Marlborough Sounds: Wikis


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Tory Channel, a major arm of Queen Charlotte Sound.
The Sounds visible to the left of the Space Shuttle, image taken from the International Space Station.

The Marlborough Sounds are an extensive network of sea-drowned valleys created by a combination of land subsidence and rising sea levels[1] at the north of the South Island of New Zealand. According to Māori mythology, the sounds are the prows of the sunken waka (canoe) of Aoraki.[2]





Covering some 4,000 km² of sounds, islands, and peninsulas, the Marlborough Sounds lie at the South Island's north-easternmost point, between Tasman Bay in the west and Cloudy Bay in the south-east. The almost fractal coastline has 1/5th of the length of New Zealand's coasts.[3]

The steep, wooded hills and small quiet bays of the sounds are sparsely populated, as access is difficult. Many of the small settlements and isolated houses are only accessible by boat. The main large port is Picton on the mainland, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. It is at the northern terminus of the South Island's main railway and State Highway networks. The main small boat port is Waikawa which is one of New Zealand's largest and provides a base for leisure sailors and vacationers.

The main sounds, other than Queen Charlotte Sound, are Pelorus Sound and Kenepuru Sound. Tory Channel is a major arm of Queen Charlotte Sound, and between them they isolate the hills of Arapawa Island from the mainland. Other islands in the sounds include D'Urville Island.

The DOC manages a total of over 50 reserves in the area.[2]

Dangerous waters

The main channels of the Marlborough Sounds have calm water and are popular for sailing. Cook Strait, however, is infamous for its strong currents and rough waters, especially when the wind is from the south or north. Because of this, some of the narrow channels closer to the Strait are dangerous. Notable amongst these is French Pass at the southern end of D'Urville Island, which has several vortices.

The most notable shipwreck in the sounds is that of the Russian cruise liner Mikhail Lermontov, which sank in 1986 in Port Gore, close to the mouth of Queen Charlotte Sound, after striking rocks. One life was lost in the incident. The ship is now a popular dive wreck.


Pre-Modern era

The sounds were extensively travelled and partly inhabited by Māori groups before the coming of the Europeans, using the sounds as shelter from bad weather and partaking of the rich food sources. They were also known to carry their canoes over some stretches of land on portage paths.[2] However, like in most areas of the South Island, populations were smaller than in the North Island.

European history of the area is considered to start with Captain Cook's visit to the sounds in 1770s, discovering a plant (Cooks Scurvy Grass) high in vitamin C which helped to cure scurvy amongst his crew. On Motuara Island, Cook also proclaimed British sovereignty over the South Island.[2] Some parts of the sounds also later developed a significant whaling history,[2] and much of the sounds was (thinly) settled by European farmers in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Ferries and marine farms

The Marlborough Sounds as seen from the Wellington-Picton ferry.

The Marlborough Sounds are connected to the Cook Strait at the north-east extreme. At this point, the North Island is at its closest to the South Island, and the inter-island road, rail, and passenger ferry service between Picton and Wellington travel through the sounds.

Marine farming, especially of salmon and mussels, is increasingly common, having started in the 1960.[4] However, the wakes caused by fast catamaran vehicular ferry services to the North Island have allegedly damaged farms and destroyed crab grounds. They were also blamed for stripping the local beaches bare of sand, and damaging landings and other facilities built close to the water's edge. This resulted in a dispute heard in the New Zealand Environment Court in the early 1990s, brought forward by the 'Guardians of the Sounds' group. The court, however, not only refused to restrict the fast ferries, but also awarded NZ$ 300,000 in court costs against the citizen group which had brought the case. This was seen as a strong blow against civic action, and a curtailing of the powers of the Resource Management Act.

However, as damage increasingly became visible, and protests continued, the fast ferries (which only operated for the summer season) were eventually restricted to a lower speed of 18 kn in the sounds (officially for safety reasons), reducing their time advantage over the conventional ferries.[5] They have since been discontinued.

