Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pelorus Mail Boat

The ‘World Famous’ Pelorus Mail Run leaves from the Havelock Marina three days a week delivering mail & supplies to isolated residents around Pelorus Sound. There are three different routes, we chose the eastern route as we’d already seen some of the coastline & settlements on the western side & outer reaches of the Sound including that far away settlement of Bulwer.

We left the marina at 9:30am, the weather forecast was for fine weather although rain was expected late afternoon but hopefully we’d be well home by then.

Along with us & three foreign couples, a group of men & women from the Blenheim Probus group joined the boat too. The thought did cross my mind when I saw them boarding that at least we’d have the top deck to ourselves- (naughty, Shellie!). But in fact a few of them did manage to climb the ladder and enjoy the scenery although some had to be helped back down by my own knight in shining armour.

The history of the Mail Run-
Mail was first delivered to the Marlborough Sounds by Government Steamer in 1912.  The Steamer put the mail ashore at various small Post Offices throughout the area and the residents had to row to these points to pick their mail up. In 1925 the Government decided to put the Service out to Private Operators and the Mail Run, as it is done today, was born. In the early years most of the goods carried were farming supplies and a few tourists.  These days farm supplies are still carried along with residents who are transported to and from their homes. And in summer, people are dropped at their holiday homes or some of the unique holiday accommodation available around Pelorus Sound.
Some bays have just one family others have a few families, many had dogs who were just as eager to greet the boat as their masters.

We met quite a number of the well known Sound characters along the way including one of the men originally involved in establishing the mussel farming industry. That’s him in the white gumboots; he doesn’t have a jetty (better things to spend his money on?) and must wade out to steady the bow of the boat while the mail bag is handed over. I’m sure his gumboots would get swamped on a rough day. One new resident in the Sounds was the guy in the middle left photo, the boat had to toot a few times to alert him to our presence. The boat does have a time schedule & everyone else was either waiting at the end of the jetty or approaching it as we cruised in.

These two dogs were especially keen to greet the boat, they know that Penny (first mate) has a treat for them; dog biscuits. Their master has a business repairing mussel floats, an ideal home based business in these parts!

David enjoying the sunshine & the cruise.

There were plenty of fabulous house sites along the way and a few stunning homes including this one. It belongs to two French chefs who fly in each summer for a short break in the Sounds; the screens on the front slide back to reveal floor to ceiling windows. Each module was flown in by helicopter during building so as not to disturb the environment. We forgot to ask how they got there as there was no visible road, or a jetty, maybe they get dropped in by helicopter too.

We passed a few other boats along the way; a mussel harvesting boat heading back to the farms and two barges, one carting logs from a forestry block and the other heading to Havelock with salmon (blue bins) from the only salmon farm in the Sounds (which just happen to be in the same bay as Bulwer and we’d seen from land the other day)

We took a detour through a mussel farm and learnt a lot about the industry from Jim our skipper (and owner of the Mail Boat) Jim is very, very knowledgeable about anything to do with the Sounds and we enjoyed his commentary as we cruised past various points of interest. On the right is the ‘hairy rope’ which the mussel seed attaches itself to, and the sock that encloses it which helps the seed stay in place while it gets established.  

A bonus of having the Probus group on board was that we stopped for lunch at Te Rawa Resort, a lodge & restaurant in the Sound which is not usually on this particular route. We had our lunch with us so while the group went inside for theirs, we sat on the deck with the other tourists and had a pleasant half hour eating & chatting. Jim told us as when we were leaving that unfortunately the farm that the lodge is located on isn’t doing so well. In its heyday it used to have something like 16,000 sheep but is now down to about 1500, without money & manpower the native scrub is quickly taking over the pasture land. And we can see this on the peninsula as we pull away from the bay (centre).

Our next stop is at the head of Beatrix Bay, the furthest north we travel on this trip. There’s no one waiting here for us, I think they’re either camera shy or out on the farm working. Their empty mail bag it attached to the jetty where Penny exchanges it for a full one.

