in the Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand
by Martin Welby

My Navigator has been finished for a couple of years now, and this summer we decided to take the plunge and have a go at my dream holiday – to spend a couple of weeks camp cruising. The destination for the family and “Wind Lass” was to be the Marlborough Sounds, which is a beautiful area of relatively sheltered water at the top of the South Island. The Department of Conservation have a number of campsites scattered around the area, most of which are boat access only, and mostly supply a longdrop (toilet!) and a tap. The family in question is myself, my wife, and our two girls who are 7 and 4yrs.

Our early start didn’t eventuate; overindulging the night before! So we set off for the 450km drive + 3km sail at a leisurely 10.30am start. We had the boat packed (pic1) and in the water at about 6.00pm, and the tent up at our first anchorage at about 8.00 (pic2). The first campsite was Ferndale Reserve, just opposite Te Mahia, in the Kenepuru Sound. We spent the first day lazing around, took a trip to a guest house round the point where we could buy iced lollies, and caught a Snapper which we had for tea. The weather forecast warned us of the tail end of cyclone Hannah, due in the morning. The morning saw grey skies, ever increasing wind, and horizontal rain. Although the anchorage is quite sheltered from the north, I decided to beach Wind Lass at high tide, and let her sit it out on dry land (pic 3). The weather was pretty rugged for a while, but the tent held out, and by the evening the sun came out and the wind left us in peace. To get windlass back in the water we careened her over with the main halyard and pushed 3 pieces of 2inch alkathene irrigation pipe under the skeg, and she rolled down the beach with ease.

click images to enlarge

Next day we went back to Portage, and the car to get rid of some excess gear, and hopefully improve our freeboard! The weather was much improved but there were still some nasty gusts coming of the hills, and a careful eye needed to be kept on the water.

On Thursday we left Ferndale and a tail wind pushed us down Kenepuru Sound. We stopped briefly to check out a campsite at Putanui point, the camping was great, with plenty of sites in amongst a grove of Nikau palms, but the anchorage was poor with no protection and strong tidal flow. We motored and sailed and motor-sailed along Hikapu Reach to Pelorus Sound. The shoreline started to have more old growth forest, and the water looses the slightly cloudy appearance, turning from the aquamarine of Kenepuru, to a deeper blue. Initially we went to Jacobs By, but the campsite among the beech forest was full (only room for 3 tents), so we headed for the site that was shown at Chance bay. Chance bay is a beautiful, very well protected anchorage that already had 3 yachts and a motor launch in it. The campsite consisted of one very small clearing, which was just large enough for our 4 man tent, with the sea at our doorstep (pic 4 and 5). Facilities were basic, water provided by a stream, and toilet requiring digging in the bush. Even though it had been quite a long day on the water, the kids had stayed content till the very end. One of the many eye spy clues from my 7 yr old had been something beginning with A………… “Adventurers”!

In the morning we headed to another camp, just round the corner, at the head of Nydia Bay. This site is also used by walkers on the 2 day Nydia Track, and promised the chance of fellow campers. The campsite was great, plenty of sites and well sheltered. The beach was not very good for the kids, but they managed to occupy themselves playing in the bush (pic 6 and 7). We stayed a couple of nights, and managed to source some petrol, as we had underestimated the amount of use the outboard would get.

The day we headed back towards Kenepuru Sound started fairly windy, and it looked as if we might get some rain. The 6.5km out of Nydia bay was directly into the wind, so we motored out inside the mussel lines very close to the shore (pic8). We were amazed at the number of rays we saw in the shallow water. Sods law dictated that when we reached Hikapu reach and turned 90° to head back towards home, we again had a headwind. Now we were in cellphone coverage, we got a forecast of 20-30kt SE, and ducked into Maori Bay. With a gusty 20+knots of wind against us, and an ebbing tide, we couldn’t make any sensible headway and rather than head back from where we’d come, we had a look round the bay for potential camping spots. We ended up knocking on the door of a farmhouse, and were greeted by Danny who was very hospitable and gave us a choice of camping spots, use of his jetty, and a couple of packs of steak from one of his cattle!

Map of our route

The morning saw a much more pleasant day, and a light tailwind blew us the 6km down Hikapu Reach to the entrance of Kenepuru Sound. We then motor sailed another 7km down Kenepuru, with the flukey northerly wind on our beam. The last 2-3km to Ferndale Reserve saw us beating into quite a strong NE which was funneling down the bay from Nopera. We finally made it back into Ferndale, a little wet from the spray, to have tea on the beach (pic 9). We were quite glad to be back nearer supplies (the wine had run out the night before) and away from the hoards of sandflies that had been at the other campsites. We spent the last day or so, swimming, fishing and pottering about, before packing Wind Lass back on the trailer and heading out to meet some friends camping at Momorangi bay in Queen Charlotte Sound.

The holiday was a great success, with even my wife planning improvements for next year. Lessons for next year are: Take more petrol (10-15litres). Buy a large anchor (I borrowed a 8-10kg danforth from a trailer sailor , and it really helped to sleep at night). Take more wine. Make some custom boxes (probably 4) that fill in the front footwell area, to improve packing.