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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 7 (October 1, 1938)

The Peerless Playground of New Zealand — Pelorus Sound—Where Fiordland is Fairyland

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The Peerless Playground of New Zealand
Pelorus SoundWhere Fiordland is Fairyland

Railway Publicity photos.

John Ruskin of the magic pen, had a sensitive appreciation of natural and man-made beauty which gave new eyes to mankind.

In our Marlborough Sounds, there is a bewildering array of gleaming waterways between land walls that range from gentle slopes to lofty peaks; there are worlds upon worlds of natural wonders, from bush-clad isles to towering cliffs, from jewelled waterfalls to beaches of yellow sands, from mysterious narrow inlets to opening gleaming bays. Nature has dowered many parts of New Zealand with similar riches; but the Marlborough Sounds would have brought joy to John Ruskin's heart. Here the scene is mantled with the work of humankind, and fragrant with history.

This article will try to explain a little of the distinctive charm of this wondrous New Zealand playground. I should add that the profusion of marvels in the Sounds forbids the covering of them all, and that this story relates to Pelorus Sound and its little sister, Kenepuru only.

Panorama of Marlborough Sounds from the top of Portage Divide, South Island, New Zealand.

Panorama of Marlborough Sounds from the top of Portage Divide, South Island, New Zealand.

The first step in becoming a sheepfarmer in Pelorus Sound is to learn to row a boat, the next to handle a launch. In the area covered by Pelorus and Queen Charlotte Sounds, which, as the crow flies, is not more than twenty-five miles each way, there are five hundred miles of coastline. The roads are waterways, and the front gates of the farms are little piers or landing places.

When we arrived, our host at “The Portage” had arranged for us to make the trip in the “mail boat.” This is a water-borne mixture of delivery lorry, mail van, and pleasure cruiser.

It was loaded with a miscellaneous collection of merchandise, mail-bags, and humans, and it proceeded to wander over the shimmering waters in the most purposeful way.

It is perfectly impossible for any stranger to preserve any sense of direction on such a journey as this. The drop scenes come and go, headlands are rounded and new coves suddenly open out, bewildering turns display sheepyards or a tall headland, and then the launch chug-chugs more slowly and stops. From the bush or hillside, or from the door of a pleasant homestead, someone hails, and appears with a mail bag or a parcel, and the exchange is effected for the mail-boat's
The spacious Tawhitinui reach showing Maud Island in the background.

The spacious Tawhitinui reach showing Maud Island in the background.

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“The Portage” on a sunlit winter day.

“The Portage” on a sunlit winter day.

consignment. The methods are various; some of the homesteads have miniature wharves; some have a simple causeway of stones forming a small pier against which the launch noses while the launchman and the consignee execute acrobatics making and taking delivery; some have shelving sandy beaches on which the launch grounds gently. You can tell the Sounds' inhabitants at once by the adroitness with which they board or leave the launch in all sorts of difficult situations. The highlight of our trip was the parking of the launch at the head of Kenepuru Sound. Our picture shows this piece of good New Zealand adaptability. A dray drawn by a knowledgeable horse came out far enough to enable the travellers to step on to it from the high deck of the boat. Then the horse collar, a duck in a wire-netted box, some groceries and a mailbag or two were passed over, and we backed out to go on with the job down the Sound.

Hour after hour went by, but there was so much incident, the dissolving and changing beauty so ravishing on both sides of us, that we did not notice the time. In fact, in the Sounds, time has a habit of slipping by as swiftly as the smooth green waters seem to be gliding past our craft.

In Kenepuru Sound, pretty and popular accommodation houses of all sizes and kinds dot the shores. We could imagine what these shining seaways must look like in the summer season, with hundreds of happy holiday makers crowding every inlet, beach and hillside. But our trip was made in the winter, and I can conceive of no better winter pleasure resort or rest retreat than this windless, sunlit sea-paradise. It is useless to try to describe the charm in words; as someone has said it “is adjectivally impossible.”

From the broad verandah of “The Portage,” the first impression is of complete and all pervading peace. Effort, struggle, competition, hustle, and the other stern things of the workaday world, are miles and miles away, and somehow they seem safe never to return.

“The Portage” itself is modern in every respect, a many-roomed hostel with all the amenities of a city hotel, electric light, hot and cold water in the rooms, spacious lounges, dance floors, dining halls, bathrooms, and a large sun portico, on which, even on our winter day, sunburn would be easy.

Farmers arrive in launches for the monthly Union meeting at Homewood Bay.

Farmers arrive in launches for the monthly Union meeting at Homewood Bay.

