The waterways of the Marlborough Sounds make up a fifth of the New Zealand coastline. Queen Charlotte Sound, Kenepuru Sound, and the Pelorus Sound are the three ancient, sunken valleys that make up the Marlborough Sounds. Here’s we explore what to do in the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand.
What to do in the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand
Recognised as the gateway to New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds are a complex maze of deep channels, sheltered waterways and secluded bays, encompassed by bush-clad hills.
Popular with yachties, the Marlborough Sounds offers its visitors a wealth of leisure activities, from fishing, water-skiing and kayaking, to walking the Queen Charlotte Track. Visitors to the Sounds can experience the tranquility of this awe-inspiring area, which features unspoiled native bush as well as albatross, little blue penguins, dolphins, and seals.
How to explore this incredible place
The Marlborough Sounds are best explored on the water, and there are a range of cruises and activities from self-guided kayak excursions to chartered luxury yachts to choose from.
Sunbathe on the banks of the Pelorus, go white water rafting on the Clarence, or try out fly fishing – hire a guide to take you to some of their secret hot spots. A relaxing cruise aboard a riverboat down the Taylor River with a glass of wine and some nibbles is another experience not to be missed.
The swift waters of the Clarence flow though an isolated valley between the seaward and inland Kaikoura ranges on the East Coast of the South Island. This classic river journey starts high in the expansive alpine tussock-lands of Marlborough‘s outback, snaking its way through towering canyons, then opening out to braided riverbed before finally rushing to the sea.
This is one of New Zealand’s longest river journeys, allow plenty of time to savour the moment and take in the spectacular mountain scenery, with every day bringing a new experience. Take a five day tramping and camping tour starting at $1000 USD per person, or try one of the daily rafting tours.
The Queen Charlotte Sound is the most well known and visited of the four sounds and is also the scenic highlight of the inter-island ferry journey from Wellington to Picton. At the head of the Sound is Ship Cove where visitors can trace the steps of Captain Cook.
Punga Cove pier, Queen Charlotte Sound. Photo by pungacove.co.nz
Queen Charlotte Sound is also home to the Queen Charlotte Track which consists of 71km of walking tracks that traverse historic sites, secluded bays, skyline ridges and coastal bush. Visit www.qctrack.co.nz to see the routes and find out more information.
After a hard day’s sightseeing, chill out with a glass of Marlborough wine and some freshly caught mussels in Havelock, the Green Shell Mussel Capital of the World.
From $100 USD per person, enjoy an informative, relaxing and fun afternoon cruising the inner Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds. Take in the natural beauty of the environment; learn about the history of the Marlborough Sounds and the pioneering families who have settled here. Visit a Greenshell Mussel farm where the launch captain will explain how and why this delicacy grows so well in the Marlborough Sounds.
Daily Cruise departures from the Havelock Marina allow travellers to cruise on the Marlborough Travel luxury launch Galileo. This vessel is large and stable with all the home comforts of lounge areas and multiple viewing decks. Visit www.marlboroughtravel.co.nz to find out more.
Marlborough is well-known for its New Zealand wines. Guided wine tours of the world-famous Marlborough wine region take all the hassle out of having to navigate and worry about drinking and driving while sampling some of the world’s greatest wines.
Bike leisurely around the region’s wineries, vineyards, breweries and gourmet food producers. With over 80 wineries, a range of boutique breweries and even a world class distillery, Marlborough really is a fantastic destination. Join a scheduled tour with others, take a private tour, or indulge in luxury and gourmet touring.
Try the Taste Marlborough Tour, a “behind the scenes” style tour that departs daily out into the Marlborough Wine region from Picton and Blenheim. Visit www.marlboroughtravel.co.nz for more information.
Where to stay
The isolation of the Marlborough Sounds is its main attraction. “Baches”- holiday houses, and permanent homes are dotted throughout the hidden bays and coves, as well as a number of luxury resorts and lodges that are only accessible by sea.
Bay of Many Coves Resort
Bay of Many Coves Resort, a luxury accommodation resort is a great option for travellers who aren’t afraid to splurge a little while in the Marlborough Sounds. Relax in a spacious hillside apartment with uninterrupted views from a private balcony looking over the water and native bush clad hills. Choose from 1, 2, or 3 bedroom luxury apartments or a one room studio.
Dine at the restaurant, swim in the fresh water all-seasons pool, be pampered by the massage therapist, fish from a dinghy, enjoy a short bush walk round the bay, or have a coffee at the cafe.
Stay at the Bay of Many Coves Resort in Queen Charlotte Sound from $550 USD per night. For more information visit www.bayofmanycovesresort.co.nz.
Punga Cove Resort
Punga Cove Resort is a more affordable option with chalets nestled into the hillside with sun decks giving privacy and views across the bay. All budgets are catered for with lodge, studio, and self-contained family chalets. Luxury apartments are also available.
The resort can help to arrange excursions. Explore the waters using the resort’s sea kayaks, or visit nearby islands and cruise the sounds in search of playful Dusky Dolphins. Experience the leafy wonders of the Queen Charlotte Track or catch fish in the bay. Join an outer sound fishing charter or take a gourmet picnic lunch and a bottle of champagne to a secluded beach nearby.
Located at Endeavour Inlet, Queen Charlotte Sound, stay at Punga Cove from $120 USD per night. Visit www.pungacove.co.nz for more information.
How to get to the Marlborough Sounds
Without a car there’s plenty of choice in how you get to Marlborough from the North Island. Cruise across Cook Strait on the Interislander and Bluebridge ferries, or catch a direct flight to Blenheim from Auckland and Wellington.
If arriving by ferry, catch a ride to Blenheim on a shuttle bus or onboard the daily Tranz Coastal train. Plan a holiday in Marlborough by visiting Love Marlborough NZ or talk to a local expert at the Picton or Blenheim i-SITEs.