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By Herb Christophers, December 22nd, 2011

Between Picton and Nelson on State Highway 6 in the Rai Valley, a turn off to the north that looks relatively inconspicuous opens up a world of opportunity. For some people in the know, it is an annual summer pilgrimage to access the calm waters of Marlborough Sounds and to get on to the bushy tracks that link many of the less accessible beaches. No wonder the area is popular among those who enjoy time by the sea. It’s all about adventure around every corner and camping opportunities in some lesser known locations. Once you are off State Highway 6 heading north, a turn to the right takes you to Tennyson Inlet (following the main road takes you through Okiwi Bay and beyond to French Pass).

Nydia Lodge Jetty

Elaine Bay

Getting to Okiwi Bay and beyond to French Pass is a journey that many campers take. On the way, there are other less distant camping options. One particular place is Elaine Bay that faces into Tennyson Inlet. This is an ideal place to launch a boat or kayak into the calm waters of the inlet and to cruise around the wider Pelorus Sound.

Elaine Bay

From Elaine Bay to the south east is Penzance which is accessible via a 10km walking or mountain bike track that hugs the coastline around the steep hills.  The views are great out to Maud Island and beyond, and hint of potential adventure around every little bay in the inlet. You can get to Penzance the easy way by road too – it’s that earlier right turn after you leave State Highway 6 in Rai Valley.

Elaine Bay is a standard DOC campsite with water on tap, toilets and other basic facilities for 20 tent sites. Cheap at $6.00 adult ($1.50 child)/night.

View from Red Point near Elaine Bay. Maud Island in the background

Closer in

There are great paddling daytrips throughout the Sounds. There is always somewhere sheltered to paddle and the trip can be as easy or hard as you like, determined by the distances between stops. One option from Elaine Bay would be to paddle out into the sheltered part of Tennyson Inlet to Tawa Bay campsite and explore further down the inlet to Matai Bay or further into Duncan Bay at the head of the inlet.

Duncan Bay

There are campsites at Harvey Bay near Duncan Bay and Tawa Bay. Like Penzance,  Harvey and Duncan Bays are accessible by road.  Tawa Bay is only accessible by boat or kayak. If you decided to stay overnight, there are tent sites at $6.00 adult ($1.50 child)/night.

Further out

Those of you who are a bit more adventurous and well prepared for longer overnight camping trips can paddle out along the Tawhitinui Reach and turn into the entrance of Pelorus Sound. From here it’s a haul to Jacobs Bay campsite which has 8 tent sites tucked in out of the prevailing wind at the sheltered northern end of Fairy Bay Scenic Reserve. After some time in the boat it is a great way to stretch your legs by walking around Dillon Bell Point into Fairy Bay. There is water and a loo at Jacobs Bay campsite and if you don’t want to go for a walk, you can paddle around exploring the adjacent shoreline or just fish off the jetty.

Nydia Track start at Duncan Bay

Next day, it’s a relatively sheltered paddle to Nydia campsite at the head of the scenic bay with further opportunities for walking.  The Nydia Track winds its way from Pelorus Sound to Tennyson Inlet and passes through Nydia Bay. A walk up to Kaiuma or Nydia Saddles will be rewarded with views back into the bay or beyond.

The view of Tennyson Inlet from Opouri Saddle

This is a shared track so don’t be surprised to see mountain bikers taking advantage of the great scenery and riding opportunities.  There are 8 tent sites at Nydia Bay and because there is only boat access or people on foot or bike, you will feel a lot more isolated without vehicles nearby. The campsite is on one side of the bay and Nydia Lodge is opposite. The bookable DOC lodge is particularly popular with school groups who have the chance to get away from the rigors of school life for a bit of time in the outdoors. Sounds good?  Sounds great!

The view into Nydia Bay from the Kaiuma Saddle

If the weather is favourable a paddle out of Nydia Bay to scenic Pipi Beach on the Hikapu Reach is on the cards. Pipi Beach is a great place to stooge around in the kayak and explore on shore and watch the boat traffic coming and going from Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds. There are four camp sites at Pipi Beach and it is at the heart of what it means to get away in the Sounds.

A return paddle north across Nydia Bay to Jacobs Bay will put you in a good place to get back to Elaine Bay the following day.

