A great way to explore the Sounds

00:15, Jan 09 2012
My turn: Marlborough Express reporter Tania Butterfield guides the boat out of Dillon Bell Point

I've lived in Picton for more than a year now and thought I had seen and experienced the best the Marlborough Sounds has to offer. I was wrong.

I had never heard of Waterways Boating Safaris until a few months ago, but discovering this unique tourism company was like discovering the key to an untouched world.

So it's no wonder Lonely Planet online ranks the attraction No1 of things to do in Marlborough, No8 of things to do in New Zealand and No10 of things to do in the Pacific.

Clear water: Looking at stingray in Chance Bay on a Waterways Boating Safari. And, right, the Waterways Boating Safari tour ends as we all come into Mahau Sound.

The concept is simple – take a group of people out in fizz boats (two to a boat), let them drive it themselves (in New Zealand you do not need a licence to drive a boat, although children under the age of 15 must be supervised), and show them the more remote sights of the Marlborough Sounds.

Myself and fellow reporter Simon Wong joined honeymooners Rumesh Piyasira and Ann De Silva, from Palmerston North, and Cliff and Karen Benford and their sons George, 14, and Max, 11, from Portugal, on a full-day tour led by Waterways Boating Safari owner Leicester Ball.

"You need to sign this form because the law requires us to have the names of all those we intend to drown," Leicester jokes as we start going through the boating rules and how to start the engine.


We trade in our shoes for a bright pair of sandals and get ready to wade into the water with our boats.

Half an hour later, we're zooming across the Mahau Sound and into the Kenepuru Sound for a look at rugged "tropical forest" type bushline.

It's amazing when you do a 360 and look at the land that spans for miles. Some of it is native bush, other parts are pine forests and others farming land. Parts of the Sound make me wonder whether Steven Spielberg got his inspiration for Jurassic Park from here.

I take over driving the boat and am amazed how easy it is. It's a great feeling to have the wind running over your face and jumping the wake of the boat in front of you is surprisingly fun.

We lead the other boats through Hikapu Reach and stop to look at the mussel farms that span the area.

It's so peaceful. The water is so smooth it looks like a dark marble floor. You could just get off the boat and walk across.

We drive close to the shoreline in Chance Bay and the water is so clear you can see schools of fish and a couple of sleeping stingrays.

Lunch at Fairy Bay is followed by a walk around to Dillon Bell to see the untamed New Zealand forest.

The rest of the afternoon was all about boating. We surf the waves and surf each other's wake. It was like an amusement park ride. We stop to look at a couple of Little Blue Penguins before making our way back to Mahau Sound.

Leicester said it was a busy day in the Sounds – we saw a whole three boats! The best part of being out in the Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds was there were no ferries to contend with, no fishing boats, water taxis, yachts. It's just you and the water. A tour like this really is the best way to experience the Sounds.

The Marlborough Express