Emily Writes decides to take a trip on the Interislander to Picton for a night away with her good friend and three kids under six. What could go wrong?
To say it had been a bad week would have been an understatement. First my husband broke his foot. Then my six-year-old got chicken pox. And then my inbox suffered a flash flood of sad dude bro tears. I was exhausted by Friday and bailed on my work Christmas party before it even started. But I still managed to have a little hum of excitement about our trip to Picton.
I’d let a few people know we were heading to Picton and been mostly met with “What’s in Picton?” Look, I’ll be straight with you (and I’m no fan of being straight) and tell you that prior to the weekend, I did not know. The Interislander offered me a whānau trip to Picton to test just how child-friendly the Kaitaki was. I decided I’d really test it by inviting my best friend and my kiddies’ best friends. Eddie and Ronnie are usefully best friends with our neighbours, sisters Billie and Annie. It’s convenient because their mum and I get on like a house on fire. For a year now we have celebrated making it through the week with a playdate at her house that includes one nice cheese (what I used to call “guest cheese” as I used to only buy it for guests) and one nice rosé.
Our oldest kids have been friends since they were in kindy and theirs is a Calvin and Hobbes type friendship. They’re always there for each other, always on adventures and they spend their days running around talking in an almost secret language. It has been a joy to watch them grow together. Our little ones have a newer friendship that after some quite impressive UFC-style fighting over Duplo has now developed into a very sweet little friendship that involves most giggling and holding hands.
We needed no convincing to go away for a night. This feels like it has been the longest year in the history of the world – a trip to Picton and back the next day actually felt like it would be as good as a proper holiday and weirdly, it was. But I’ll get to that.
Eddie’s pox meant we had to break the news to the inseparable duo that they would no longer be holidaying together. Eddie was bribed with an offer to set up his Christmas sewing machine early. He was happy with this compromise and we promised Billie we would call him while we were away.
Come 6am Saturday morning and Ronnie AKA The Ham was up and dressed within minutes. We took our shit van and piled the kids in and managed to get to the terminal with time to spare. I recommend getting coffees on the way because we had plenty of time – nobody drives onto the boat until 8am if you’re sailing at 9am. We got there at 7am.
Dreams of sitting on the deck looking out at the view were quickly quashed by the children who spent the first hour of the three hour trip in the playground area. The kids adore it. We bought some magazines and more coffee and got to actually talk without being interrupted. We took the little one to have her nap in the cabins – the Interislander has little rooms with a cot, chair and toilet, and a window that looks out to the deck. With Annie asleep, I took the remaining kids for an adventure. We ate hot chips on the sunny covered deck on level seven and the kids happily coloured in their free Interislander activity books. I definitely recommend taking pens and pencils and grabbing the books available around the ship.
Before we knew it, we were in Picton. The sun was out and we were off the boat in the shit van super quickly. We got to the Jasmine Court Motel just after lunch and as soon as the kids saw the enormous spa bath in our room they were naked and in there. Jasmine Court is an adorable motel run by the loveliest couple. There are DVDs for kids (Frozen was chosen of course) and a cute stack of CDs to get the party started (Enya, Sarah Brightman). The couple who run the motel were really helpful and suggested family friendly places to eat and other activities. They’ll book you tours too if you ask.
We went across the road to the supermarket and picked up buns, luncheon and cucumber for the kids (yep!) and a nice bottle of Black Cottage rosé for us. We figured while in Marlborough we should drink Marlborough wines. We popped it in the fridge and took the kids out for a walk.
The Picton waterfront is incredible. Honestly. You could do a whole trip to Picton and just go to the waterfront and be happy. The kids spent hours playing at the splash pad and the pristine park. It has so much to do for all ages. There’s a cute little beach where they can collect shells and eat an ice cream too. We ended up going to EcoWorld Aquarium, where we didn’t have to pay for the two and three-year-old. The aquarium is right next to the playground, you can walk everywhere in Picton and we barely used the car.
EcoWorld is also a rehabilitation centre where they rescue little blue penguins so our entry fee felt like a donation. The kids spent about 40 minutes there and were most enamoured by the tuatara and the television. We missed the tours – so I definitely recommend going when they’re on. You can “Touch a Tuatara” daily at 11am and 2pm. The staff were lovely and gave the kids postcards to take away.
