On the Pelorus Mail Boat, Jo Ferris discovers the remoteness of this exquisite Marlborough sound and the people living within its far-flung corners . . .
With summer in full swing, people in holiday mode and keen to escape, Marlborough Sounds is one destination many will flock to. Most will probably be visitors seeking fun in the sun. Others will be regulars — returning to their holiday bach; itching to put their feet up, relax and do a spot of fishing.
Among the most spectacular water wonderlands in all of Marlborough is the Pelorus Sound. Discovering its beauty isn't simply an enlightening glimpse of one of New Zealand's exquisite places; it's a lesson about the tenacity of human endeavour. In today's fast-paced world, ruled by gadgetry and high-tech convenience, it's humbling to see people choosing a life of modesty and relative isolation.
Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Pelorus Mail Boat, it's possible to share a moment in time in their world. This boat is a lifeline to those living in the far corners of this sound — most of whom, have no road access. The Pelorus is the largest of all Marlborough's sounds with 379 kilometres of pristine shoreline. Apart from being a pure escape for its residents, the Pelorus is home to this country's largest green shell mussel supply, a few farms and several boutique lodges. Forestry has made a huge scar on the landscape — logistically, probably not the wisest decision for this area. Thankfully, much of the land is slowly being restored to natural bush.
Despite that, wildlife abounds, from gannets to fur seals and stingrays. The Pelorus is home to three species of dolphins — the Dusky, common and bottle nose. There are five species of shag, including king shags, New Zealand's rarest. Other wildlife includes little blue penguins, white-fronted terns and shearwaters. Occasionally orcas will drift into these waters chasing stingray as well. Every day is different, and depends on the time of year, weather and tide.
Summer is the busiest as the mail boat drops people off to their holiday homes and guests to some of the unique accommodation. From November to April, the boat runs seven days a week. From May to October, trips slow down to three — it's quieter and fewer people are on board.
There's nothing quite like a crisp winter's day to share more personal time with the friendly crew. Complimentary tea and coffee are ongoing, as is the chatter from the skipper and first mate, each eager to impart the history of the sound and its people.
This Royal Mail run dates back to 1869 when mail and supplies were delivered by a Government steamer. It has been run privately since 1918 and the current owners, Jim and Amanda Baillie, are the ninth. In terms of a sole mail service, the operation is hardly viable. As a way to entice visitors to cherish this unique experience however, it's brilliant.
There are three different routes covering the various areas throughout Pelorus Sound. Each runs on different days during the week. The boat leaves home base in Havelock, a small village sitting at the tip of the Pelorus Sound. Getting there means driving from either Picton, Blenheim or Nelson; and bookings are essential. Plan well — boat trips last the best part of a day. Which is best? Even the operators cannot decide — each has their own intrigue. They involve different locations, different locals — unique characters; some with a history as intriguing as the run itself.
There's the couple from the Netherlands, who sailed around the world; discovered the Marlborough Sounds and never left. There's the retired marine biologist whose speciality was mussels and who designed a boat the mussel barges today are now based on. Some have simply retired from city life, much to the chagrin of their children, to the remoteness of the Pelorus Sound.
Each stop, even for a few minutes, is a friendly encounter. Bags are swapped as mail and supplies come and go from the various jetties that dot the shores around this intricate stretch of water. As the boat slips back into the water, and each wave, there is a waft of envy as to the simplicity of life here and how precious it is. These people live amid the beauty of nature — a pristine life, even with its obvious handicaps and lack of road transport. Far from the madding crowds, caught up in daily news and hand-wringing about the planet's woes; surely these Pelorus people have it sorted.