The Marlborough Sounds: New Zealand just doesn’t come any cleaner or greener. Its waters are so pure that many of these spectacular sunken sea valleys are used to commercially cultivate a local delicacy, NZ Greenshell mussels. With over 1500 kilometres of coastline the Marlborough Sounds also provides a pristine environment to enjoy a number of sea-based activities from sailing and diving to kayaking and fishing. A popular way to explore the region is by hiking the Queen Charlotte Track, a 71 kilometre trail leading from historic Ship Cove to Anakiwa. It provides breathtaking views of the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds en route, and is open to mountain bikers from March through to November. On the final leg of our circumnavigation of NZ, Bob and I spend two days exploring the Marlborough Sounds. We dine on Greenshell Mussels, take a Mussel cruise, catch a water taxi to an isolated lodge where we have a feast of fresh seafood, then journey on to Picton where we say our final farewells.
It’s 10 am and Bob and I are dragging our tails. Somehow it’s hard to believe that we’re about to embark on the last sector of what has been an incredible scenic drive around NZ.
Bob finishes packing the boot and then we’re off, following SH6 along the coast before turning inland to Hira and the Rai Valley. “It’s an absolute shambles back there,” says Bob, pointing towards the boot, “I need some time to sort it all out.”
I nod, wondering what on earth he intends to do with all the paraphernalia he’s collected throughout our travels, let alone how he intends to transport his burgeoning boot-cellar!
We cross the one-way bridge over the Pelorus River and stop for a latté at the Pelorus Bridge Café in the scenic reserve by the river. There’s a delicious selection of homemade pies: chicken and camembert, venison, and wild pork with apple and kumara. Bob eyes them hungrily but we continue on to Havelock where a relaxed holiday-like air permeates. We park outside Creative Flair, a gallery displaying local arts and crafts including incredible paintings of the sea by Rick Edmonds. Bob’s totally captivated by them. He buys a print and rolls it in a tube for easy transportation.
Then we take a seat at Mussel Boys. I enjoy a large bowl of Mussel Boys’ Chowder, while Bob tucks into a pot of steamers, fresh mussels whole in their shell. He takes the first mussel out with his fingers, then uses the shell like a pair of tweezers to extract the other mussels in true Mussel Boy style, as shown on a chart on the wall. Then, looking rather sheepish, he orders some flats, fresh whole mussels grilled on half a shell. “Piggy,” I say, laughing. After lunch we hop aboard the Greenshell Mussel Cruise, a unique wine and food tour that cruises the inner Pelorus and the tranquil Kenepuru Sounds. Once aboard we learn the history of the sounds and the history of the local people, then visit a Greenshell mussel farm where we’re shown how mussels are commercially cultivated on longlines.
We tour several idyllic bays and coves and there’s the opportunity to match mussels with local wines (which Bob adores); amongst other facts we learn that each mussel is capable of filtering about 300 litres of water a day! “That’s a lot of water,” says Bob, as we cruise back into the marina at Havelock.
Back in the car we leave SH6 in favour of scenic Queen Charlotte Drive. As we leave town we’re offered fantastic views back down over Havelock before we continue on to Linkwater, where we turn off for Te Mahia. The route takes us about 30 minutes, even though it only looks like a short distance on the map. Here we abandon our trusty rental and gathering our overnight gear, climb aboard a water taxi for the trip across the Kenepuru Sound to Hopewell Lodge.
We’ve come prepared with basic food supplies for there are no shops in these parts: rice, chilli, onion, garlic, tinned tomatoes, and bacon and eggs with a crusty loaf for breakfast. Oh, and a few bottles of Marlborough wine. There are several single and two-seater kayaks available for guests’ use, but Bob borrows a dinghy and some fishing gear (all free of charge) and rows into the sound while I gather sizeable mussels and oysters from the rocks nearby.
Sometime later Bob returns grinning with a decent snapper and, acting the goat, sticks a white paper bag on his head like a chef’s hat. Then he sautés the onions, garlic and chilli in olive oil, adds salt, pepper and tomatoes, and serves our fresh medley of seafood, poached in a spicy tomato sauce, atop steamed rice.
"Divine," I pronounce as we eat, seated on the shore, sharing a bottle of wine and watching the sunset, "I had no idea you were such a good cook!"
In the morning there’s no sign of Bob in the cottage but when I look out over the bay I see him on the rocks, fishing line in hand. I make bacon and egg sandwiches and a thermos of tea and wander over with this picnic breakfast.
“You know,” he says, after we’ve sat together quietly for a while admiring the scenery, “it’s so peaceful here I could stay forever.” He yanks the line and continues. “Whenever I’m stressed out and want the world to stop, I’m going to think of this moment, sitting here with a rod, and all the clean, green and fresh sights, sounds and smells of New Zealand,” he says, suddenly laughing at himself and tossing me his camera. “Quick take a photo and bottle the moment, I’ll use it as a screensaver!”
We enjoy our breakfast quietly on the rocks then, as the fish aren’t biting, pack our gear and reluctantly catch our water taxi ride back to Te Mahia. When we get to the other side Bob consults his watch “I guess it’s time to drive to Picton,” he says sadly.
“I guess so,” I reply, also feeling glum.
We drive back to Linkwater and reconnect with Queen Charlotte Drive, winding through several gorgeous bays and headlands offering fantastic views of the Queen Charlotte Sound. At the Picton lookout we stop to watch the Interislander Ferry pull into the terminal at the western end of Picton’s palm-lined foreshore.
We find a quiet place to park and then Bob begins the enormous task of sorting out his collection of souvenirs. I give him a hand. Out comes the box of macadamia butter toffee crunch from Kerikeri, pumice from Lake Taupo, hand knitted jumpers from Geraldine, soaps from Thames, paua shells from the Catlins and so it goes on...
“Ugh!” I say, pulling out a crab’s claw from Waipu that mysteriously made its way into the boot, “Do you really want to keep this?”
“Oh yes,” says Bob vehemently, taking it and packing it away carefully.
“You’re going to weigh a ton when you fly home,” I warn, eyeing the enormous pile of bottles, bags and other paraphernalia stacked beside the car.
“Oh yes,” says Bob, rubbing his belly like a satisfied Buddha with a cheeky grin and a glint to his eye, “especially after helping you to eat your way around New Zealand!”