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Sunday, March 10, 2019

THE MAGNIFICENT MARLBOROUGH SOUNDS


Watch this space for some news of Envoy's future plans about this time next week.
Here is an article we wrote that was recently published in Pacific PowerBoat magazine.

The North Island's north-east coast and the greater Marlborough Sounds area provide New Zealand's two prime cruising areas. Many visitors only experience Queen Charlotte Sound as their ferry cruises into Picton, but this is only a small part of the broader “Sounds” cruising area also comprising Kerepuru and Pelorus Sounds, D'Urville and several other smaller islands, Taman Bay including the coastal sections of the Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay, together constituting over a fifth of New Zealand's entire coastline.
The majority of cruisers here are South Islanders, but some hardy Wellingtonians venture across the often challenging (particularly in fresh northerlies and southerlies) Cook Strait, both from Wellington harbour itself, some 50 miles distant and from Mana only about 25 miles away.
Indeed the notorious Cook Strait has a history of shipwrecks including the Union Steamship Company's ferry Wahine in 1968 in winds up to 160 knots with the loss of 153 lives and the Soviet Union's cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov in 1986 with the loss of one crew member.

In early January we arrive by ferry after a calm Cook Strait crossing, entering the Tory Channel with its swirling tidal rips to view wooded hills gently sloping down from around 600 metres in places to sparkling blue (albeit rather chilly) waters, rocky shorelines and delightful sandy coves. Heading up Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton we pass fish farms and sparsely situated holiday homes, many with the ultimate in privacy being accessible only by sea. Later the building intensity increases as we pass the impressive Waikawa marina to port. This is New Zealand's third largest marina and one of five in the area, the others being located at Picton, Havelock, Nelson and Port Tarakohe (near Takaka) all with fuel available.

Maori have inhabited the area for several hundred years and the first European to visit here was Abel Tasman in 1642, but it was well over a hundred years before the next Europeans led by Captain Cook visited here in 1770. He made efforts to meet and understand Maori and while this was largely successful there were also some violent encounters. Whalers established shore stations during the 1820s and although whaling's heyday was over by 1850 the last station didn't close until 1964.

We drive off the ferry at Picton and head to Whatamango Bay to stay with friends at their beachside holiday home. Picton itself is a delightfully quaint village with its ferry terminal and commercial wharves to the west and the marina to the east from where all manner of sightseeing and fishing trips are available as well as bareboat charters.
The waterfront and few short main streets are interesting and lined with basic shops as well as many bars, cafes and restaurants. A short drive south takes you past the airport to one of New Zealand's most famous wine growing areas with many well-known vineyards offering tasting and quality dining.
To the south of this area and about thirty minutes drive from Picton, Blenheim is the region's main town and offerins most facilities.
Our friends are keen boaters owning an impressive Christchurch-built seven metre Huntsman Crusader, kept on a convenient mooring reducing the need to launch and retrieve it. Next day six of us head off for a few hours fishing. The Crusader leaps onto the plane with its powerful 200hp 4-stroke Yamaha outboard comfortably achieving 20 knots at 4,400rpm and topping out 35 knots at 5,500rpm.
Cod is the most prevalent fish here and we find this every bit as delicious (many would argue more so) than snapper, found in larger numbers further north. We easily reach the daily limit of two each and interestingly land eight different species in a couple of hours including cod, rock cod, terakihi, barracuda, shark, spiny dogfish, leatherjacket, gurnard and octopus – an unusual combination compared to our experiences further north. Our hosts tell us that additional common species include red cod, sea perch, kahawai, snapper, spottie, kingfish, eels and rays. It's not unusual to see seals, leopard seals, whales, dolphins and orcas while divers can also find mussels, crayfish and scallops subject to restrictions in place at various times.
Between D'Urville Island and the mainland is the narrow and notorious French Pass where dangerous tidal currents can reach 8 knots and cause whirlpools. This is New Zealand's strongest tidal current caused by a two metre difference between tide levels on Cook Strait to the east and Tasman Bay to the west.
Anchorages here are picturesque and plentiful with moorings also available in some areas (the Mana Cruising Club owns about a hundred). Except for the entrances to the Sounds most areas are free from ocean swell, but the wind is often strong and can whip up a surprisingly large and uncomfortable chop. Katabatic winds can also sweep down the hillsides taking unprepared boats by surprise.

Everybody knows the Sounds are stunning, but the area is much larger than commonly imagined and to explore the area fully would require about a month of cruising, something we hope to achieve one day - a good option for us may be to buy our next boat in that area, spend some time cruising there and cruise back to Auckland.


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