Some time to spare
Earlier in November, for not the first time in our travels around the South Island, we found ourselves in an unexpected place with a lot of time on our hands. The Marlborough Sounds are a convoluted maze of sunken river valleys, and are quite striking when viewed on a map. To do all the waterways justice you’d need a week in a sailboat or a lifetime in a kayak, but we did our best on shore in some fickle spring weather.
After paying our former hometown of Blenhiem a brief visit, we drove a curvy road— the first of many in the next few days— to a campsite across the road from a rocky bay. The tidepools were festooned with mussels and, as it was approaching dinnertime, we decided to collect some for an appetizer. Being not completely sure of the legality of harvesting and the correct cooking method, we plucked only three from the rocks and fried them up in breadcrumbs and salt and pepper.
Mussels have a somewhat disturbing appearance that makes you wonder who first picked one up and thought, “yeah, I think I’ll eat this.” They also require a cleaning step called “debearding,” which is never a term you want applied to something you are going to consume. Anyways, they were quite good and we made a note to do more research on the collection and cooking of the little buggers.
Once again, however, dark clouds rolled in after sunset, and soon it began to rain. And rain. It completely flooded our tent, soaking our sleeping bags. To make a bad situation pretty much unbearable, hordes of mosquitoes found refuge in the gap between our tent and our fly, and swarmed in every time we unzipped the tent door. Not cool.
The next morning dawned with tentative sunshine that illuminated the hundreds of mosquitoes we had massacred during the night. On the drive back to town, the morning light brightened our spirits and delivered a photo-worthy rainbow. We like to think it was nature’s way of apologizing for the malicious deeds of the night before.
Taking advantage of the break in the bad weather, we snuck in a quick hike up part of the 71 kilometer long Queen Charlotte Track to a sunny lookout. From the top, narrow channels unfurled in all directions, looking more like woodland lakes than part of the ocean.
That afternoon, as we passed through Havelock, “the greenshell mussel capital of the world” for the fourth time in three days, we figured it was high time to sample some shellfish done right. We sipped beers on the sunny deck while a chef steamed them in a lemon, butter, white wine and garlic sauce. Delicious. We’ve since mastered cooking them ourselves (mostly by copying his sauce combination) and now purchase our own from the grocery store at a tenth the restaurant price.
Despite the ominous sky the following day, we embarked on another walk in Tennyson Inlet, a rather infrequently traveled part of the sounds. Fallen sticks lay over the path, slate grey clouds hung just above the hilltops, and a stiff wind whipped up the water. It was like a moody and forgotten version of the Abel Tasman Coast Walk we explored a month before.
There is something to be said for slowing down once in awhile. Similar to our two weeks in northern Queensland, a few extra days in the Sounds allowed us to discover a quieter corner of the world. But, soon enough, our week was up. It was time to move on, get to work, and have a roof over our heads.