They are a visual feast of the interplay between the land, sea, nature and light and 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.
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 northernmost point of State Highway 1 in the South Island, the northern terminal of the Tranzcoastal train, and the South Island port for ferries from Wellington. Havelock and Rai Valley are on State Highway 6 between Blenheim and Nelson.
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 give yourself plenty of time. Generally there are no loop roads in the Sounds - you come out the same way you went in. Getting petrol can be a problem, especially in the evenings and at weekends. Picton has a 24-hr 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 that 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.
- 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. 800 m 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 Endeavour Inlet. The track to the stop of Mt Stokes leaves from that fork.
- From Picton, travelling 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 1½ hours.
Intercitycoach buses, Atomic shuttles and Kahurangi shuttles route link Picton, Blenheim, Havelock, Rai Valley and Nelson. From Havelock, there is a Nydia track shuttle to both ends of the Nydia track, Kaiuma Bay and Duncan Bay, Tennyson Inlet.
Boats are a good way to get around 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
- Cougar Line, The Waterfront, Picton, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Overture Charters, Waikawa Marina, Picton, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Beachcomber (The mail boat), The Waterfront, Picton, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Endeavour Express, Picton Foreshore, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dolphin Watch Ecotours, Dunbar Wharf, Picton Foreshore, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Arrow Water Taxis, Town Wharves, Picton Waterfront, ☏ , , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Picton Water Taxis, London Quay, Picton, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com.
- Pelorus Mail Boat, Jetty 1 Havelock Marina, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays. Departs from Havelock Marina 9:30AM - Returns to Havelock late afternoon. A courtesy coach is available from Picton and return. Adults $128pp, Children up to 16yrs Free.
- Pelorus Sound Water Taxi & Cruises, Havelock Marina, ☏ , (mob), toll-free: 0508 42835625, ✉ email@example.com.
- Marlborough Travel, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 990 800, fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Pelorus Belle Water Taxi, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com.
- Havelock Water Taxi, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dolphins, sea birds, forest from the ridgeline to the sea.
- Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, London Quay, Picton, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 283 283, 1800 007 083 (from Australia), fax: , ✉ email@example.com. 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.
- Walk or bike the Queen Charlotte Track. 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.
- Make your own cheese in the Mahau Sound. Take part in the Mystery of Cheese workshop.
- Natural Encounters Walks - Queen Charlotte Track, Picton. Guided and unguided walks on the Queen Charlotte Track staying in small boutique accommodation. Includes all meals, transport, daily luggage transfers, guiding services.
- Tui Nature Reserve Eco Boat Tours, Waitata Reach, Outer Pelorus Sound (leaves from Havelock or Elaine Bay), toll-free: 0800-107077. 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 4WD 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). Maximum of six to eight people.
- Greenshell Mussel Cruise, Havelock Marina, ☏ . 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.
- Art by Sirpa Alalääkkölä, Ngakuta Bay, Queen Charlotte Drive, ☏ , . By appointment only.
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, ☏ , fax: . Hearty Kiwi pub food.
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.
Queen Charlotte Sound
- 1 Mahana Homestead Lodge, Punaruawhiti Bay in Endeavour Inlet (No road - walk the Queen Charlotte Track or take a water taxi), ☏ . Sep - Apr. $210 per room.
- 2 Bay of Many Coves Resort, Queen Charlotte Sound (No road - take a water taxi from Picton), ☏ , toll-free: 0800 5799 771, fax: . Luxury resort with two restaurants. from $710.
- 3 Furneaux Lodge, Endeavour Inlet (No road - walk the Queen Charlotte Track or take a water taxi), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. $60 - $245 for 2 people.
- 4 The No Road Inn, Endeavour Inlet (4 hrs walk from Ship Cove, or 1 hr from Picton by water taxi.), ☏ . A new waterfront upmarket lodge for up to 8 guests. $385.
- 5 Anakiwa Lodge YHA, 9A Lady Cobham Grove, Anakiwa (25-min drive from Picton - transport can be arranged), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 8AM-9PM, check-out: 10AM (late checkout available, subject to bookings). At the start (or end) of the Queen Charlotte Track. $50 - $130 for 2 people.
- 6 Te Rawa Resort, Wilson's Bay (no road access - take the mailboat from Havelock or a water taxi), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. $50-189 for 2 persons.
- 7 French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas, French Pass, fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- 8 Okiwi Bay Holiday Park & Lodge, Okiwi Bay, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. $14.50-88.00 per adult.
- 9 The Portage Resort Hotel, 2393 Kenepuru Road, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand (75-min drive from Picton, or take a water taxi), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 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. $140-330 per night.
- 10 Hopewell, Kenepuru Rd, Double Bay, Keneperu Sound (At the end of Kenepuru Rd. The website has detailed driving instructions and alternatives), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. BBH National Quality Awards, first place in New Zealand for 2005, 2006 and 2007. $40-195 per person.
- 11 Ohingaroa Bay Cabin, 745 Kenepuru Rd, Mahau Sound (7 km on Kenepuru Rd from Linkwater, Queen Charlotte Dr (between Picton and Havelock)), ☏ . $75 per double.
Camping and backcountry
There are a large number of Department of Conservation campsites throughout the Sounds, 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.