© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

A Marlborough Sounds Cruise to Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary

© NZPocketGuide.com

248 Days on the Road

Another day in the Marlborough Sounds means another day in paradise! We rock up to the Beachcomber base at Picton Wharf dressed in our thinnest and coolest attire expecting a scorcher of a day like we have had the last two weeks. Rookie mistake in New Zealand… Rookie mistake. Nevertheless, we are heading to a bird sanctuary isolated on an island at the other end of the Marlborough Sounds, so we are too excited to care right now!

After a quick safety briefing, we hop onto a spacious catamaran called “Tiri Cat” with an open-top viewing deck, open back and a nice and cosy inside seating area with tea and coffee.

Bay-hopping to dramatic weather changes in the Marlborough Sounds

Although the bird sanctuary, Motuara Island, is the highlight for our trip today, we will get a glimpse of other Marlborough Sound bays as we drop other passengers to start hikes such as the Queen Charlotte Track. First up, it’s Torea Bay to drop off the first load of passengers. From our other trips into the Marlborough Sounds, including a Mail Boat Cruise we also did with Beachcomber a few months ago, we think morning is the most magical time to see the sounds. This is the time when you see the most dramatic changes, from the sun rising over the towering hills that make the arms of the sounds to the change in cloud formations.

There are some epic cloud patterns to be seen intertwining between the lush green mountains and hanging above the ocean. However, these clouds are getting denser, thicker and darker the closer the further down the sounds we go. It’s pretty comical to see the beautiful sunny day in Picton falling behind as we approach an uncertain darkness in the sky. Oh shit, shorts were NOT a good idea. Always assume the weather is going to change in New Zealand and ALWAYS be prepared!

A bottlenose dolphins encounter!

Our thoughts of being rather chilly around the legs are completely washed away by the sighting of a huge pod of bottlenose dolphins! The skipper slows the Tiri Cat down so that we can get a better look. The huge species of dolphins glide under the bow of the boat, popping up every so often for photos. We even see a couple of tiny babies – such a “N’awww” moment. As we speed off to leave the dolphins behind, they have a “whale” of a time using the wake to leap out of the water.

Wildlife encounter #1: check! Now we are on the final stretch to Motuara Island for hopefully heaps more wildlife encounters.

Hanging out at the watering hole

After about an hour out on the water, we arrive at the Motuara Island, a forest completely covered in dense native forest. It looks rugged. It looks wild! We can’t wait to explore.

We have one hour on the island – that’s more than enough time to do a walk to the summit of the island which promises sensational views. Sure, that’s the plan for us too when we hop on the jetty and start following the well-formed track up into the island’s forest, but when we find a little watering hole with an elevated seating area around it, we instantly decide to change our plan. Obviously this seating area is surrounding the watering hole because there is something to see here! Instead of walking to the summit, we sit here at the watering hole to see if anything shows up.

The South Island Robin is a little too intrigued by our 360 camera…

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Little cheeky visitors

Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, we are visited by some super inquisitive South Island robins! These cute little black-feathered birds with a white breast and lanky legs hop around us, jumping onto our backpack and Robin’s shoes. Despite what we like to believe, the birds are not necessarily attracted to us, but they are keen for a dip in the watering hole to give themselves a bath. Man, it’s so awesome to watch.

Songbirds, rare birds and clumsy birds

Although the South Island robin is our most common visitors today, they are certainly not the only ones. The beautiful melodious sounds chorusing through the forest finally make their way closer to us as we see the bellbird, a small green bird with a blue face and legs. A few of those come for a wash, soon to be joined by a grey warbler – another songbird. We are quite surprised by a medium-sized bird that we are not sure what it is until our information sheet given to us by Beachcomber tells us it’s a saddleback.

Not everything happens in the watering hole though, a few clumsy wing-flapping sounds above draw our attention to the kereru, the New Zealand wood pigeon. Laughing sounds in the canopy attract quick glimpses of the parrot-like kakariki. Finally, a forest visit is not complete without the happy and chirpy fantail.

Onto Ship Cove!

Personally, we think that was an hour well-spent. We hear the boat, a different Beachcomber vessel, arrive at the jetty, we haul ass to the boat. Next stop, Ship Cove!

A historical place

Now we move onto a more historical part of our trip. Ship Cove is significant both in Maori and European history, which the cove signifies with various monuments and information panels around the cove. Beautifully carved pouwhenua (wooden poles) represent the Queen Charlotte Sound’s discovery by the great Polynesian explorer, Kupe. Picnic benches shaped like waka (canoes) and a gorgeously-decorated footbridge are more Maori-themed pieces around Ship Cove.

A huge white concrete monument with a couple of canons around it signifies the visit of Ship Cove by English explorer, Captain James Cook. Ship Cove is said to be the captain’s favourite base during his three voyages of exploration. He anchored here for 170 days on a couple of different occasions. Information panels at the back of the monument go into great depth so you can learn more about the history of Ship Cove.

We get 30 minutes to enjoy the historic and peaceful bay where a weka, a cheeky and flightless bird, is pecking around our backpack. With the ocean quietly rolling onto a shore lined with tree ferns, we definitely get why Captain Cook liked it here so much.

Back to sunny Picton

Getting ourselves comfortable with a cup of tea back on the boat, it’s a pretty lengthy journey back to sunny Picton, giving us time to reminisce on another amazing day on the Marlborough Sounds. From Picton Wharf, it’s back to our accommodation, the Tombstone Backpackers, to enjoy the sun while lying on the loungers looking over the town.

Tomorrow, we are backtracking to Blenheim for a visit to the Marlborough Museum. Join us then!

Arriving at the Ship Cove monument to Captain Cook

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Want more?

Have you read yesterday post’s when we swam with stingrays?! You might also want to take a look at these articles:

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See you tomorrow!