We head off towards Crail Bay where the last of our mail deliveries are……

….stopping near a small gannet colony on the way with many of the birds busy courting & nest building.

But there’s one ‘odd man out’, a large fluffy chick holding centre court. It was the only chick in the colony and one that has hatched way too early because as far as we could see, when birds moved or flew away, there weren’t even any eggs laid yet.

Another thing that stood out was the amount of rope in the nests, long single strands, knotted & matted pieces, red, blue and brown pieces. At least it’s no longer floating around in the ocean but I wonder whether the chicks might get tangled in it occasionally. In the bottom right photo you can see a gannet has brought home a gift for its mate, it flew past us as we arrived, with the clump of seaweed covering its face.

Approaching Crail Bay jetty with residents ready and waiting, one had obviously cycled to the jetty as he had his bike with him. This stop is deep in the Sound and the furthest from Havelock we do on this route before we turn around and head back out to the main channel. And in fact Crail Bay is just over the ‘hill’, as the crow flies, from where we are at the moment at Kenepuru Head.

One of the foreign couples on board were very keen to see dolphins, as were most of us, but this particular couple especially so, it was on their NZ wish list. There had been a false alarm earlier in the trip and when Jim told us that they’d seen all three species of dolphins on the last trip those of us up on the top deck kept scanning the horizon. It took awhile & it wasn’t until after our last mail drop that dolphins were finally spotted. By yours truly! Way off in the distance and back behind us. I thought I could see some birds diving and a tiny fin or two but didn’t want to shout ‘wolf’ without being totally sure. The foreign guy was having none of that, he raced downstairs as fast as he could to let them know and before he made it back up top we had turned around and were steaming towards a massive ‘boil up’.

Gannets & sooty shearwaters floated on the surface or dive bombed into the centre of a huge ‘meat ball’ of tiny fish.

Common & dusky dolphins were rounding up the fish, tail slapping the surface and speeding around the edge and underneath herding them into a big ball. The fish in a panic swarmed this way and that way, down and back up. And there in amongst the feeding frenzy was one very happy seal (top left)

As spectators to this amazing event, we had the perfect view. The boat became a floating island and the fish tried to hide underneath but the dolphins pushed them through and out the other side where the fish would quickly turn and swim back under. The pursuit was relentless, the dolphins formed a line to chase break away schools of fish back into the ball.

There weren’t many chances to shoot close-ups or jumping dolphins today, they barely broke the surface for air before disappearing into the depths once again. These ones are Common Dolphins; their beaks are longer than the Dusky and they have solid white flanks where as the dusky has two dashes of white down their sides. I wonder how this dolphin lost the tip of its dorsal fin, it didn’t seem to slow it down at all.

The seal had the best deal & he was making the most of it. No team work for him, he floated around in the background and then dived through the middle of the fish scattering them in all directions whenever he felt the urge to grab a few.

A gannet comes up trumps and Mr Seal does a few backward flips in celebration!

And then, obviously with a full belly, floats past with the look of pure bliss on his face!

What a thrill and an incredible experience we had, even Jim the skipper said he’d never seen anything quite like this before. We could have quite happily stayed and watched for longer but after half an hour it was time to move on. The boat was running to a schedule and we were now running late for our last stop, collecting a resident  and her cute foxy to deliver back to the marina. This lady who has lived in the Sound for many years supplements her income by possum trapping. It looked like her little dog had come off second best & lost her eye to one of them at some stage.

We arrived back at the marina just after 5pm after a very long day on the water and just before the rain arrived. We had an amazing time, and saw some wonderful sights. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip and visiting a part of the Marlborough Sounds that not a lot of people get to see. I would highly recommend the Pelorus Mail Run if you’re looking for something a little bit different to experience. If you’re a member of NZMCA ask about their generous discounts, especially during the winter season.

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