In July/August 2007, the 'Guardians of the Sounds' environmentalist group planned a 100-ship flotilla protest against scallop dredging in the sounds, which they consider damages the ecosystem of the sounds similar to bottom trawling in the open sea. The protest was intended to call attention to what they allege is the Ministry of Fisheries ignoring the detrimental effect of the practice. Commercial scallops harvesting companies have warned that protests could endanger lives if the protesters engaged in dangerous manoeuvres, while the Ministry of Fisheries has also noted that only 6% of the sounds are set aside for the dredging, though this had been much more extensive in the past.[6]


Sea kayakers in the Marlborough Sounds.
  1. ^ Rocky coasts (from the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand))
  2. ^ a b c d e Marlborough Sounds (from the DOC website. Accessed 2008-05-16.)
  3. ^ Pelorus Sounds and Marlborough Sounds (from the website)
  4. ^ History of the NZMFA (website of New Zealand Seafood Industry Council)
  5. ^ Fast Ferries (from the Guardians of the Sounds action group website)
  6. ^ 100-strong flotilla to stage protest on scallop fishing - The New Zealand Herald, Saturday 7 July 2007

External links

Coordinates: 41°08′30″S 174°05′22″E / 41.14167°S 174.08944°E / -41.14167; 174.08944

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Oceania : New Zealand : South Island : Marlborough : Marlborough Sounds
Queen Charolotte Sound from The Snout lookout between Picton and Waikawa Bay.
Queen Charolotte Sound from The Snout lookout between Picton and Waikawa Bay.

The Marlborough Sounds are a visual feast of the interplay between the land, sea, nature and light. This series of drowned valleys is the north eastern edge of New Zealand's South Island and the northern edge of the province of Marlborough. The Sounds are divided into two main waterways, The Pelorus Sound, with Havelock at its base, and Queen Charlotte Sound, the main town of which is Picton. Of the two, the Queen Charlotte Sound is generally seen as being more picturesque, with the Pelorus being more remote. The inner Sounds (especially the Queen Charlotte Sound) has reasonably extensive residential development. The Pelorus, being more remote, still has areas of untouched native forest, most of which is only accessible by boat.

Get in

Almost every exploration of the Marlborough Sounds will begin in Picton, Havelock or Rai Valley, all on the southern side of the Marlborough Sounds. Picton is the northern most point of State Highway 1 in the [[South Island], the northern terminal of the Tranzcoastal train and is the South Island port of ferries from Wellington. Havelock and Rai Valley are on State Highway 6 between Blenheim and Nelson.

Get around

By Car

The roads around the Sounds while offering stunning views, are generally narrow and windy. Do not expect to travel at speeds greater than 60km/h and plan to give yourself plenty of time. Generally there are no loop roads in the Sounds - you end up coming out the same way you go in. Getting petrol can be a problem, especially in the evenings and at weekends. Picton has a 24hr petrol station (the Shell on High St) and Blenheim has a selection on State Highway 1 which bisects the town. Rai Valley and Havelock have petrol stations which keep reasonable hours.

