Tucked away in her remote corner of the Marlborough Sounds, Noeline Sincock has had the world at her doorstep.
Noeline Sincock is New Zealand’s “universal grandmother”.
For years, the woman described in Lonely Planet’s New Zealand travel guide as a “universal grandmother” has walked the path down a steep hill and across an old jetty to fetch her mail and newspapers. Sometimes the postie, who is also the water-taxi driver, offloads passengers with bags labelled “Noeline’s wharf”. Other travellers arrive at her Marlborough Sounds guesthouse via the Queen Charlotte Track. Either way, Noeline Sincock, 86, greets them with tea and freshly baked scones.
Widowed more than 20 years ago and living in relative isolation, Sincock loves meeting new people and hearing their stories. She’s got a fair few of her own, too – and the fridge magnets to prove it. She began travelling the world in her late 60s, funding her adventures through the modest amount guests pay for a night or two at Noeline’s Homestay, in one of her three twin rooms.
So far, she’s ticked off 65 countries, from Bolivia to Siberia, including a trip to Laos and Cambodia when she was 73, and the Brazilian jungle two years ago. “I never considered the backpackers’ money as an asset; it’s in transit. I spend nine months of the year earning it and 10 weeks spending it.”
Her late husband, Tom, would be “very pleased” with her, says Sincock, a former psychiatric nurse. “But he wouldn’t have wanted it, because he was not a traveller. He had a flying phobia.” And while he liked people to come and stay on occasion, “he was glad when they left”.
Tripadvisor users describe Sincock as “a great hostess, a good raconteur, an absolute gem”. They say her 1970s accommodation overlooking Endeavour Inlet “doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not”, and that it “really is like staying with your Granny”. She lines wet shoes with newspaper and produces hot-water bottles in the colder months.
Before retiring to the Sounds, Sincock and her husband lived and worked at Molesworth Station (she as a cook, he as a general hand). Not long after Tom died, someone at the Department of Conservation in Picton suggested Noeline offer walkers a bed for the night. “I didn’t know whether I could share my house or not, so I said, ‘I’ll think about it.’ The next day, they rang and asked to put two fellas in the following night.” She agreed, and the next night, it was a couple. Then a Japanese girl. “I was coerced into it, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me,” she says.
Now, after more than 30 years in the Sounds, she’s decided to call time and move further south, closer to friends. The jetty she and her dog, Tuppence, walk down twice a week to get the mail came with the land originally but is now co- owned with several other bach owners, so whoever buys the house will share its use and upkeep. But even after she’s gone, this will always be “Noeline’s wharf”.