Pelorus Mail Boat

If you want to experience a very unique slice of rural living on the South Island in New Zealand you should consider taking a trip on the Pelorus Mail Boat.

March 2018 Update to Readers:
My wife and I had the opportunity to do the Pelorus Mail Boat tour a second time during our March 2018 trip to New Zealand. The article below is based on our first experience with this tour and readers need to be aware that some significant changes to the tour have been put into place. These changes are not reflected in this original article and may, or may not, impact your decision to take the tour.

The Pelorus Mail Boat tour is now done using a larger vessel. The tour is now shorter in terms of actual time spent on the water. There is now an off-boat stop at a local bay (depending on which day of the week and weather conditions) as well as about an hour-long lunch stop (with a potential farm visit or the opportunity to pre-purchase a lunch). These two stops consume close to 1.5 hours of cruising time. Some people may enjoy these ‘on-shore’ stops, others may not. The cruise now leaves at 10 AM with a scheduled return at 4:30 PM (our latest cruise experience returned us to the dock at 4 PM). Our first cruise experience went from 9:30 AM through to 5:30 PM with no ‘off boat’ stops so the total time cruising on the water was about 8 hours. The revised cruise experience has about 4.5-5 hours of actual cruising time.

During the second cruise, the boat travelled at a much higher speed in open water which made photography more difficult when compared to our first cruise experience. There was no discernible attempt made by the crew to find and show us any wildlife on the second cruise. This could have been impacted by seasonality, as the spring is a much better time to view wildlife than is the fall.

Depending on your personal interests you may still enjoy the Pelorus Mail Boat tour in its revised format, but you need to be aware of changes made to the tour as they are not reflected in this original article. Since I was expecting the opportunity to see and photograph a lot of wildlife, as was the case during our first tour experience, for me the second tour was a personal disappointment. The revised tour format may be a good experience for you, especially if you want to stretch your legs while visiting a bay and see a working farm or have the opportunity to buy a lunch and stop to consume it.  Return to the original article…

During our recent trip to New Zealand my wife and I joined a couple of dozen other tourists on the Friday Mail Run, which travels the greatest distance of three Mail Runs the boat makes each week.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-160

The boat leaves from the dock in Havelock which is located at the Head of the Pelorus Sound.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD @ 10.6mm, efov 28.6mm, 1/80, f/5.6, ISO-160

The Pelorus Mail Boat is quite comfortable with interior seating, an open observation deck, and a partially protected rear deck.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD @ 10.6mm, efov 28.6mm, 1/800, f/5.6, ISO-160

Our tour was a full day from 9:30AM through to about 5:30PM. Light refreshments are served, but unless you’re in a fasting mode you’ll need to bring a lunch with you.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 48mm, efov 130mm, 1/160, f/6.3, ISO-160

You’ll see plenty of interesting scenery while the Pelorus Mail Boat does its deliveries of mail and groceries to area residents along the various waterways.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO-400

The crew is very knowledgeable about the local history as well as the sea mammals and marine birds that live in the area.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 162mm, efov 437mm, 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO-360

We really appreciated the fact that the tour progressed at a leisurely pace which was very relaxing. The crew was more than accommodating when any wildlife was spotted and altered their course so we could see the various animals as close up as possible.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO-2000

I was able to capture images of fur seals, penguins, Australasian gannets, fluttering shearwaters, a few species of shags like the spotted shag below, and the rare King Shag. We also saw dolphins but I was busy photographing the birds and didn’t get any photographs of the dolphins.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 173mm, efov 467mm, 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO-900

The Pelorus Mail Boat has a number of tours available with the Mail Runs going on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Each mail day has a different route. The adult price of the Mail Run was $128 NZ which we found represented good value given the duration and quality of the cruise, and the friendly and knowledgeable crew. If you plan on visiting the South Island of New Zealand and want to experience a unique slice of rural life, the Pelorus Mail Boat is something to seriously consider.

If you enjoyed this article you may want to have a look at New Zealand Tip-to-Tip. This 250 page eBook features 89 locations in New Zealand and over 400 original photographs. You can use the link to see more detailed information about the eBook. The cost of New Zealand Tip-to-Tip is $12.99 Canadian.


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Article and all images are Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use.

3 thoughts on “Pelorus Mail Boat”

  1. unique is right – what a delightful trip that must have been! I love the color of the water in the last photo. That bird has a neat looking pot-a-dot texture on his feathers. Wonderful rocky shoreline in photo number five!

    1. Hi Joni,
      Yes…lots of interesting things to see and photograph. The crew was great – very knowledgeable and accommodating. We did this tour on the final day we spent on the South Island and it was a wonderful way to end that portion of our journey.

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