DOC manages about 40 camping opportunities in the Marlborough Sounds – many not accessible by road.  Much of the information about accessing these facilities is available on the DOC website, and Visitor Centres or i-Sites at Picton and Nelson can provide advice in person if you are looking for a bit of time on the water.

Buzz words usually get up my nostrils but one particular word strikes an accord with me because I like the active engaging process that is sounds like. That word is ‘Synergy’.

There is a lot of synergy between the Department of Conservation and volunteers. Without the energy and enthusiasm that volunteers bring to conservation work, many tasks that may be lower in priority, can get done and add real value to the overall conservation effort.

Volunteers relax during a days work.

Volunteers relax during a days work.

I did that!

It’s about making a positive difference. It could be painting a hut, planting a wetland, helping on a species recovery programme, clearing predator traps, being a hut warden and the list goes on. Being a conservation volunteer is about taking responsibility for your environment and having a good time into the bargain. The mutual benefits for DOC and volunteers are etched on the smiling faces of everyone involved.

A young volunteer chips in with tree planting.

A young volunteer chips in with tree planting.

Up up and away!

Volunteering may mean getting to places that are out of the way and almost inaccessible. Take the case of some keen rock climbers who, under normal circumstances, would never have gotten to the middle of Fiordland to climb. An opportunity arose to look at a rare lizard that lives on steep rock faces and to access the site, rock climbing skills were needed. The climbers were able to access the steep cliffs, bag some climbing and provide support to understanding a species that is known from only one site in the world! Now that’s a win-win, isn’t it?

On a less arduous scale, there are opportunities to work in visitor centres. Become involved in telling stories about landscapes, historic sites, natural values and other !!

Volunteer work isn't necessarily easy.

Volunteer work isn't necessarily easy.

Put your best foot forward!

So if pounding the pavements and sitting in an urban jungle doesn’t raise your pulse rate, click into the DOC website or contact your nearest DOC office and ask about volunteering opportunities. See you out there.


An isolated island archipelago in mid ocean with a relict population of plants and animals found nowhere else and under threat from invasive species. Does that sound familiar? Nahh!  Not New Zealand this time!

What’s natural?

The Azores are a group of volcanic islands in mid Atlantic and have small remnants of forest types that once covered much of the land around the Mediterranean Sea. These remnants are fragmented and scattered over the 9 main islands of this Portuguese autonomous region. The native plants and animals have taken a huge hit over the last 600 years of human occupation and live on the verge of oblivion with many already extinct from human induced activities. You know the story… Clear the land, bring in domesticated beasties to enable farming. Oh, and don’t forget a few unwanted hitch-hikers!

Indigenous Azorian forest remnant. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Indigenous Azorian forest remnant

What spins your wheels?

Still, the attractions in the Azores are stunning! The overlay of historic, cultural and natural attractions has put it among my favourite places on Earth – OK I haven’t been to Kazakhstan!

And weeds! Whoa! I was staggered to find so many of the weeds there are our dire enemies here too.  The cliffs are strewn with ginger, woolly tobacco weed and bamboo. The exotic forests are asserting themselves in the spread and conquer process and hydrangers are the adopted regional flower in spite of being a noxious weed.

Grapes, bananas and bamboo going wild. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Grapes, bananas and bamboo going wild


An interesting feature of the landscape was the use of New Zealand pohutukawa in main amenity areas. The islands are at the same latitude as Auckland and my guess is that the pohutukawa found their way back to the Azores with whalers in the 1800s. And, the former flax industry has left New Zealand’s  harakeke all over the main island.

Pohutukawa planted in a park on Sao Jorge. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Pohutukawa planted in a park on Sao Jorge

On the beaches, there is New Zealand spinach and on the shore line there are karaka trees and cabbage trees.

New Zealand spinach on the rocky shore. Photo: Herb Christophers.

New Zealand spinach on the rocky shore

In spite of any degradation in the original natural state of the region there is a fierce pride in retention of the remaining natural values and there are the same tensions we have here. You can imagine that power supplies on an island archipelago are difficult. Wind power is going full tilt ahead on the islands to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Dairy farming has intensified (the cheese is magnificent!) but cows dot the upland landscape to fill out the postcard quotas. The grapes eek out an existence in harsh conditions and produce good rich wines from rough volcanic soils. Quality water is at a premium.

So next time you are thinking that New Zealand is the only island archipelago with major invasive pest problems, give a though for the Azores and pop in to mid Atlantic to say Hola! They would love to see you.