Picton is one of Marlborough's main entrance ways but many people hurry through it on their way to somewhere else. Reporter ANGELA CROMPTON checks out leisure activities offered to guests at Essons Valley Farmstay B&B.
Time can be short for holiday-makers who set themselves on whirlwind tours around New Zealand's top tourist hot spots. "Slow down" is the advice Nine and Sara Schotanus give to guests who stay with them at Essons Valley. More can be enjoyed over a few days in a microcosm of New Zealand, they say, than dashing through many regions over the same period of time.
Mrs Schotanus was born in England and Mr Schotanus in the Netherlands, but both love living in New Zealand and enjoy giving guests a taste of Kiwi life.
"We want them to have the best possible time," Mr Schotanus says.
When I visited last week, I didn't book for one of Mrs Schotanus' pottery sessions or a seat on Mr Schotanus' boat to enter the Marlborough Sounds for a swim with the seals or do an introductory scuba-diving lesson.
But I walked with Mrs Schotanus through her art studio where samples of her works are joined on its shelves by those from other local artists. Tables and work benches fill space at the other end of the shed, where she runs workshops for B&B guests and weekly evening classes for local enthusiasts.
"I'm having so much more fun now than when I was at art school in my 20s," she laughs.
That was in Britain and after graduating, she had tried to teach pottery to high-school students for a few years.
"I hated it so much that I became a secretary for an architectural team and never intended teaching again." Then she met Mr Schotanus and they set up a business applying gold leaf to picture frames and curtain rails for well-off clients. The work was lucrative but intense and one day Mr Schotanus said he wanted to quit and learn to scuba dive.
"What's in it for me?" Mrs Schotanus had asked and he suggested she return to pottery.
In 2004, the couple and their two young daughters came to New Zealand and eventually bought the 24ha Essons Valley property.
Covered in blocks of pine forest, native bush and paddock grass where alpaca, highland and conventional cattle graze, it is a world away from what they knew in Britain. By sharing it with others, the Schotanuses can keep living the dream. Guests' accommodation is a large double bedroom on the ground floor of the family home. Visitors can use an adjacent bathroom or lounge around in an outdoor wooden jacuzzi. In the mornings, Mrs Schotanus serves Continental or English-style breakfasts upstairs. The guests who stayed the night before had ordered an early breakfast. "They wanted to eat at 6.30am," Mrs Schotanus sighs. She made sure she had everything ready.
Mr Schotanus is home now and brings a pot of tea out to the deck with one of the handbooks people receive when wanting to scuba dive. It comes with a medical declaration for prospective divers to fill in.
Introductory lessons are given to beginners on the beach, then they test the gear in shallow water. People can expect to dive in depths of 12 metres for 40-minute underwater adventures.
Mr Schotanus also holds a "swim with the seals" licence for people who prefer to just swim or snorkel. He describes the large sea mammals as intelligent and eager to play when encountering humans in the water.
Back at the bed and breakfast, guests can take a 15-minute walk to downtown Picton or venture along the valley's walkways. Return trips can be done in just an hour and a half, but panoramic views and the chance to see glow worms, wild goats and possums take them far from urban ways. "A lot of people are very stressed by their daily life," Mrs Schotanus says. "They get here and they relax and really have the best time."
- The Marlborough Express