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 146
  • Country/sea: Pacific Ocean
  • Place: Cook Strait
  • Book page no: 201

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