The satiny deep blue water of Queen Charlotte Sound gleamed with photo-shoot-ready perfection. Picton had dawned bright and brilliant; families were taking the air on the velvety lawned waterfront, while perky cafes were humming with trade in their horse-shoe curve edging the harbour, crowned by the creamy-coloured war memorial.
Whether you're looking for a quick dip with Queen Charlotte or a more extended foray, there's an abundance of cruise, hike and stay options. If you're keen to combine cruising with a spot of walking, a winning option is take a cruise to Ship Cove, before reboarding the vessel for the home-run from Furneaux Lodge.
Throughout the 1770s, sheltered Ship Cove provided safe anchorage, food, water and timber for Cook and his crew on five separate occasions, marking some of the earliest sustained contact between Māori and Europeans.
In total, he spent 170 days here, and considered it his favourite New Zealand place. Totaranui iwi were able to reconnect with their Polynesian history, because Cook had Tupaia from Tahiti on board as his translator. He hoisted the Union Jack and proclaimed sovereignty of the South Island in 1770, at Motuara Island.
The information panels are illuminating, but what captivated my attention is one of the original cannons from Endeavour that adorns the monument. The cannon was salvaged from North Queensland, after the Endeavour ran aground on a reef and the crew had to throw numerous equipment overboard to free the ship.
With my walking boots firmly laced up, I struck out for a taster of the Queen Charlotte Track. The full traverse from Ship Cove to Anakiwa is a multi-day affair, but itching for a sample of this celebrated trek, I embarked on the first day's section to Furneaux Lodge.
The 15km section starts with a steep, thigh-burning haul, climbing away from the beach, through regenerating native forest.
But after that initial gut-buster, the rest of the four-hour long trail was a breeze, with gentle undulations up and down panoramic ridgelines. An added surprise was the short detour to ogle one of New Zealand's largest and oldest trees — a 1000-year-old rimu in Howden Forest.
Toddle across the finish line with a flourish, sweetly surrendering to the laidback hospitality embrace of Furneaux Lodge. Built by the Howden family over 110 years ago, the original homestead throngs with thirsty patrons, chilling out, swapping tales and lapping up the irrepressible sense of secluded paradise.
I leapt at the chance to stay the night at this heritage lodge, luxuriating in one of the recently refreshed in Endeavour Suites. Light and airy with floor to ceiling windows affording expansive views, the elemental escape was accentuated by dramatic overnight storm that ripped through the inlet, as the wind roared like a freight train.
Furneaux Lodge's expansive lawns, lush and rolling down to the water, are a particularly distinctive feature. It's just the spot for some lazy snoozing in a hammock.
For a second dip with the watery wonders of the Sounds, I joined the Pelorus Mail Boat, which is the longest officially licensed NZ Post mail boat run in the country. Operating for 102 years, this majestic mail run cruise takes you through the far-flung reaches of Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds — even into the outer sounds around Maud Island.
Undeniably a lifeline to the hardy residents who live in the most strikingly remote pockets, the biggest thrill to match the knock-out scenery were the fleeting encounters with some of the locals.
I became acquainted with a chap who operates an online shoes sales business from deep in the Sounds, the online maths teacher, the fabulous Foote family who have been tending to Wilsons Bay Farm since 1881.
My skipper Leroy and assistant Tiria were effervescent hosts, as they delivered mail and groceries across the Sounds. I lost count of how many dogs lined up on the jetty with their owners to eagerly greet the boat. Every dog was given free biscuits by Tiria.
I also happily took up the option to enjoy a short bush walk on the Francis Dillon Bell track to heart-stealing Jacobs Bay, with soul-stirring views across Pelorus Sound. It was a soothing, serene encounter with the Sound of silence. No wonder the Mail Boat is the most popular cruise in the Marlborough Sounds.