Winter in Marlborough

VISA News: We got an extension!  It feels like the mother of all extensions. We requested to stay until June 30th of 2022 and we got it!  That is a relief. Now I can stop fretting about getting kicked out of the country or, having to depart via Banyan, unvaccinated, in bad weather to who-knows-which COVID exposed country (with or withouth a robust healthcare system). These were never well-founded fears but the mind does tend to wander. Still... it is a relief. 

Summer-in-winter flew by and, appropriately, we were are all a bit bored and ready for some stimulation. Marlborough Sounds can be packed in summer, with boats from Wellington, Nelson, and Picton whizzing around, fishing out the good spots, and taking up the moorings. In winter, as it has been during the girls’ “summer” break from school, there is hardly anyone there! We spent most nights in anchorages or on moorings with no one in sight. Cameron and the girls spent hours fishing for cod and coming home flush with fish and stories about the wildlife. We had to work hard to find good walks, but usually found a trail or something like, so we could drag the girls up to the viewpoint and get our hearts pumping. The scenery, as usual, was stunning.

Views from the hilltops – Marlborough Sounds

Our track took us from the interior of Queen Charlotte Sound, out to Ship’s Cove, and surrounding anchorages, then back along the southern arm, working our way back in toward Picton (where the grocery store is). We didn’t come close to exploring all the anchorages; there are so many to choose from! We were usually in search of anchorages with the most sun and the best cellular so we could keep up with the girls’ ZOOM music lessons. With the sounds lying more or less north-south, the tall mountains on the west, which boast the well-known Queen Charlotte Track, shade the thin winter sun in evening and the eastern mountains shade the morning sun.

That said, the weather has been mild aside from a few cracking storms. A medium-weight coat and a good hat are all that is usually required. During those few raucous wind storms, we were tucked up into the well-sheltered anchorages. For one of the major wind events, we had left Banyan in Waikawa to do a house sitting job in Mapua (not far from Nelson). The wind whipped through Waikawa (as it is said to do) and we were lucky to be on a well-maintained mooring. Banyan definitely sailed around while we were gone as was evident by a few things strewn across the cabin sole upon our return.

You might note the slip just below the trail where the wind and rain had threatened to wash the trail away – in several places it did!
A little surprise along the trail near Picton
we found several of these little fairy houses along that trail – so sweet.

With hardly anyone in the sounds, our social lives were a tad bleak. Our solitude was broken only by our time with SV Otama, a boat with which we shared an anchorage in Doubtful Sound during our time in Fiordland. It was lovely to see them and reconnect. Aside from our time with them though, we’ve had A LOT of family time.

The girls have been extremely patient having encountered no kid boats since we left the North Island. We’ve built community through the Suzuki camps, which has been great, but we haven’t convinced any of those folks to buy a boat and buddy boat with us around NZ. After a few weeks of fishing, baking, reading, playing music, and making lots of fish and chips, I was getting a little antsy.

Our friends, SV Otama
Gurnard, a beautiful and tasty fish.
Isa’s passion for fishing has grown. She goes fishing with Cameron for hours and comes back cold and ecstatic with the stories of their adventures. Here is their line-up of blue cod with a sea perch. These catchs were mixed with baracuda, eels, and sharks that were released.
Picton Marina in the morning fog. Banyan is just there at the very end of the dock while we dropped in to get water and groceries.
The outer Queen Charlotte, looking out to Cook Strait.

With the VISA under our belt, it feels a bit easier to plan ahead, and with a full year to look forward to we are ready to make some decisions. We’ve completed our circumnavigation of the South Island (YAY), and we’ve sailed around most of the North Island (just that pesky southeastern coast to tackle), so we aren’t feeling the pull to explore new places. We’ve decided to settle in and take advantage of some of the things that landlubbers take for granted.

At least we have circumnavigated something!
Adelaide at the bow as we sailed to Pelorus Sound on our way to Nelson
Lobster krill clouds under the water. These red krill were everywhere for a while.
Adelaide releasing a small shark amongst the krill. All the fish we caught had been feasting on these little guys.

