The Pelorus Mail

We take the mail boat from Havelock up through the Pelorus Sound. We go as far up as Maud Island delivering mail to the isolated folks who live out that way.
The skipper is a scot who visited Havelock as he was travelling around and has never left the place again. Clearly a man who believes he had found his niche in life.
On board with us were an Australian couple, another Aussie and his Glaswegian wife and yet more Aussies, a couple and their travelling companion, a casually but elegantly attired gent who sounded a bit like Gore Vidal so I said to him; ‘You’re from the States I take it!’ ‘Shame on you he replied, I’m from Alberta!’ Faux pas. There were also two English couples one from Kent and one from Lancashire the male of whom was intensely irritating. It is always a bad sign if someone opens a conversation by describing their home plumbing problem in great technical detail. I climbed the ladder to the top deck to escape him. Alison had already retreated there for the same reason.
It was so pleasant and sunny up aloft that we spent virtually the whole day there, which eventually came to about eight hours. We descended to steerage occasionally for coffee which you just helped yourself to.
The people who live out here are largely farmers, pretty surprising considering the steepness of he hills here and the amount of bush on them. They were all waiting on the pier for their mail and deliveries. Better to say either they or their dogs were waiting for the mail as the dog, and there almost invariably was one, was often there first.
The skipper kept up an entertaining and informative talk on the region throwing us titbits of information throughout the trip over the tannoy. There are a number of interesting characters in the area. There is an heir of the Scottish engineering family of Brownlie in his eighties who seems to be the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Fred Dibnah. He runs a range of power tools purely on water power in his workshop. There is the local possum hunter, a redoubtable lady, who came out to meet us in her boat, with the dog, of course.
We stopped for lunch at a most unlikely looking restaurant at Te Rawa, miles up the sound. And miles from anywhere except that it’s on the Nydia track which is a two day walk over the hills and the cafe provides overnight accommodation. It also has fuel for the boats on the sound. It’s still difficult to see how they survive as a business but the season is not really under way yet. Perhaps it will get a lot busier. They claim to sell the best chips in New Zealand at $5 a plate but we had our own packed lunch with us so did not indulge. The interior was an odd assortment of bits and pieces. The proprietor a large bearded Guy in shorts. The overall effect was friendly and welcoming. There is a dog in this photo.
The trip was a long one but the weather held up. The sound became choppier and windier as we got further out. We were hoping to spot dolphins. These failed to materialise in spite of us spotting a large number of shearwaters and gannets near Maud Island. The skipper assured us this was a sure sign of the presence of the marine whizz kids. He also told us that orca are quite frequently encountered in the sound. Maud Island is another reserve which DOC are trying to return to it’s pristine state. There are a three wardens on the island.
Our Lancastrian nemesis seemed to use a rather forced cough to redirect the group’s attention to himself if it showed any sign of wandering so we kept to the poop deck ( or whatever the correct nautical term is) as the boat headed for home. At one point the skipper became a bit panicky and called Alison down to take the wheel through a particularly dangerous shark-infested maelstrom.
We arrive back in Havelock around five thirty. The skipper asked me at one point if I was a boating man. I had to admit to being a landlubber. I did tell him that my grandfather was a ship’s engineer with Cunard before the Second World War. Dad was an engineer too and though not nautical loved the Clyde steamers and similar vessels. He used to take me on paddle steamer trips down the Bristol Channel from Newport when I was a kid. So ‘This one’s for you, dad.’ I thought to myself at the end of this hugely enjoyable day.


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