Marlborough, Sounds of silence

Marlborough Sounds

Dolphins, eh? Tedious bastards, the lot of them. Our jovial, ocean marauding friends are hard not to love really, but bloody hell, it was nearly 8pm and getting well past dinner time now. Six months we’d been in New Zealand, predominantly on the coastline, without seeing a single flipper, and now they’d just tipped up for the fifth time in an afternoon. Pods of Dusky and Bottlenose dolphins had been treating us to what can only be described as ‘Attenborough-Porn’ for hours – terrorising schools of fish around the bay while arrow-like Gannets thundered in from above – before teaming up for an arrogantly grand finale as they leapt and arced their way around the harbour in front of a delighted small crowd of onlookers. We looked on in fascination from the shore as dusk fell around us, while I silently made a vengeful note to ask the next Japanese chap I met what dolphin tasted like.


We were up at French Pass, a far flung outpost of the Marlborough Sounds where treacherous waters squeezed between the headland and D’Urville Island atop the vast network of waterways that stretched out into the Cook Strait. Three wonderful months in Golden Bay had come to an end and we were back on the road, a road which as is common in New Zealand soon became long, winding and somewhat rustic. It took us 60km north up into the outer Sounds, where farm houses sparsely clung to hillsides and solitary fishing boats bobbed in otherwise deserted bays. We swam in cool, clear waters by the campsite, tramped the tracks around us and inadvertently herded a few hundred cattle for several miles on an afternoon walk. Business as usual then – it was exciting to be back out exploring.

Our exploration took on a less common form the following day as we accompanied the local Postman on his rounds. Three times a week the Pelorus Express chugs out on three different routes to a handful of dwellings scattered around the Marlborough Sounds, all out of reach by road and reliant on the post run for their mail, their groceries and quite often the only human contact they’ll see all week. It’s an extraordinary life. Not just for the Scottish postman, Jim, who come rainn or shine has to cover hundreds of miles of water a week in the quite spectacular surroundings which teem with wildlife, but even more so for the grateful recipients dotted across vast distances. Whether they be timber merchants, possum trappers, a couple who look after holiday homes even (how’s that for a job!) – the hardy souls out here exist in such isolation that many have no mains power or running water, preferring a life out of society where the next door neighbour is often several miles of water away. The boat took us out amongst the labyrinth-like Sounds – around a fifth of New Zealand’s coastline is found here – for about nine quite fantastic hours. As well as the several post and grocery drops we made; we swam with Sting Rays, saw a whole host of birdlife including Blue Penguins and basked on the top deck underneath a warming afternoon sun. This is about as far away from the bicycle-clipped, dog-fearing Postmen I know from home, and seems to be a mail service that really is quite royal.

Pelorus Mail Boat

The Pelorus mail run was to be our final day on the South island, we were finally making our way north to continue our adventures and see some new sights. Embarking from Picton – a town founded by a small group of bullying victims – the ferry carried us out through the Sounds and into the blustery Cook Strait from which the north island loomed ever closer. We had no real plans ahead of us – just the van, two months, and an island steeped in Māori legend and natural wonders just waiting to be uncovered. But probably no more dolphins.


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