Daily Archives: April 12, 2012

Marlborough Sounds

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 ├╝ber 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).

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EPILOGUE: No one dies of food poisoning.

REF: The Marlborough Sounds Guidebook, by Bob Radley.

*delete as appropriate

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Small world.

In Golden Bay, Tasman, New Zealand, there’s a flippin’ big hill. It’s a lump of earth that separates Takaka from Moteuka. So far, so what. Well, it’s such a big pile of rock that it puts people off crossing over it. Such is the twistiness of the highway people don’t bother.

Shame on them, because Golden Bay is blummin’ lovely.

The locals wear Tee Shirts with the legend “It’s a hill: get over it.”

As clueless foreigners we booked a trio of nights by the sea in the little village of Pohara. We chose, from 12,000 miles away a lovely eco-Inn by the name of Sans Souci: the place without worries. www.sanssouciinn.co.nz

A little bit eco, with the option of dinner. We are here on the strength of a website. As it goes, on arrival, we decide someone elses cooking would be good and bag a table for supper.

What I’m trying to say is that we are here pretty much randomly.

So, I start to think that I am losing it when I recognise a face on the table next to us at dinner. With (rare) discretion I shrink from interrupting our neighbours meal, avoiding embarrassment to one and all. The moment passes, we retire to our room.

(Dinner was delicious by the way. It’s really laid back place who know what they are doing. “Sweet as” they say around here.)

I was reading the excellent Blink – the book by Malcolm Gladwell – at the time, which is all about our subconscious rapid cognition abilities to thin slice our thinking. It goes into facial recognition in some depth and our innate abilities therein. Maybe it had messed with my mind? Stranger things have happened.

Next day, we take ourselves to the wee town of Takaka and peruse their artsy Saturday market. In the line for the ATM, there she is again, the lady from the restaurant. I smile, but there is no recognition from her. I let the moment pass a second time.

Then, an hour or so later whilst sat on the grass near a cake stand which the kids have made a beeline for, there she is again. Three times breaches my limit. I cave in and say “hello”. Not a flicker. I press on with a friendly, 100% genuine – yes, corny – we’ve met before line.

I’m originally from Wales she says…

Say I “We used to sit next to each other in economics in Olchfa school.”

We did too.

Michelle from Upper Killay, Swansea now lives in Golden Bay, New Zealand.

How random is that? To sit on neighbouring tables in a restaurant we’ve never been to before, in a place we picked more or less by chance. 12,000miles from home, seeing someone I’ve not seen for 25 years or so. From the other party, Michelle doesn’t frequent the restaurant either: it was a one-off thankyou meal her and her partner were buying an acquaintance.

I must write to Mr Gladwell: it demonstrates the power of rapid cognition and the incredible capability of our minds to recognise faces. Even ones that have, er, matured. The years have been kinder to Michelle than I of course. Living in Golden Bay must help!

What are the chances?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address…

PS: Michelle suggested you skiers and/or surfers try out www.surf-forecast.com and/or www.ski-forecast.com

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A dream come true with dolphins! by Josie

This morning we got up at 5:00am… RECORD (for me!) It was still dark when I got up – Mum alarm – and I shovelled my breakfast down so we could get there quicker. When we arrived at the Encounter office, we went inside, warmed up,( it was cold outside) and geared up! I got my flippers, (story about them later) my snorkel, my hood and my two wetsuits (one over the other).

Once we were ready, we watched a short film. I cheered the morning up, (literally, I cheered when Tracy our guide said there would be free hot chocolate on the boat) and we clambered in to the bus and dove off to get our boat. Once we arrived and were on the boat we told it might take an hour or more…

5 mins later…

DOLPHINS!!! Hundreds and hundreds of them! Straight away by the sound of a horn we dived in, to face a shock… IT WAS FREEZING!!! You had to wait a few minutes to adjust to the temperature. It was hard to breath, now either it was because the wetsuits were VERY tight or it was because it was so cold!? Once I was ready I swam to the crowd but the dolphins beat me to it! A pod of them swam right beneath me, so I tried to remember what happened in a dolphin documentary by David Attenborough. I did some clicks and squeaks. The dolphins were interested and came really close. Either they were thinking “Look! It’s talking like us, let’s go see!” Or they were thinking, “look at that nutter, let’s go see what all the rumble is.” So what? At least I was with them!

[Dad says: please watch the videos by clicking on the highlighted text below to view them on YouTube.]

One pod seemed particularly interested. I called one dolphin Dizzy Dot. Do you know why? I recognised it from the others because of a dot on its side. That explains dot but dizzy? Well it kept circling me, getting faster and faster. I looked it in the eye and spun round and round and round until it went straight into another dolphin and I went straight into another snorkeler! So I called it Dizzy Dot!

Then the horn blew. I swam back to the boat, climbed in, (I was last) and we followed the pod. We got back in and I saw a rare sight of a Mother with her calf. The calf was the size of my friend Georgia (sorry, it came straight to mind!) But the other dolphins are taller than my headteacher Mrs. Normington!
The sea was getting choppy now but it was more fun! Loads of the ladies climbed out, threw up and stayed out! It was brilliant going up and down and up and down and I began to bob away… But the horn blew and I climbed back into the boat.

Here’s the story about my flipper… We were just following the pod, I was excited and very happy. It was raining now and the waves were big! So there I was, minding my own business, when a massive wave suddenly swept up and stole my flipper! I shouted MY FLIPPER!!! I sounded like the horn that had blown to signal us! I thought I was doomed but the boat turned around. Tracy grabbed the net and gave me back my flipper! That’s the story of the flipper and the big wave!

We got in once more and then had free hot chocolate and biscuits then I stuck a hose down my wetsuit. It was warm and lovely! We dried off and went on the bow where dolphins leaped and somersaulted and did things acrobats couldn’t do! But it was more of a race between the boat and the dolphins. They were going under the boat swimming as fast as their flippers could take them! The faster we went the more excited the dolphins were! We got back, said a big thank you and went home for a proper shower!

Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura: thank you for making my dream come true.

Dusky dolphins.

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