The hardest part of life in the last few months has not been the solitude or the uncertainty, it has been missing family. We had to celebrate Cameron’s sister Kim’s wedding from afar which was really hard for all of us. My family had two get-togethers, celebrating my niece’s graduation from high school and a lovely memorial in the mountains for my grandmother. Yes, we could get on a plane and go home, but because we’ve been in NZ so long, we wouldn’t be allowed back into the country for 18 months. Given COVID, it’s hard to know if the border would be open to noncitizens even after that time. In all practicality, it would mean selling Banyan and moving back to the US. None of us can wrap our heads around that quite yet so… in the meantime, we are turning into little kiwis (apart from wearing short sleaved sweatshirts and going everywhere barefoot year-round).

So the little town of Nelson is our chosen spot to straddle land and sea. We are on the dock (at least for three months which is the marina’s limit for visitors)! It is a lovely little town – not too touristy, big enough to have some cool things like museums and orchestras, and small enough to run into friends most times you head into town. The Library is a 15-minute walk from the boat, great for school research! It also boasts the highest sunlight hours of anywhere in New Zealand. After our summer in Fiordland, which was much more like another winter, we are excited to warm up.

We bought a little run-around car, visited the recycle center and picked up a few cheap bikes, and are exploring the area. We have friends here from California as well as friends we have made along the way either in the boating world or the Suzuki community. Adelaide’s piano teacher is here so she is enjoying the ability to play on a real piano and Isa has joined the community and youth orchestras and is full to the brim with new music to master. I signed us all up for Karate classes as a new challenge and a physical outlet; we are all getting better at shouting and bowing.

Life was rocking along at an alarmingly new pace when another lockdown hit. You may have heard of it in the news. Happily, there are no cases on the South Island yet so we are hopeful that our area will go back to normal soon, but time will tell. In the meantime, the girls have started up school again and I’ve been working more on my little wine brand Red Mare Wines. Cameron keeps busy working on the boat, networking a bit in the close-knit wine community here, and planning some bigger boat projects.

Hoping that all of you are well and safe. Until Next Time!


  1. Marianne McGriff says:

    Hi, Banyon Crew
    Thank you for the news and pics. Yay on the Visa Extension!!!!!!!!
    I LOVE your plan on ‘settling in.’ Yes, I read about the one Covid case and wondered how it might affect you.
    I’m planning to host a baby shower for Kim in September. Maybe, we can Zoom you girls in!!!!!!!
    Carver and I send our love and Blessings,

    • Cameron says:

      Zooming in sounds great! You’re too good to the Vawter Clan! Carver did a great job on his TV appearance. So proud of both of you!

  2. Douglas Vawter says:

    To our mixed up “landlubbers”!! Bought a car, WOW, what is next on the unexpected continuum?! Will probably be a good experience after the lock down is canceled. I’m sure you will enjoy a little continuity of schedule. Thanks for the beautiful pictures. New Zealand is a wonderful country with a little isolation to the world —— which is really messed up at this time! Love to All.

  3. Karen says:

    Beautiful pictures, and nice catches Isa and Adelaide!
    We are wrapping up a pretty long, hot summer, thankfully it has rained this week so the air is cleaner, nearby fires are under control and the temps are cooler! J gets her second Pfizer shot today and starts school Wednesday!
    Love and miss you guys

    • Cameron says:

      Oh boy! Back to school for J! I’m sure she’s ready. Glad the air is clearing up, winter will be upon you soon. Love you all!

  4. Ruth says:

    Praise God for your VISA. I was so excited to see the pictures. The landscape is beautiful. The girls are growing so fast. Your adventures are interesting. Thanks for sharing. God guide and continue to bless you with all you need and want. Love you all dearly. Aunt Ruth Esther

    • Cameron says:

      Thank you Aunt Ruth! We appreciate all the prayers and send many towards your girls and Uncle Nick as well! Love to the fam!

  5. Michele H says:

    Love the photos, and “seeing” where you are… and your map showing where you have been. Wow the water is an amazing colour in those “lobster krill” photos … shame you can’t eat them too !!

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