  • Just west of the settlement of Rai Valley on State Highway 6 is a turn-off leading to French Pass and Tennyson Inlet. Not long after you leave the state highway you will come to a junction. Taking the left fork the road continues over the Ronga Saddle yielding views of the Croisilles Harbour. The settlement of Okiwi Bay has petrol at the camp ground shop. The road then snakes around Elaine Bay before branching at the head of Admiralty Bay. The left road takes you to the French Pass settlement riding high on the ridge overlooking Tasman and Admiralty Bays. Allow 2 hours from the state highway to get to French Pass. Fuel is available at the French Pass store. The right road runs around the eastern side of Admiralty Bay overlooking the main Pelorus Sound to Port Ligar and Bulwer. Allow more than 2 hours to get to Bulwer.
  • Leaving the state highway west of Rai Valley and then taking the right fork leads to Duncan Bay in Tennyson Inlet via the Opouri Saddle, from which are spectacular views. Tennyson Inlet is the end of the Nydia track.
  • Traveling 12 km north west of Havelock is Kaiuma Bay Rd, which leads to the beginning of the Nydia track.
  • At the southern end of Havelock is the start of the Queen Charlotte Drive, the scenic route between Havelock and Picton. The road climbs to Cullen Point. From the carpark at the top there is a short walk which leads to a lookout giving views of Mahau Sound, as well as Kaituna and Pelorus estuaries. From there the roads runs up to the head of Mahau Sound and then to Linkwater, where petrol can be purchased from the garage. 800m beyond the garage is the turnoff north to the Keneperu Rd and a further 2 km is the turnoff north to Anakiwa, the start of the Queen Charlotte Track. Queen Charlotte Drive then follows Queen Charlotte Sound to the Grove, Momorangi Bay and Ngakuta Bay, which has a beach good for a dip. The road snakes to the port of Shakespeare Bay with a lookout on the eastern side before climbing over the last hill to Picton. Allow 1 hour for this trip.
  • Kenepuru Rd turns off Queen Charlotte Drive at Linkwater. This road first climbs and then hugs the side of the Keneperu Sound past Te Mahia resort, Portage (where petrol is available) to the head of the Keneperu Sound. The road continues up to a saddle where the road forks, the left fork to Anakoha and the right to Titirangi Bay and Endevour Inlet. The track to the stop of Mt Stokes leaves from that fork.
  • From Picton, traveling east leads to Waikawa Bay. Beyond the bay the road climbs over to Port Underwood. It continues to Robin Hood Bay, White's Bay and Rarangi and Blenheim. This route takes 1 1/2 hours.

For rental cars in Picton go to

By Bus

Buses[1] and shuttles[2][3] route link Picton, Blenheim, Havelock, Rai Valley and Nelson. From Havelock, there is a shuttle[4] to both ends of the Nydia track, Kaiuma Bay and Duncan Bay, Tennyson Inlet.

By Boat

Boats are a good way to get round the Sounds. The size of the marinas especially at Waikawa Bay and Havelock is testament to that. Cook Strait at the head of the Sounds can be rough. Typically, transport will only take you within one of the Sounds.

Queen Charlotte Sound

Pelorus Sound

  • Pelorus Mail Boat, Jetty 1 Havelock Marina, 03 574 1088 (), [10]. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays. Departs from Havelock Marina 9:30 am - Returns to Havelock late afternoon. A courtesy coach is available from Picton and return. Adults $120pp, Children up to 16yrs Free.  edit
  • Pelorus Water Transport, Jetty 1a, Havelock Marina, 027 239 0000 or after hours 03 577 6103 (), [11].  edit
  • Marlborough Travel, 03 577 9997 or 0800 990 800 (, fax: 03 577 9979), [12].  edit
  • Pelorus Belle Water Taxi, 027 444 2852 or 03 574 2151 ().  edit
  • Havelock Water Taxi, 027 618 3585 ().  edit
Rare Hectors Dolphin in Queen Charolotte Sound.
Rare Hectors Dolphin in Queen Charolotte Sound.


Dolphins, sea birds, forest from the ridgeline to the sea.

