They were frisky, playful and shameless attention-seekers. Your typical teenagers.
A large pod of juvenile bottlenose dolphins turned on quite the show, as we purred through the Marlborough Sounds on a Beachcomber cruise boat.
The frolicking dolphins basked in the boat’s wake, before unleashing their acrobatic impulses, leaping out of the water and flying through the air like trained circus-performers.
Picton had dawned bright and brilliant. The glossy deep blue water surrounding Picton Marina, gleamed photo-shoot perfect. In a town that I have previously accused of resting on its laurels, Picton seems to have really hits its straps as a premium destination.
The place was buzzing. I was joining a day trip into Queen Charlotte Sound with one of the region’s oldest tourist operators, Beachcomber Cruises, who offer myriad tours including their iconic rural post delivery service, The Magic Mail Run.
Keen to combine cruising with a spot of walking, my magical day out would whisk me to Ship Cove, before re-boarding the vessel for the home-run from Furneaux Lodge. Departing from Picton, my ebullient skipper, Steve, peppered the cruise commentary with a feast of fascinating insights.
Brimming with predator-free islands and marine reserves, ogling precious wildlife is an undisputed magnet, luring the world to their crystal-clear waters. Steve remarked that alongside the hector’s, dusky and bottlenose dolphins, whales are a constant sight in the Sounds. As are seals, stingrays and orcas.
We rendezvoused with some salmon farms, heavily fortified in perimeter fencing to stop the fur seals doing a drive-by feed. The sheer size of the Sounds is astonishing, comprising 20 per cent of New Zealand’s coastline, brimming with countless coves and secluded sandy bays. Thick native bush surrounds these ancient sunken valleys, where the calm, translucent water spans azure blue, vivid turquoise and shimmering emerald hues.
Disembarking from our boat, I dabbled in the creek where Cook made home brew for his crew before surveying the magnificent Captain Cook monument commemorating his repeat visits to the area.
Remarkably, one of the original cannons from Endeavour, adorns the monument. The cannon was salvaged from North Queensland, after the Endeavour ran aground on a reef and the crew had to throw numerous equipment overboard, to free the ship. A gorgeous carved pou whenua (pole) was installed at Ship Cove 12 years ago, illustrating the legend of Kupe and the giant octopus he chased in these waters. Lacing up my walking boots, I struck out for a taster of the Queen Charlotte Track.
The full traverse from Ship Cove to Anakiwa is a three or four-day affair, but itching for a sample of this celebrated trek, I embarked on the first day’s section to Furneaux Lodge.
The lookout point at Tawa Saddle serves up seraphic views across Queen Charlotte Sound, while pixel-burning vantage points loom large as your descend into Resolution Bay. In the higher reaches of the track, the elevated views serve up mouth-watering glimpses of some of New Zealand’s most remote holiday homes, glorious little escape pads of supreme seclusion.
From Resolution Bay, the final stretch followed a well-graded old bridle path over a ridge and into Endeavour Inlet. An unexpected surprise was the short detour to ogle one of New Zealand’s largest and oldest trees.
A 1000-year-old rimu, in Howden Forest. A viewing boardwalk was recently built around the tree to safeguard its ancient roots. What a stunning specimen it is. I toddled across the finish line with a flourish, sweetly surrendering to the laid-back hospitality embrace of Furneaux Lodge.
Built by the Howden family 110 years ago, the original homestead was thronging with thirsty patrons, chilling out and swapping tales, before boarding the boat at 5pm for the return run to Picton, as another pod of frisky dolphins shepherded us home.
•Where to stay? Slap bang in the heart of Blenheim, just around the corner from that glorious urban oasis of Seymour Square, Blenheim Palms Motel delivers a delightfully relaxed. Ann and Ian are charming hosts, who will go out of their way to ensure your Marlborough getaway is a memorable one. www.blenheimpalmsmotel.co.nz
•Planning a trip to the Top of the South? Check out the region’s official website for the latest visitor tips and insights. www.MarlboroughNZ.com