The Pelorus Mail Boat has been a lifeline for people living in far-flung bays, inlets and jetties of the Pelorus Sound/Te Hoiere for more than a century.

After European settlers arrived and scattered small farms throughout the Marlborough Sounds, passing ships would sometimes deliver mail, supplies and news.

Lorain Day, author of Time and Tide – The story of the Pelorus Mail Boat wrote that supplies and mail were brought in by sailing ship, then shallow-draughted scow, and produce from the farms brought back to town, in what was a very irregular service largely dependent on weather and tides.

The goldrush

The 1864 Wakamarina goldrush brought people in their thousands, necessitating a proper mail service between Picton and Havelock. The mail was transported using two whaleboats rowed by brothers George and Jack Aldridge who walked from one boat to the next from the head of the Grove Arm to Mahakipawa.

They were eventually replaced by steam-powered vessels including the SS Torea and horses from The Grove. The Torea serviced Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui with a weekly mail service, and took tourists as well.

The first government delivery

But, there was still no regular service to the more than 400 people living in Pelorus Sound/Te Hoiere, wrote Lorain, and - following a public outcry - the Homewood Post Office opened on 1 September 1869, with the first delivery by government steamer in that year. The post office moved to Mary’s Bay in 1870 – both are still regular stops for the Pelorus Mail Boat today.

Initially the steamer delivered all the mail to one location for residents to collect, but as the population grew the steamer put the mail ashore at several small post offices throughout the area. People then had to row to these points to pick up their mail.

Private mail service

In 1918 the Government put the mail service out to private operators and Wellington-Havelock mail service began under Mr J.S. Cross, wrote Lorain, in the wooden screw steamer Waitapu.

Well-known Marlborough Sounds whaling name Eugenio Perano used the SS Elsie to carry out a very long mail run in a single day every two weeks until the service passed to Dalgey & Co Ltd.

A collection historic images from Pelorus Mail Boat times past
A collection historic images from Pelorus Mail Boat times past

Pelorus Mail Boat beginnings

In 1919, 17-year-old Eric Johnson was the first owner and operator of the Pelorus mail run as we know it today, a regular motorised service for which he used the 8.8-metre kauri Mahau, which he’d built himself. The Johnson family ran the business for over 50 years and today still operate barges in the Sounds.

Eric Johnson sold the mail boat to Arnauld Jones in 1973, and the business passed hands a number of times before being bought by Marlborough Tour Company in 2019.

A lot has changed during that time, but not the necessity of the Pelorus Mail Boat as a vital lifeline, bringing not just mail but food supplies, building material and much more. Even today, many people in Pelorus Sound/Te Hoiere live in, or own holiday homes in, areas without road access, and sometimes without mains electricity and modern communication coverage.

Read about it

A book about the fascinating history of the mail boat, Time and tide – the story of the Pelorus Mail Boat (2017) by Lorain Day, is for sale onboard the Pelorus Mail Boat.

Mail Boat Cruises

What a fantastic experience. Skipper and crew were just so full of historical knowledge about the
Sounds and we really did get involved in the journey. So glad we decided to make the effort to come to Havelock and do this. Would highly recommend it.

John - Google, July 2020