Our picture shows the lay-out of this New Zealand Garden of Eden, and it is certainly an achievement of planned pleasure gardens and open-air playing grounds. I sought, though, for the reason of its purely personal atmosphere, and it might lie in this fact; the young son and daughter of our host are the fourth generation at “The Portage.” As with many others that I met in the Sounds, the memories of Mrs. Lawrence are of the real stuff of history, and behind her own recollections was another generation of stories she had heard about still earlier days.

As its name shows, “The Portage” was the original outlet from Pelorus Sound to Picton and civilisation. In the memory of living settlers, the Maoris rowed their canoes to the Pelorus Sound landing and carried them over The Portage saddle, full of pigs and other produce, voyaging then down Torea Bay to Picton.

When Nydia Bay was putting out daily tens of thousands of feet of timber, the bushfellers and other huskies rowed all the way down to The Portage, clambered over the divide and got to Picton for their sprees. They returned more or less refreshed, and it was natural that after a few years of hospitality The Portage farm owners thought that, in self defence, it was time to make some charge. Thus arose the beginnings of the present resort known not only throughout New Zealand but the wide world over.

It should be said that The Portage road is only one of dozens of these slender dividing land arms between page 16
The beautiful bush-clad hills at the head of Tennyson Inlet.

The beautiful bush-clad hills at the head of Tennyson Inlet.

the reaches of sea. Such is the tortuous and winding nature of this intricate filigree of land and water, that often only the slenderest filament of land divides two arms of the sea which would take hours to connect by boat journeys.

Looking north from St. Omer, for instance, a four mile walk reaches the wide and handsome Crail Bay which by water would entail half the full journey along Pelorus Sound. At Elaine Bay in Tennyson Inlet, only a small flat needs to be crossed to land in the maze of the Croisilles. By sea, the journey would mean going clean out of the main Sound, rounding Francis Head, making the French Pass, and completing a journey of at least seventy miles.

We saw more of this fantastic handiwork of Mother Earth and the wayward sea, on the Saturday of our stay. We had our journey to the seat of the Farmers' Union monthly meeting, and it was a revelation of pioneer adaptability to unique conditions.

We started off from “The Portage,” and here and there stopped to collect folks who rowed out, or came in their own launches, or were gathered from their own landing places. Later we changed launches and the gathering slowly grew. “Homewood,” where the meeting was held, is a dream place. The homestead is up-to-date and calm, rushing streams go through the ample garden, and there are nikau palms, fruit trees in plenty, and groves of splendid native bush. Fowls are everywhere and the garden is a riot of colour. Our picture shows the scene.

The little dreaming bay was littered with launches, interspersed with row-boats of every description. I shall always remember one of these dingies putting off, rowed by a small lad and carrying half a dozen substantial passengers. There could not have been more than a half inch of freeboard and changing a half crown would, to all appearances, have meant a capsize.

Small boys and girls handle boats in the Sounds as if they were playthings, and they weaved in and out this fleet of launches with ease and confidence.

Of course, this concourse of little vessels was simply the Sounds' version of an assembly of motor cars and taxis at a suburban corner when there is a meeting or a party.

Delivering the mail at the head of Kenepuru Sound.

Delivering the mail at the head of Kenepuru Sound.

We left the meeting to carry on our voyage of discovery. We had already passed Nydia Bay whence came in the past tens of millions of feet of timber, we had taken a peep at bush-clad Fairy Bay, and had admired the tree-covered ridges and bluffs of North West Bay. Now the beauties of sight and scene multiplied every mile. We turned into the Tawhitinui Reach. On our left (I mean to port) were long, low hills terminating in the queer looking but aptly named Ram's Head. On our right (I mean on the starboard side) was the quaintly lovely triangle which is the peak of Maud Island, with the fine outline of a dry point etching. Before us there seemed to float islands of fern and tree, the prettiest of which is Tarakaipa. However steep the slopes have been, we have seen sheep looking for all the world like white birds that have just alighted. Now, as if by magic, the grass-covered sides give place to lacy bush and tree feathered headlands. The broad waters slowly narrow and take on utter stillness and the bottle-green smoothness of glass. We reach Godsiff Bay, where trees march down to the water's edge, except for a ribbon of golden beach outlining the curve of the bay.

Here we landed, took a picture or two, and boiled the billy. The stillness was profound, only broken by an occasional tui greeting the sunshine and the tiny twittering of a riro-riro. Several small coloured finches gave us a friendly call, flitted close and looked curiously, one perching cheerily on the camera. We were one million miles from office desks, tram noises, newspaper headlines and crowded footpaths.

We had to go, sadly enough, and so we set off for the head of Tennyson Inlet, the loveliest gem in the

(Continued on page 49.)