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The calm, glassy waters of the Marlborough Sounds

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One of the many mussel farms in the Pelorus Sound

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Buoy, are these useful as sunning spots for a seal

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Dolphins are regularly sighted on the Pelorus Mail Boat run

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Yealands Estate Wines' stunning property

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Wine and dine with a gorgeous view at the Brancott Estate restaurant overlooking its vineyard

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The Sounds' residents often bring their dogs - and the occasional pig

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Fresh and delicious local produce and seafood

Sounds Perfect

It may be remote, but New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds more than makes up for it with stunning scenery, while the rest of the Marlborough region is known for its award-winning wines, as Corinne Kerk learns.
Dec 3, 2016 5:50 AM

WHAT do you do when you're living in a remote part of the world where power comes out of a home-made hydro-electric generator and there are neither roads nor cell phone coverage (horrors), much less a supermarket?

In the stunningly beautiful but sparsely-populated Marlborough Sounds on the north-eastern end of New Zealand's South Island, your lifeline may well be the mail boat that comes by faithfully every week.

Along with the snail mail, the Pelorus Mail Boat - one of the last of its kind in the world and which celebrates its 100th year of service in 2017 - carries supplies, books for the home-schooled kids, visitors and sometimes an animal or two, to the Pelorus Sound.

The Pelorus Sound is one of three main bodies of water that make up the Marlborough Sounds - the other two being Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds - and only a small number of locals live on its lush, steep hills surrounded by a network of flooded river valleys.

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This is a place unlike any other, with its sheltered inlets, serene bays, calm waters and tiny beaches. The Sound's residents are hardy folks accustomed to living off the land and working with their hands in their isolated homesteads.

It's a tough but bucolic lifestyle they've chosen, not least because the marvels of the latest tech gadget simply can't touch the incredible experience of actually living amidst such glorious, rugged land masses and amazing variety of wildlife.

Thanks to the Pelorus Mail Boat - skippered by Jim Baillie - visitors can join the mail run and meet some of the residents while learning a bit about their history. There are colourful characters of course, such as the 73-year-old zoologist who runs his mussel farm and built much of his equipment - including a windmill - himself.

Throughout the day-long mail run, you will likely encounter all sorts of fascinating birds and sea life. According to Mr Baillie, dolphins are spotted on 70 per cent of the trips. True enough, we had the pleasure of a large pod of the animals swimming playfully around us at one point.

Meanwhile, the 500-plus mussel farms in the Sound, whose rows of floats are prime sunning spots for seals, have made the little township of Havelock - from which the mail boat departs - the Greenshell Mussel capital of the world.

But while the mail boat ride is the highlight of a Marlborough visit, most tourists spend their time in the region's wineries.

Marlborough is New Zealand's premier wine district, with its Sauvignon Blanc winning international acclaim. The region produces 77 per cent of the country's wines and has more than 40 cellar doors at which visitors can enjoy wine tastings and tours. Some wineries run their own restaurants, so you can enjoy delicious meals including fresh local produce, seafood and lamb.

Of course, the recent earthquake has had some impact on the region's wineries. There are reports of some damage with tanks and barrels, but thankfully, it appears that the destruction was not severe. Cellar doors remain open and business is back to usual at this time of year - its busy summer season.

As we all know, the South Island is for those who love large open spaces, plenty of nature and lots of fresh food - as well as blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds. With Marlborough's gorgeous scenery and relaxing pace of life, it remains a fantastic destination for a much-needed getaway.