The drive to Picton from Christchurch was familiarly stunning. The route took us through Seddon, a small town at the epicentre of the 5.7 earthquake that jolted the South Island just a couple of days prior. There didn't seem to be too much damage, however the small town looked eerily deserted.
Picton is a tiny town on the Marlborough Sound, this is where the brave catch the ferry to the North Island. It's also wine growing country (we even passed out favourite vineyard, Oyster Bay), the town with the highest amount of sunshine per annum in NZ and luckily for us, where we were meeting up with our friends for a spot of fishing and cruising around the stunning coastline.
We had the first day to ourselves though, and the hotelier had told us there was a lovely lookout in the hills near town. A lookout? A lookout? We love lookouts! The trek up the hill gave us only tiny, tantalising glimpses of the surrounding areas, the trees and ferns were densely packed and the path was a mixture of rocks and clay. It took us under an hour to reach the viewpoint and what a view we had. We looked out across the Sound, the harbour and the pint-sized Picton. The stretch of coastline was exquisite, hundreds of tiny coves, many with skinny yellow sandy beaches and only accessible from the sea sprawled all the way to the horizon. Hazy mountains threw themselves up sharply from the sea, forming steep triangular peaks, perfectly contrasting with the flat green water of the Cook Straight.
Our way down was a little more treacherous than the way up, it was far steeper and being on the shaded side of the hill, the clay path was coated in slippery lichen. We had a few near falls and our progress was slow, but a small price to pay. The final part of the gauntlet was a series of stepping stones across a shallow, but fast moving stream. The rocks were just that little bit too far apart for it to be a comfortable stride across and so, like a couple of Nervous Nellies we inched our way over. As we stood safe and dry on the other side, an elderly couple came toward us. With a brief exchange of greetings they skipped across the stones like they were mountain goats, nimble and sure-footed. They must have got lucky.
By the time we got back to town, it was dark, the pub across the road from our hotel was doing a roaring trade, we counted at least 3 people in the bar, it may have been 5 people, it may have been a pile of coats.
By 8 we'd had our fish and chips, the pub was closed and the town was quiet.
Our friends arrived the next morning and brought us back to the holiday home. After a quick catch-up, we headed out for a cruise and some fishing. While leaving the marina, we saw a couple of fur seals, one was basking on the back of a bigger boat ignoring everything around it, the other was swimming in the water, but kept its distance from us.
The water was a little choppier than it had looked and the journey to our first fishing spot had us bouncing out of our seats as we hit some of the bigger waves. None of us had any joy and we decided to seek the calmer waters of Governor's bay. In the shelter of the pretty bay, the day seemed to begin proper, everyone became happier, the sun came out and the wind dropped. Still we'd caught no fish, but with such beauty around us, it was a secondary activity anyway.
In the calmer seas, Captain Kerry decided to have another bash at getting us out to Punga bay. En route we had a couple of fishing stops and finally we started to catch. We all caught some perch, vibrant red in colour, a spiny fin along their back and a set of coarse sandpaper gums in its oversized mouth. Jan caught a cracker, her first ever eating fish and was she proud of herself.
We cruised passed dozens of coves, many with a solitary house that looked out across the Sound and was accessible only by boat. At others, the vegetation grew thickly right to the water's edge, water birds bathed in the hazy sunlight accompanied by yet more fur seals. The emerald green water was flat and made a perfect setting for pure relaxation.
We docked at Punga bay where there is a small cafe and more importantly, toilets. We stopped for some chips and for the boys to skim stones and collect some seashells. Back in the boat, we headed to a point where the guys had caught some blue cod, the target fish, the day before. Within seconds of his bait sinking to the bottom, Jamie had caught a huge blue cod, so big in fact that it was oversize and we had to throw it back. We had found a sweet spot and within 10 minutes we'd caught enough fish for dinner and for a few to go in their freezer. Blue cod are a nice looking fish, their body is inky blue in colour and has a row of flattened spines along its length, the head has two vibrant blue lines that run along the top of its face that lightens to dazzling neon green around their eyes and to top it all, they taste pretty good too. What an end to an amazing day. The return to the marina was not so much fun, the wind had got up while we had been in the tranquil cove causing the sea to become rough. We were bounced around at the back as we hit the bigger waves, icy spray combining with the cold wind to bring on goosebumps and chattering teeth. At one point, in James Bond style we hit a crest and the boat was airborne, the landing was hard and jarring "can we get a boat of compacted spines please?". The 30 minute cruise back felt like double that and once back at the launch, we were all very relieved to disembark.
That evening we had the best tasting fish either of us have ever had, Kerry would swear it was his cooking... maybe.
The following day the 6 of us headed out for walk, the area has some amazing trails, we took a fairly easy track through the local hills and fields.
The final part around the marina was too much for the kids and so Belinda, Jamie and Dylan waited while we walked round the jetties, making ourselves jealous and wishfully thinking about which boat or yacht we'd have if we had a spare couple of million pounds.
In the afternoon we headed back out on the boat, the sea was flat, the sun was shining and there was barely a breath of wind. For mid-winter we were having an amazing run of good weather, we headed back to the cod hot spot from yesterday and dropped in our lines. Again everyone caught fish, we kept just 3 or 4 for dinner, the rest were granted a pardon and returned to the still blue sea.
The journey back thankfully was nothing like the previous day, the sea had remained calm and we were able to enjoy our last glimpse of Queen Charlotte Sound, a stunningly beautiful part of the world.
Back to Christchurch for an overnighter before flying to Auckland.