Arguably one of the best things about living in Blenheim is the fact the Marlborough Sounds sit right on my doorstep. Sounds, as a geographical landscape, are an extensive network of sea-drowned valleys where forest meets the ocean, rising steeply to create an intricate coastline of sandy bays and sheltered inlets. In Maori tradition it is believed that Maui (a demigod) stood upon his Waka (Canoe) and with his enchanted fishhook hauled up the huge fish, which became the North Island whilst his Waka formed the South Island. The Marlborough Sounds form the northern tip of the South Island and are therefore known as ’Te Tau Ihu o the Waka-a-Maui’ or ‘the prow of Maui’s canoe’.
They are in general, a top tourist attraction when visiting New Zealand but due to the popularity of the Milford and Doubtful Sounds in the south, I believe the Marlborough Sounds often get over-looked and that is why I think those that have explored it are so lucky. Thankfully I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Marlborough Sounds on a number of occasions and last weekend I got to experience it in a way that many won’t, the proper kiwi way.
A friend of mine owns eighty hectares of land in the Sounds and he invited me, along with a few others, to go pig hunting. Wild pigs in New Zealand are seen as pests for the damage they cause to their land and this was exactly why we were going. Other than that it was pretty a good excuse to drink some beer and eat some good food in a stunning location. Although, arriving late on Friday night I wasn’t able to fully appreciate where we were staying until the next morning. However there was still one impressive sight that evening, the full size walk-in chiller fully stocked with bottles of ale and two kegs of beer feeding the bar in the lounge, not a bad setup for the weekend.
Early Saturday morning, even if I was slightly blurry eyed, the location did not disappoint. Not another building in sight, just forest seemingly growing from the water followed by valleys cascading back into it. It’s one thing to drive or take a scenic boat trip through the Sounds but to spend two days walking through the forest tracking pigs is a completely different and an altogether more authentic experience. Suddenly I was acutely aware that the Sounds are much more than just a tourist attraction or an Instagram photo opportunity, they are a way of life for many. My friend, a Maori who fully embraces his culture, has spent his entire life amongst his family land and his knowledge of it is incredible. I still have no idea how he ever knew where we were walking as we pushed through gorse bushes and climbed up the never-ending hills but there was never any doubt about which way to go. Couple this with the fact we had a few other guys with us who were pretty clued up on hunting pigs, one of whom had even published three books on the topic, it was always going to be a successful trip. All in all we caught four pigs but if I’m honest it wouldn’t have mattered to me if we hadn’t caught any. I was happy enough trekking through the forest or sitting on the back of a Ute taking in my surroundings. It was definitely a weekend for listening rather than talking and not just because Maori’s can spin a bloody good yarn but also because when people live a lifestyle and culture so different to my own, I find it fascinating to hear stories from their past and present.
For what is likely to be my last proper trip to the Sounds before I leave New Zealand, I couldn’t have asked for a better one.