Not a care in the world here

20:59, Apr 13 2010

Everyone has their own idea of the perfect bach. Ours is the sort that takes you back to sunny childhood days with no cares in the world – shelter from the sun, access to the water, just enough mod cons for a comfortable stay. Tucked away out of sight, such places are usually a long way away from civilisation, but in this case it's close enough to town to bike, which we do, from the ferry terminal in Picton.

Cariad Bach is our dream come true. Walk into the living room and there is the water – boats bobbing, sunlight sparkling, even dolphins dancing, a whole school of them.

The Marlborough Sounds look every bit as good as any tourist poster. We can see the bellbird whose song we heard outside the window. There are kayaks at the water's edge and an old dinghy you can use – or you can just sit and dangle your legs in the crystal-clear water.

Inside the bach fresh pastel colours suit the waterside cottage, built by the previous owners in the 1950s. Pre-loved furnishings have been gathered up with a creative eye and there are some irresistible gems that pull the sherbert colours together. Some things came with the bach – the "lemon meringue" formica table, matching chairs (since recovered), old lampshades, a woodgrain formica benchtop (handle with care) and sliding glass cupboards. Other fittings, found in secondhand shops in Picton, Blenheim and Nelson, have been carefully refurbished.

With fond memories of the Sounds from our sailing years, we decided to bring our bikes and use the weekend to explore on land. It's easy enough to ride onto the Bluebridge ferry and tie our bikes up to the superstructure before heading off up the stairs to our favourite corner.

We arrange to meet Debs, our obliging stand-in host, at the Picton supermarket at Mariner's Mall, where we indulge in buying some good South Island food for our weekend. It's raining as we load the bags into her car but it clears up before we've biked far down the road to Waikawa Bay, to where the local Maori retreated when Picton was first colonised. Past the marae, the college and the marina, once our home base in the Sounds, and on to meet Debs at the bach for the routine briefing.

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A comprehensive booklet covers just about anything else we might need to know, including the all-important instructions for the hot tub. There are leaflets for every activity or event in the region – the owner previously had a gallery here and published arts and winery guides – and the usual books (take away a paperback and leave another in its place) and New Zealand-music CDs. There's Scrabble, too.

Dinner by lamplight (no candles, the bush is too close) and another spell in the hot tub (complete with moonlight on the water) and we're ready for the comfortable bed and a good night's sleep. We can't bear to draw the curtains; the moonlight is too beautiful.

Breakfast is on the deck overlooking the water, watching the odd rowboat below and the occasional distant ferry. Then we head for the Dutch Bakkerij in town where the filled French sticks are as good as ever, plus their irresistible Dutch Twist sweet rolls. Then it's off over The Wedge on the winding – and by now windy – way to Governors Bay in Grove Arm, where a track leads down to one of the few public beaches in the Picton area.

Later, we go to Marlborough Sounds Adventure to catch up with Sara and Dave, the people who got us on our bikes just over a year ago in Portage. They're in temporary premises across from the inner harbour, waiting for one of the big new wharfside buildings under construction where Careys' Boatyard once stood. Picton has changed enormously since we first came here – but we still love it.

Where: Cariad Bach

Find it: In a small cove just outside Waikawa Bay, 5km east of Picton. cariadbach.co.nz

Basics: One queen bed, shower, cedar hot tub, galley kitchen, lounge, sunny deck. Mountain bikes and helmets, kayaks, dinghy, fishing gear. Broadband. No TV. Not suitable for wheelchairs. Good organic/spray-free food in the freezer for purchase if needed.

Cost: $120-$220 for up to two people, depending on time of year. Includes pick-up at ferry/airport if needed. Minimum summer stay: three nights.

The Dominion Post