After another play at the huge park, we walked into town and found the best ice cream shop. Indulge Ice Cream Parlour is on the main drag and they have amazing flavours (marshmallow and coconut!) and HUGE scoops for just $3. Their waffle cones were really fresh and the kids quickly turned into happy, sticky little silent babies as they mashed the ice cream into their faces.
It was then time for me to tag out and have a bath and my first glass of wine (it was after 6pm thank you) while the kids climbed into bed with bags of chips to watch Frozen. I can’t tell you how much I loved that bath!
We got some takeaway Thai Panda for dinner and afterward spent an hour getting the kids to sleep before meeting outside for a wine at 9pm. Our rooms were right next to each other and a little table in between so we talked away until midnight about all the things while enjoying our rosé and guest cheese. The night was so still and it really felt so relaxing to just get to enjoy the company of a dear friend knowing your kids are happily snoozing, all piled in together.
We talked about how special it is to have your families together – to get to be another parent to children that you love. Before I had kids I had no idea just how much I would love my kids’ friends. I adore the little ones like they’re my own. With my sister in Australia I often feel bad for my kids that their friends’ cousins are right there. It felt really special to give them a weekend together, to have become so comfortable with each other’s children that they’ll easily hold hands or have a snuggle, let you put a Band-aid on or have them spit a cherry pip directly into your hand…hmm maybe not that one.
In the morning, we were up early for a walk to breakfast. We sat out by the waterfront and had yummy vege breakfasts while the kids ate mostly syrup with a bit of pancake. We then went for a walk across the marina bridge. The kids had a great time “walking” my boy who was pretending to be a dog. Each time a boat passed underneath they waved and hooted with delight. We walked around pointing out our favourite boats – it was a good hour that the kids loved; I liked that it was mostly free.
We found Picton Water Taxis and asked Darren if we could take us for a quick jaunt. We negotiated $110 which we figured was good for three kids and two adults. Really, my hangover was starting to thud a tad and my kid was starting to get on my tits with his refusal to wear shoes. We jumped on board and headed into the Sounds. It was by far the highlight of the trip. The water taxi had an indoor area with a sliding door so you’re completely safe if you have kids running around. We got to a sheltered cove and Darren produced bread for us to feed to the fish.
It was incredible! There were so many blue cod and the water was so clear. We saw shags diving underneath and catching fish. The kids were buzzing. On our way back we sat outside and it was fantastic. The sea and salt air and the stunning scenery took our breath away. The kids squealed in delight. It truly was so much fun. Darren was fantastic, my little one stayed inside and sung Yellow Sumbareem over and over and over to him and he just tuned it out. He was a fantastic guide, super lovely to us and the kids.
After about 40 minutes we were back in Picton and the kids were ready for lunch. We had a picnic of cherries and buns at the park and the kids took 20c (yes 20c!!) train rides and rode on the merry-go-round ($3). You can hire little sail boats for 20c as well. It was such a lovely end to our little trip. We marvelled at how easy it had been and how relaxed we felt.
We easily got back onto the Interislander for our 1pm check in and bought movie tickets to see The Grinch. The kids were tired and happy and loved the film ($5 for kids, toddlers free). It was the perfect way to end our trip. After the film the kids refused to go on deck so we spent some time in the playground and then eventually managed to get them into the Local Heroes bar where we had hot chips and they played with their activity books.
Finally, in the last ten minutes of the trip we went on deck to see our Wellington back in view. The kids were exhausted but happy. The weather was still perfect. When we got into the car we played a game of eye spy with mixed results (I spy with my little eye something beginning with owl etc) and then we were on the road.
As we gushed about how great the trip had been and began planning making it an annual occurrence we suddenly realised the kids had all fallen asleep so windows came down, music came up and there was generally a lot of yelling WAKE UP! IT’S NOT BED TIME! LET’S SING A SONG! WAKE UP TIME! NO BED! NO BED!
Back to reality! But with lots of happy memories at least. And a definite plan to return each year if we can.
This content was brought to you by the Interislander. The Interislander Cook Strait ferry is an easy way to travel between the North and South Island. Sit back, relax and enjoy the great facilities on board as well as the spectacular views of the Marlborough Sounds. So go on, find time to hop on board.