  • Tui Nature Reserve Eco Boat Tours, Waitata Reach - Outer Pelorus (leaves from Havelock or Elaine Bay), 0800-107077, [13]. Cruise the amazing coves and waterways of the Marlborough Sounds. Visit the remote and isolated 'Tui Nature Reserve' includes a guided conservation tour plus a 4WD trip to the top of the plateau forested hill. Ranked 8th by BBC Wildlife Magazine in the top 10 Best Eco-destinations in the World. (Dec. 2007)Maximum of six to eight people.  edit
  • Greenshell Mussel Cruise, Havelock Marina, 035779997, [14]. The totally unique wine and food experience in the tranquil Marlborough Sounds. Cruise the sheltered waterways of the Sounds and visit a mussel farm to taste the freshest Mussels with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  edit
  • Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, London Quay, Picton, 03 573 6078 or 0800 283 283 or from Australia 1800 007 083 (, fax: 03 573 8827), [15]. 2007 New Zealand Tourism Award Winner. Mountain biking, kayaking, walking the Queen Charlotte Track. Tours or freedom hire. One day or many. Great team, professional service.  edit
  • Walk or bike the Queen Chalotte Track, [16]. A 3 to 4 day walk from the historic Ship Cove through to Anakiwa in the Grove Arm giving unsurpassed views of Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds.  edit
  • Drive your own boat and explore the Pelorus sound with Waterways Boating Safaris, 03 574 1372 or 027 2551511 (), [17]. Visit beaches only accessible by boat. Full day or half day trips. Transport from Picton or Havelock  edit
  • Make your own cheese in the Mahau Sound. Take part in the Mystery of Cheese workshop. Sherrington Grange, Mahau Sound, RD 2, Picton (Sherrington Grange is 1 hour from both Blenheim and Picton. To find us, turn up Kenepuru Road at Linkwater and after about 20 minutes, take the signposted driveway (first road after the cattle stop). Alternatively, take a 15min water taxi from Picton to Waterfall Bay and be met for the 10min drive home), 03 5742655 (, fax: 03 574 2655), [18]. Accommodation, activities such as walking, kayaking, star gazing and fishing also available.  edit
  • Natural Encounters Walks - Queen Charlotte Track, Picton, [19]. Guided and unguided walks on the Queen Charlotte Track staying in small boutique accommodation. Includes all meals, transport, daily luggage transfers, guiding services.   edit
  • Tui Nature Reserve - Eco Boat Tours, Outer Pelorus - Waitata Reach, 0800-107077, [20]. Cruise the amazing coves and waterways of the Marlborough Sounds. Visit the remote and isolated 'Tui Nature Reserve' including a guided conservation tour plus a trip to the top of the plateau forested hill. Ranked 8th by BBC Wildlife Magazine of the top 10 Eco-destinations in the World. (Dec. 2007) A real highlight!  edit
  • Art by Sirpa Alalääkkölä, Ngakuta Bay, Queen Charlotte Drive, 03 573 7775 or 021 674772, [21]. By appointment only.  edit


The local delicacies are the green-shelled mussel and local salmon. Farmed in large numbers (as well as settling naturally on pretty much any structure placed in the water), the mussel is available at most restaurants, cafe's and bars. Picton, Havelock and the Rai Valley have eateries on their respective pages. All the resorts listed under accommodation have restaurants attached.


All of the resorts have bars worth downing a few in.

  • Linkwater Country Inn, Queen Charlotte Drive, Linkwater, 03 574 2507 (fax: 03 574 2517). Hearty Kiwi pub food  edit



Kiwi families often have holiday homes which are rented out when the owners are absent. If you are staying for more than a couple of nights, or have a large group or a family in need of its own space, a holiday home can be a good option.[22][23][24][25][26][27]

Queen Charlotte Sound

Pelorus Sound

  • Te Rawa Resort, Wilson's Bay, 03 579 8285 (, fax: 03 579 8286), [33]. $50 - $189 for 2 persons.  edit
  • French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas, French Pass, (, fax: 03 576 5204), [34].   edit
  • Okiwi Bay Holiday Park & Lodge, Okiwi Bay, 03 576 5006 (, fax: 03 576 5005), [35]. $14.50 - $88.00 per adult.  edit
  • Portage Resort Hotel, Keneperu Road, 03 573 4309 (), [36]. As the name suggests Portage is handy to Queen Charlotte Sound, being a short walk from Torea Bay. Portage will collect you from Torea Bay.  edit
  • Hopewell, Kenepuru Rd, Double Bay, Keneperu Sound (At the end of Kenepuru Rd. The website has detailed driving instructions and alternatives), 03 573 4341 (), [37]. BBH National Quality Awards, first place in New Zealand for 2005, 2006 and 2007 $26 - $42 per person.  edit
  • Ohingaroa Bay Cabin, 745 Kenepuru Rd, Mahau Sound (7km on Kenepuru Rd from Linkwater, Queen Charlotte Dr (between Picton and Havelock)), 03 574 1372 (), [38]. $65 per Double.  edit

Camping and Backcountry

There are a large number of Department of Conservation campsites throughout the Sounds [39], some only accessible by boat or kayak. Some are serviced; others are just a place to pitch a tent with a toilet and running water.

Get out

Enjoy the sun and a sauvignon blanc in Blenheim or the beach and art in Nelson.

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