Not a CD shop in a posh Wiltshire town. (That’d be the excellent Sound Knowledge, round the corner from WH Smith.) The Marlborough Sounds in question are to the top right bit of the south island, New Zealand.
So now we know where we are. But just what is a “Sound”?
soundn = channel, arm of the sea, fjord, inlet, passage, strait.
Well there’s that cleared up then.
Why Marlborough? Less clear, but during his three global expeditions, Captain Cook dropped by five times. (Guess who the nearby Cook Strait, Endeavour Inlet & Ship Cove are named after?) Of course, this makes no reference to the Maoris, who were clearly here first. (That’s a whole other blog.)
In terms of scale of the place takes a little getting used to. It’s a fifth of the NZ coast all in itself: more than 3,128km of shoreline. With terrain being mostly steep hills and mountains arising straight from a maze of waterways, the striking thing – beyond the geography – is that much of the area is pristine. The low density of humans and extents of our travails is not yet overpowering this landscape. Everywhere else Cook landed is now a major city or port.
I’ve found another desk with a view to write this. With a deck lofted 30m or so above the water’s edge I’ve a big wedge of sunny Kenepuru Sound in view. As usual at this time of the morning, it’s just me awake here. Scanning the waters and shores… nope, still just me. Across the sound from our batch – Kiwi for holiday home – is the only other sign of life: a boat tending its crops at the mussel farm. Clearly, there are other signs of man: cropped tracts of woodland, a property or three but no noise, no actual people… Pretty darn peaceful then.
Batch? More than a beach hut on this occasion. A fully functioning place is Jelley Mold – great house name,eh? – with all the bells and whistles. No wifi though which is a blessing/curse*. Separate bedrooms for the kids Josie discovers with glee: poor kid has had enough of sharing with her bro. The whole place fills grown ups with delight too: massive fern trees, a fruit laden lemon tree, the aforementioned spectacular views, privacy and – with effort – direct access to the shore down some adventurous steps. The shore is worth accessing as it gives view to the colony of nesting Spotted Shags – Cormorants dear, Cormorants – who come and go gracefully from their twiggy cliff pads.
High tide = leaping off Meditation Rock into the ccccold vivid blue waters. And then swimming with some effort back as the outgoing tides would merrily take you away forever. Gilly supervises from the sun drenched shore.
Low tide = wild mussel beds. (Wild? They’re livid!) So we help ourselves to the medium sized green lip mussels. Medium? Not a scale that travels well. This middling size is as tall as a slice of bread. The big ones could double as junior rugby balls. Seafood growing at the bottom of the garden, with a squeeze of lemon from your own tree, served with tomato and herbs from the veg plot. A rich landscape indeed. We aren’t fishermen, but its good catching here too: shark, snapper, allsorts. The visitors book is full of piscine boasts and tales. (I’m tempted to write that “…the Orca we netted took quite a bit of clubbing before coughing its last. Still, it was better eating than the dolphins.” I decide against it.)
A long short drive – more über twisty roads – brings us to Portage Bay and the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Co. With delightful lack of fuss and the merest nod to formality we rent a 3.5m runabout boat. We are given a generous hour. Within minutes we are skimming the waters on a little impromptu expedition up the northern reaches of Kenepuru Sound. Who cares if Cook already discover this place, it’s our first time!
Boat hire had an ulterior motive. IE: to go, er, scrumping mussels. The ropes and buoys of mussel farms gently dot the Sounds and the farmers have no issue with locals/visitors helping themselves to the crops near the surface. How come? Their winches crush the first 30cm or so of shellfish on the ropes, so you’re picking otherwise wasted growth. We cruise up to a buoy and the small Beers get to enthusiastic work. We are accompanied by a well-trained shag – it’s cormorant dagnabbit – that clearly gets free meals from this location. It dives and darts beneath us as we pick our supper.
Everyone has a go at driving the boat. Everyone turns out to be a natural. A 14hp motor can get you up and running at a tidy clip, so we see lots in our hour. On the return trip – outboard flat-out, iccle craft planing sweetly – we are joined by another cormorant in flight – airborne shag anyone? [Too much Ian. Too much.] – for a magical few moments. It swoops just alongside skimming our bow wave inches above the sea for an extended fly past before flapping off.
Dinner? 2 varieties of hand picked steamed mussel with Marlborough Sav’ Blanc, lemon and parsley garnish. Plus bread and butter (natch).
EPILOGUE: No one dies of food poisoning.
REF: The Marlborough Sounds Guidebook, by Bob Radley.
*delete as appropriate