Tucked away in her re­mote cor­ner of the Marl­bor­ough Sounds, Noe­line Sin­cock has had the world at her doorstep.

North & South - - In This Issue - ANNA FRANCES PEAR­SON

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”.

Top: Noe­line Sin­cock (and Tup­pence) at her “front door” in En­deav­our In­let.

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