Summer in the Sounds
For many travellers moving between theSouth and North Islands, Picton is a placeto pass through, not linger. But thosethat do stop for a few days will find the smallferry port to be a perfect base to explore NewZealand’s most stunning waterways.
Fiordland may have the mountains, andthe Bay of Islands may have the twee historicsettlements, but the Sounds have unparalleledsplendour and serenity. The three Sounds –Pelorus, Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte – area mass of bays and peninsulas. And it’s almostall mainland, as D’Urville and Arapawa are theonly large islands.
The area’s 1,500km of coastline comprisesone tenth of New Zealand’s total, makingMarlborough Sounds the ideal place for playingon the water, sea kayaking, fishing and diving.After the action, wind back and relax at one ofthe luxury resorts or numerous wineries.
The picturesque waterfront at Picton isoverlooked by the region’s only internationalbrand hotel, the Mercure Picton. As part ofthe global Accor group, it has all the facilitiesexpected of a top-end hotel – 48 rooms(most with views of the Sounds) includinga three-bedroom penthouse apartment,the award-winning Chartroom restaurant,and a sun-drenched bar alongside the 20mswimming pool.
The hotel’s bright function room is used forconferences, weddings and other events, seatingup to 100 people for dinner. Self-contained, withkitchen and AV facilities, it can cater for almostany event.
Matt Juniper is the hotel’s general manager,and arrived at the start of summer, around thesame time as new head chef Brendan Colson.
Matt’s keen to make the most of the region’swine and seafood. “We want to focus on thefantastic local produce and make the Mercurea byword for high-quality local food. We’rein the perfect location. A minute’s drive orwalking distance from the ferry terminal, thehotel’s ideal to access shops, marina, and localwalking tracks.” A number of regular launchesoperate from the neighbouring quay, ferryingpassengers to all parts of the Sounds, includingthe start of the Queen Charlotte Track.
The 71km-long path is one of the nation’smost iconic tramping routes, and also open tomountain bikers (with the exception of ShipCove to Punga Cove in December, Januaryand February).
Ralph and Bev Faulkner have owned and runPunga Cove for the last ten years. The resort is25km from the start of the track, and often thefirst stop for bikers and keen trampers, or thesecond night for more relaxed hikers.
“A lot of our guests are walking the QueenCharlotte Track,” says Bev. “It’s often part ofthe package that their luggage gets transportedhere. It all works like clockwork.”
The Faulkners cater for all budgets, with arange of accommodation from the nine-roomhostel, ideal for backpackers, to the top-endpenthouse suite – a luxurious two-bedroomchalet set high on the hill, with magnificentviews out over Endeavour Inlet.
Ralph says Punga Cove can accommodate 50guests with ease. “With the units tucked awayin the native bush it never, ever, feels busy.”
A winding stroll down through the resortleads past the pool, two spas and the chicBoatshed bistro bar to the quay. Throughout theday boats pull up alongside, dropping guests,trampers’ bags or supplies.
The resort has 14 kayaks for guests to explore the coves and creeks nearby, and landscaped grounds to relax in afterwards. Pizzas and paninis are available at the Boatshed, or for something more substantial there is the Punga Fern restaurant, which serves fine locallysourced food and wines.If you can peel your eyes off the view, aglance down the wine list will reveal thename Vavasour.
It’s a name steeped in history – the familyhas traced their ancestors back to one ofWilliam the Conquerer’s wine ‘tasters’ at thetime of the Norman Invasion of 1066.“My parents planted the first grapes in theAwatere Valley, south of Blenheim, in 1985and I grew up around the vineyard,” saysLouis, 31. It was a childhood split betweenthe family business and the family bach inKumutoto Bay.
And the Marlborough Sounds have shapedboth his life and his wines since he launchedhis own label, Saveé Sea, in 2006. “I reallylove the lifestyle, and being able to make aproduct that other people can enjoy. Saveé Sea’sabout doing something different – young, funand exciting.”
Louis has been producing his own rangeof single varietal wines for the last five years,starting with a flagship Sauvignon Blanc andthen introducing a Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris,Chardonnay and, more recently, a Rosé.
A close look at the label gives yet anotherindication of how connected he is with theSounds. “The image on the Saveé Sea label wasdrawn by my late mother. It’s a sketch of ourbach, one of those tucked-away places that youcan only get to by boat.”
To really appreciate the beauty ofMarlborough Sounds it’s essential to get on thewater. For an adventure like no other, it’s nowpossible to charter a former NZ Navy inshorepatrol vessel, Flightless.
Steve Woledge bought the ship five yearsago and has since refitted it. A master mariner,he began chartering the 27m ocean-going craftlast year.
It’s ideal for expeditions, and fabulous funfor family groups. “There’s a lot of space,sleeping up to 20,” says Steve. “Guests can havea relaxing holiday with their kids while we doall the running around.”
If the group want to be fully catered for,Picton Charters will provide a cook, or to keepcosts down they offer a BYO option.In Steve’s words, it’s mostly about the toys.“We have a diving board off the second (sun)deck, a Tarzan swing off the hiab crane, 3kayaks and a dive compressor.
“We also have a 2.4m inflatable runaboutand a 4.8m Niaid with a 90hp on it. So all thewater-sports are available, and with all thesafety gear of course.”
Flightless is designed for indoor-outdoorliving. After a day spent fishing and diving,relax by the barbecue on deck, where two bigice boxes also sit. There’s no better way to enda day in the Marlborough Sounds. As the freshfish go in, out comes the freshly chilled wine.