Dogs, dolphins and post-bags; an unlikely combination which adds up to a boat trip with a difference! Delivering the post to remote residences in Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand included all three
A great number of people only visit Picton whilst passing through on their way to the inter-island ferry to cross the Cook Strait to Wellington, however the town is the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds and in particular Queen Charlotte Sound and, in my opinion, well worth a longer pause on a trip through. The drive in to Picton took us along winding roads with occasional views of both Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte Sounds, these views only whet your appetite for the closer look you get once actually out on the water. Picton itself is a quiet, friendly town and the marina is full of sail boats and pleasure cruisers, one of which we intended to use to gain our closer look of the Sounds.
The Mail Boat Run
Rather than viewing these picturesque waters on a regular cruise, we decided to take part in the local 'mail run'. Beachcomber Fun Cruises (www.mailboat.co.nz :Tel: +64 3 57 36 175 cost NZ$91 per adult, NZ$47 for children age 5-14) are licensed by the New Zealand Post service to provide a rural delivery service to the homesteads located actually within Queen Charlotte Sound. The route you take on the cruise is entirely dependent on what needs to be delivered and alongside the regular mail; you could be delivering other essentials such as fuel, or in our case, plants and carpet!
Our 'run' first took us to the East Bay area of the Sound where we made a few stops; some of these involved tying up at jetties whilst others passed over a mail bag via a boat hook at a slow speed. It never failed to amaze how friendly all the homesteaders were, many smiles and waves were given as the boat came closer. At one jetty the children all jumped in to the water to greet us! Moving further in to the Sound we visited Endeavour Inlet where one of the most amusing sights was the dogs at each jetty. Each dog was given a biscuit from the seemingly endless supply on board the boat; however, one of the dogs had her own special 'mail' bag containing doggy chocs which she promptly trotted off down the jetty with!
A bit of history and wildlife
The run also takes a break part way through the trip to visit 'Ship Cove' where there is a memorial to Captain Cook as he spent a lot of time in the area repairing and watering his ship. The memorial itself was well worth a visit, although I was more impressed by the curved benches and other carved statues!
Although not a wildlife cruise, seeing the local flora and fauna is inescapable when on the Sound. The whole area is green, lush and serene and home to three different breeds of dolphin - Dusky, Hectors and Bottlenose, all of which we had sightings of, most notable the breath-taking pair who surfed in the wake of the boat.
A different experience
Sailing through the Sound and experiencing this snapshot of people's lives was an interesting way of viewing the area and for us much more pleasurable than a straightforward cruise. The homesteads themselves, although peaceful, do rely on the service this boat provides. The crew of the boat were extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the area and the families they support, continually providing information and answering questions whilst carrying out their duties. One of the best parts of the day for me, however, was the opportunity to have a go at steering on the way home!
Picton on foot
The town of Picton is small enough to navigate easily on foot and the main streets (London Quay, High Street) are full of small cafes/restaurants and shops including the obligatory tourist souvenir shops as well as more specialist shops selling Paua shell or Jade jewellery alongside carved wood. For those travelling (and self catering) like us, there were a couple of small supermarkets which easily allowed us to stock up.
The most photogenic area of Picton has to be the area around the waterfront and the Marina. The foreshore is palm lined and has both grassy areas for chilling out on and paths for making the walk easier! During our visit, this area was crammed full of locals and visitors due to the annual ‘Maritime Festival (usually held in January/February). There were lots of stalls, sideshows (including a puppet show) and one of the most interesting (and my husband’s favourite!) was the ‘boat building’ competition. The teams entering had to build, from scratch, a sea-worthy vessel; many were wooden and the cutting, carving, hammering and frenetic energy of the teams involved, made the emerging creations quite mesmerising! Later in the day, these entries would be tested in the marina itself. Sadly we missed this part of the competition due to being out on the mail boat.
Places to stay
Many of the town’s accommodations are near to the foreshore and marina and as such are perfectly placed for sunsets and enjoying the wide range of boats sailing in and out of the marina. For backpackers, there is a huge hostel near to the inter-island ferry terminal – Atlantis Backpackers (Cnr Auckland Street and London Quay; www.atlantisbackpackers.com; +64 35737390) with dorm rooms available from around $25 NZ per person.
For those who require a little more comfort, there are a number of other hotel/motel options including the Marlin motel (33 Devon Street; www.aaamarlinmotel.com; +64 35736784, rooms from $90 NZ) and the more luxurious Jasmine Court (78 Wellington Street; http://jasminecourt.co.nz; +64 35737110) with self catering rooms from $130 NZ.
As we were travelling by campervan, we stayed at the Picton Top10 caravan park www.pictontop10.co.nz (78 Waikawa Road, +64 35737212; NZ$40-46 for powered site) where the facilities were clean, simple and very well located for the marina and other facilities in town.