Creative retreat in the Sounds
Sprawled in a hammock hung between trees is how I spent much of a four-day stay at Lochmara Lodge in Queen Charlotte Sound.
Lochmara Lodge Wildlife Recovery and Arts Centre is a hammock heaven, with 35 strung about the 4.5 hectare hillside site, 15 minutes' boat-ride from Picton. It is possible to experience guilt-free indulgence, knowing that when the credit card is swiped at the end of your stay a percentage of the bill will fund conservation projects here.
Wellington friend Natasha and I came to Lochmara with pencils and paper, paints, cameras, books and togs. Natasha, who plays with an orchestra also took her violin, so she could practise for a concert the following weekend.
Everything we packed got good use. We drew and painted every day, comparing results over a gin and tonic each evening. One hot morning we headed out in kayaks – available free to guests – to a deserted beach for a swim.
Even the violin came out of its case, with Natasha performing in the farmyard. An audience of hens and roosters pecked indifferently at the ground but a wandering boar nodded in time and appeared to smile as she plucked "pigzacatto".
On the boat home, a staff member told Natasha he had enjoyed the drift of the mellow music and invited her to join him in a jam session at the lodge.
Lochmara inspires creativity with dozens of sculptures scattered about the beach and bush. These include mysterious punga people carved into tree fern trunks by Shayne Olsen during the 13 years he and partner Louise Bright have run the lodge, originally as a backpackers' hostel but now catering for a more upmarket clientele with 14 chalets and a restaurant.
Last winter Shayne added three tall, carved figures painted a Windsor blue.
The hillside and lodge buildings double as a gallery of works by visiting and resident artists, some serious and others quirky, like the steel stick insect climbing a power pole and a bicycle with a lawn-mower reel as its back wheel. Paintings displayed in the lodge's gallery, restaurant and rooms are all for sale.
With a fridge in our room, we brought our own breakfasts and lunches but splashed out on dinner in the Lochmara restaurant. This was fine dining with a focus on local seafood and wines. Our favourite was oysters marinated in lemon juice, a mouth-filling blast of flavour and freshness.
Conservation is a key theme at Lochmara, which during winter employs staff to trap bird predators such as ferrets, stoats, possums and rats. Testament to this programme are abundant tui, their self-satisfied harumphs followed by fluid peals of song as they fly from treetop to treetop, then hurtle down to bury their beaks in nectar-filled coastal flax flowers.
Lochmara's Wildlife Recovery Centre breeds native kakariki, weka, weta and geckos. Natasha and I took up the invitation to feed the kakariki, which settled on our hands to scuff and peck at the grain we held.
Shayne showed us a recently opened rehabilitation room where injured wildlife is nursed back to health in partnership with the Department of Conservation.
A display on the Lochmara jetty sets out the Wildlife Trust's plans for a marine research and education centre where blue cod will be bred for future release.
Shayne and Louise welcome local visitors to their lodge with season passes selling at $109 for adults and $55 for kids, offering unlimited travel to Lochmara and entry to the art and wildlife centres.
The Marlborough Express