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Swinging slowly in a wide hammock suspended between two tree ferns, shaded by their lush green canopies and overlooking blue seawater, I could see stingrays slowly gliding just beneath the surface.
The only distraction from the peace was a particularly angry Paradise Duck, which had just successfully scattered a small mob of sheep nearby.
We were at Lochmara Lodge, an impossibly scenic eco and art retreat located just minutes from Picton by boat.
In our case, that boat was the luxury cruiser Tarquin, which had first taken us from its dock in Picton to explore the coves and inlets of Grove Arm in Queen Charlotte Sound. Most visitors see this place only from the road that winds along the hillsides, Queen Charlotte Drive, and we enjoyed a different perspective from the sea – specifically Tarquin’s beautifully upholstered back deck lounge. Dark green bush, punctuated by tree ferns, spilled from high hilltops onto rocky outcrops and white beaches were almost empty, bar a couple of kayakers.
As we glided over the shimmering surface of the Marlborough Sounds waters - so still we couldn’t feel a swell - we stood on Tarquin’s deck to survey the stunning scenery. We were treated to beautifully-prepared gourmet nibbles, with the promise of fresh seafood and crisp local sauvignon blanc to come.
Tarquin’s skipper and guide provided interesting commentary and pointed out local wildlife including birds and stingrays, common at this time of year.
Pulling up at Lochmara’s jetty, we were invited to explore the retreat’s many bush walks and enjoy the art and sculptures that dot the forest, providing surprises at every corner. Or, as I did, we set out to find one of the plentiful hammocks that are strategically placed to soak in the best views.
We also visited Lochmara’s underwater observatory where we could see the stingrays feeding nearby - the lodge owner even invited us to feed the stingrays ourselves, if we dared.
Back onboard Tarquin, our skipper took us to another unique ocean experience, mere minutes away: Feeding tame cod at Double Cove, a small marine reserve.
Then it was onwards to view a King Salmon farm, which also took in more of the Marlborough Sounds for us to enjoy. Our skipper pointed out basking fur seals on the rocky headlands, and even a little blue penguin bobbing in the small waves.
At the salmon farm, Tarquin was able to get right up close so we could see its operation firsthand, while our guide explained the breeding and raising processes of these King Salmon, which we could see swimming within the enclosures suspended in natural seawater.
Next we pulled up near a beautiful secluded golden beach to take a stroll and soak in the sunshine, before heading back onboard to be treated to an exquisite lunch of - what else - King Salmon and other perfectly fresh local seafood onboard Tarquin. Obviously, given we were in wine country, it would’ve been some kind of vintner crime not to accompany the gourmet food with delicious chilled Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
Full and satisfied, we were utterly relaxed as we reclined on Tarquin’s outdoor sun deck for the return journey to Picton. Yes, just once more glass of sauv please.
It was amazing to think we’d been gone for only a few hours, yet seen, experienced and tasted so much of the Marlborough Sounds.
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