New Zealand Adventure: Picton – St. Arnaud

New Zealand Adventure: Picton – St. Arnaud

This post was updated on March 26th, 2017

Monday, January 21, 2013

Today we left the North Island and Wellington by ferry to reach Picton on the other side of the Cook Strait. But before we got onto the ferry our guide handed the menu out for the restaurant where we will have supper tomorrow. Apparently the chef only cooks if meals are ordered at least a day in advance… That’s something new — but hey I rather decide what to have for dinner the next day and get what I want than not getting anything at all.

For most of the time during the three-hour ferry ride, I could see either the North or the South Island and so I had plenty of chances to take photos from what is described as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world, including an almost two-hour long cruise through the Queen Charlotte Sound.

Māori traditions

According to some Māori traditions the North Island is the fish of Maui while the South Island is his canoe, with Steward Island as the canoe’s anchor.

Māui fishes up the North Island


One of the greatest stories of Māori literature recounts the fishing up of the North Island. It begins with Māui and his brothers setting off on a fishing expedition. The elder brothers did not want to take Māui, so he hid in the canoe and did not reveal himself until they were out at sea. When he emerged he managed to convince his brothers to row out to the deepest part of the ocean, where he cast a fish hook made from his grandmother’s jawbone. It sank below the waves and fastened to the underwater house of Tonganui, the grandson of Tangaroa, god of the sea. Māui hauled up his catch above the water. The land, the North Island, became known as Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui).

How the North Island got its shape

Te Rangihaeata of the Ngāti Toarangatira tribe dictated this version of how the North Island got its shape after it was pulled from the sea:
Māui left his brothers and returned home. He said to his older brothers, ‘After I leave, please do not partake of the fish … Do not cut up our fish …’ However, [after he left] they did not do what he said. They began to cut it up and eat it … When he returned Māui became enraged … He was greatly distressed as they cut the head, the tail, the gills and the fins … This is why this land lies unevenly – there are mountains, plains, valleys and cliffs. If they had not fought over the fish, then the land would have retained its fish shape.
In some traditions the fish is said to be a pātiki (flounder); in others it is a whai (stingray). The head of the fish lies at the south of the North Island, at present-day Wellington, and its tail is the Northland region. The barb at the base of the tail is the Coromandel Peninsula. The pākau (fins) are Taranaki and the East Coast, and the backbone runs between Taupō and Rotorua. The heart is at Maungapōhatu, in the Urewera district.

Māui and Nukutaimemeha

It is often said that the North Island is Māui’s fish and the South Island his canoe, but the East Coast tribe, Ngāti Porou, believe the canoe ended up somewhere else. They say that the first part of the fish to emerge from the water was their sacred mountain, Hikurangi. Māui’s canoe, Nukutaimemeha, became stranded on it, and is still there in petrified form.

The South Island: Māui’s canoe

The stern of Māui’s canoe is the southern tip of the South Island, and the prow is the north. When Māui hauled up his great catch he stood on the Kaikōura Peninsula, which is called Te Taumanu-o-te-waka (the thwart or seat of the canoe). Stewart Island is believed to be the anchor.

From Picton to Havelock

We reached Picton at around noon, where we got back onto our bikes. Since so much of the day already had passed, we did not go more than 37 kilometers on our bikes, first following the Queen Charlotte Drive along the coast of the Grove Arm — an arm of the Charlotte Sound — and later following the coastline of the Mahakipawa Arm — an arm of the Mahau Sound — to Havelock.

Already at 4p.m. we had reached Havelock, our day’s bike-goal. Still from here we had to travel another 120 kilometers south-west by bus before we reached our final destination for the day, St. Arnaud on the shore of Lake Rotoiti. I used the short time frame between our arrival at our new hotel and the scheduled dinner for a walk through the forest down to the lake.

Spotting the Southern Cross in the sky

On the way back to my room, after dinner, I had a chance to see the Southern Cross in the sky, this time — as opposed to yesterday’s view — without too much light pollution and much easier to spot. But then…now I knew what to look for, because last night Solo and I had gone out to find the Southern Cross in the sky above Wellington. The tour that I had looked at five years ago would now have gone to Nelson, so we could have stayed a day in the Abel Tasman National Park — named after the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman1 (*1603(?) in Lutjegast, Netherlands, †1659 Batavia (today: Jakarta)), who was the first European explorer to see New Zealand in December 1642 as the commander of the Heemskerck — for our day off instead of having a day off in Wellington. I cannot say that I would have wanted to trade the day off in Wellington for that, but I would have loved to be able to stick to my original plan and have a day for a kayak tour into the Abel Tasman National Park… Well one cannot get it all on a guided tour, and after all, this tour can only be a short introduction into New Zealand. Maybe one day I can manage to come back and stay longer.

If you liked this post, you might also like the other stories of my New Zealand adventure:

Here you can find more of my photos from my journey on the South Island of New Zealand

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