Our planned excursion today required us to be in Havelock, just 35 km to the west but an hour of travel on a winding road along the coast, by 9:00 am to catch the Pelorus Mail Boat at 9:30 am. Delivering mail to a few residents scattered along the Pelorus Sound appears to be a sideline to a healthy tourist business – at least when the weather is hospitable. The boat supplies tea and coffee with biscuits but lunch is BYO so we had that arranged last evening.
Breakfast was set for 7:00 am and we were on the road a little before 8:00 am. We wound slowly over the hills from Picton and appreciated the straight middle section of the road before winding around more hills for the last part into Havelock. We arrived a little before 9:00 am, confirmed our booking for 10 and paid our fares. There was just time for coffee in the Slip Inn by the wharf before we boarded the mail boat with about 40 others and set off along the sound.
Our captain, Jim, was a Scot, who had been a pilot with Air New Zealand before buying the business a couple of years ago. He was assisted by Penny who had worked as a wine maker in the Marlborough region before easing back to work the 3 days a week for the mail run. They were gracious hosts and entertained us with stories of life on the sound for the duration of the voyage.
The first hour or so was uninterrupted by stops. Some of us braved the open top deck while others sat inside. The sky was grey and there were low clouds obscuring the mountains around the sound. There was also a cool breeze and an occasional drizzle of rain. The ranks on the top deck thinned noticeably as time went by, especially when the rain became a little heavier for a while. Toward the end of the day the cloud lifted and the crowd on top grew again.
After about an hour we reached the part of the sound where houses are not served by roads, mains electricity, or other such modern conveniences and where the mail boat is an important link with the outside world. Some of the families have lived in the area for generations from the 1860s. Originally the land was opened up for farming sheep and cattle – always difficult on steep hillsides with relatively poor soil and limited transport and now mostly abandoned with just a couple of such farms remaining. Vast amounts of native timber were taken out for sale and to clear the land for farming but recent decades have seen a turnaround with attempts to establish native vegetation and to poison the introduced pines to prevent them from overrunning the native plants. The hillsides were dotted with dead or dying pines.
There are still a few farms operating but the major farming enterprise now is growing green mussels on ropes strung between floats in various parts of the sound. That industry employs about 1500 people directly or in ancillary activities and sustains a large processing plant in Havelock. It contributes well over $200 million pa to the New Zealand economy.
We paused for lunch at Te Rawa. There is a restaurant there but access to it is not always possible because of adverse weather so guests on the boat are advised to bring their own lunch but often buy drinks or additional treats at the restaurant. We added a large bowl of warming hot chips to our lunch and at least one of our number had to sample the beer.
From there we continued along the sound, rounded Maude Island, and headed for home. At the extreme of our trip we could see straight out through the opening of the sound into the Cook Straits that separate the South Island from the North.
The trip back involved just a couple of stops and we made it back to Havelock around 5:30 pm. The drive back to Picton seemed shorter than the morning trip but the road was no less winding.
We had dinner at the RSA club just down the street from our accommodation at Aldan Lodge and most retired early.