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The glossy deep blue water of Queen Charlotte Sound gleamed with photo-shoot-ready perfection. Picton had dawned bright and brilliant; families were taking the air on the velvety lawned waterfront, while perky cafes were humming with trade in their horse-shoe curve edging the harbour, crowned by the creamy-coloured war memorial. If you’re keen to combine cruising with a spot of walking, a winning option is to take a cruise to Ship Cove, before reboarding the vessel for the home-run from Furneaux Lodge.
Pulling out from Picton’s eye-catching marina, we passed by Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary, a prized mainland island that serves as a creche for kiwi. The area brims with predator-free islands and marine reserves, and we ogled dolphins, whales, shags and penguins. The sheer size of the Marlborough Sounds is astonishing, comprising 25% of New Zealand’s coastline, scalloped with countless coves and secluded sandy bays.
Throughout the 1770s, sheltered Ship Cove provided safe anchorage, food, water and timber for British voyager Captain James Cook and his crew on five separate occasions, marking some of the earliest sustained contact between Maori and Europeans. In total he spent 170 days here, and it is considered his favourite place in New Zealand.
I dabbled in the creek where Cook made home brew for his crew before surveying the magnificent Captain Cook monument commemorating his visits to the area. He hoisted the Union Jack and proclaimed sovereignty of the South Island in 1770 at Motuara Island. The information panels are illuminating, but what captivated my attention was one of the original cannons from Endeavour that adorns the monument. The cannon was salvaged from North Queensland after the Endeavour ran aground on a reef and the crew had to throw equipment overboard to free the ship.
With my walking boots firmly laced, I struck out for a taster of the Queen Charlotte Track. The full traverse from Ship Cove to Anakiwa is a multi-day affair, but itching for a sample of this celebrated trek, I embarked on the first day’s section to Furneaux Lodge. Fashioned from pioneering era bridle paths, the track was officially opened by the Department of Conservation in 1991, in conjunction with private landowners, who continue to help in its maintenance. The 15km section starts with a steep, thigh-burning haul, climbing away from the beach, through regenerating native forest. But after that initial gut-buster, the rest of the four-hour trail was a breeze, with gentle undulations along a panoramic ridge line.
I leapt at the chance to stay the night at this heritage lodge, luxuriating in one of the recently refreshed in Endeavour Suites. Light and airy with floor to ceiling windows affording expansive views, the elemental escape was accentuated by a dramatic July storm that ripped through the inlet, as the wind roared like a freight train. Furneaux Lodge’s expansive lawns, lush and rolling down to the water, are a particularly distinctive feature. It’s just the spot for some lazy snoozing in a hammock. I also enjoyed the hot tub, set to a sizzling 39degC. Dinner was fiendishly good. I feasted on popcorn clams, wild pork croquettes and roasted Brussel sprouts, washed down with a Boom Town Pelorus Pilsner.
For a second dip with the watery wonders of the Sounds, I jumped on board a Pelorus mail boat, which is the longest officially licensed NZ Post mail boat run in the country. Operating for 102 years, this majestic mail run cruise takes you through the far-flung reaches of Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds — even into the outer sounds around Maud Island. Undeniably a lifeline to the hardy residents who live in the most strikingly remote pockets, the biggest thrill to match the knockout scenery were the fleeting encounters with some of the locals. I became acquainted with a chap who operates an online shoes sales business from deep in the Sounds, the online maths teacher and the fabulous Foote family, who have been tending to Wilsons Bay Farm since 1881.
We also met Dave and his dog Billy. Dave’s nickname is ‘‘The Conductor’’, because he’s been struck by lightning twice!
Before arriving back in Havelock, my trip on the mail boat ventured through a mussel farm, where 70% of New Zealand’s mussels are grown, of which 70% are exported worldwide, notably to China, Japan and the United States.
Feeling peckish, I popped into Mills Bay Mussels where I was royally treated by Becky and Rose. The Mills Bay Mussels Tasting Room & Eatery is located in the Havelock Marina — right at the front of their Mussel Packhouse, so you can gorge yourself stupid on the freshest mussels imaginable.
If you go