nz marlborough sounds drone
nz marlborough sounds
Nz south Marlborough sounds
Nz south queen charlotte track
nz marlborough sounds drone
nz marlborough sounds
Nz south Marlborough sounds
Nz south queen charlotte track
Discover remote inlets, forests and bays

Marlborough Sounds

The majestic Marlborough Sounds are an intricate maze of remote inlets, forests, golden sand beaches and bays. Consisting of three main bodies of water - Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds, outdoor enthusiasts can explore by kayak and mountain bike or hike the crown jewel of the area, the magnificent Queen Charlotte Track. For those seeking more of a leisurely-paced holiday spend your days amongst the vines, having long lunches and tasting some of New Zealand's best wines in the Marlborough region.

Where are Marlborough Sounds?

Aerial view of turquoise water and bright green forest
Unearth secluded bays and golden sand beaches as you kayak clear blue waters
© MarlboroughNZ
View of forest and blue water coastline
Feel as though you are on your own piece of paradise

Highlights

Marlborough Sounds are at the northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand. They are 4000 square kilometres of historic sunken river valleys that are now filled with waters from the Pacific Ocean. This area makes up an incredible 20 per cent of the New Zealand coastline. There are three main Sounds in this network of complex waterways: Queen Charlotte Sound, Kenepuru Sound and Pelorus Sound.

Navigate a remote and intricate maze of water

The surrounding coastline is covered in pristine forest, ancient trees, hidden bays, coves and inlets. The Sounds stretch two kilometres in width and average about 35 metres in depth. It is best explored by kayak.

Hike the Queen Charlotte Track | New Zealand active holiday
Marvel at the natural phenomena of the Sounds
Blue water and grey rock formations
Appreciate the stillness as you move closer into nature

Things to do

Hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and spotting wildlife are all popular activities in this area. However, if you want to simply take it easy and relax, the Marlborough region is perfect for that too.

The Queen Charlotte Track

Hike or mountain bike this 72-kilometre track that meanders through the most spectacular scenery and coastal views. Pass native bush and mountain ridges that stretch from Ship Cove to Anakiwa. Be totally absorbed in the beauty of Marlborough Sounds and get lost in its magic for four or five days.

Suitable to walk all year round (the busiest season being November to May), a moderate level of fitness is required. You can choose to do a section of the track as a day hike or ride. Boat transport to different sections of the Queen Charlotte Track can be taken from Picton Marina.

Tip: Walkers should wear boots because parts of the track could be rough or muddy. Book transport and accommodation as early as possible.

A couple on their bikes on a mountain peak overlooking the inlets of Marlborough Sounds
Mountain bike to a peak viewing point to enjoy the mysteries of the Sounds
© MarlboroughNZ
Two men with backpacks walking on a pier over the water to the shoreline
Hiking the Queen Charlotte Track is the best way to experience the beauty of Marlborough
© Miles Holden

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is the closest national park to Marlborough Sounds and is nestled between Golden Bay and Tasman Bay. There are so many ways to explore the park, whether a hike, a cruise, kayaking, or on a scenic heli-tour. Abel Tasman National Park is reachable from Marahau and Kaiteriteri in the South, and Golden Bay and Totaranui in the North. The only road is to Totaranui, on the park's far side, and unless you are staying at Totaranui campsite, it is not recommended. The best way to access Abel Tasman is by foot or water.

The Abel Tasman Coast Track

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks and spans an area of 60 kilometres from Marahau to Wainui Inlet. Walking the track with huts and campsites dotted along the way takes three to five days. Experience jaw-dropping coastal views, lush forests, native wildlife, golden sand beaches, and secluded bays.

Tip: Locals advise that the best time to visit the park is during shoulder season (October to mid-December) when the mornings are cool, the waters calm and the beaches quiet.

Two people paddling in a kayak on turquoise water towards a forested rock formation
Create memories with your partner on an adventure kayaking Abel Tasman
© TravelEssence

Explore at your own pace

Pack your binoculars and visit Motuara Island Sanctuary for some bird viewing, let your hair blow in the wind on a relaxing cruise or get playful with bottlenose dolphins while swimming in their natural habitat. Spend the day soaking up the sun at Marahau beach or go kayaking in the turquoise waters of Kaiteriteri. Do as much or as little as you please.

No trip to Marlborough Sounds would be complete without a trip to a nearby winery. The Marlborough region is one of the best wine regions in the Southern Hemisphere with an award-winning Sauvignon Blanc. Blenheim is a great pit stop for the day with its sunny weather and array of wineries.

Two people walking along a green forested bay
Embark on a journey to uncover hidden bays and beaches
© Miles Holden
Spend your day's vineyard hopping in Marlborough
Take your time exploring and tasting some of the best wine in New Zealand
© TravelEssence

Queen Charlotte Sound / Totaranui area

Queen Charlotte is the more famous of the three sounds with its wild shoreline and deep bays and coves. It was named Charlotte by James Cook, after the wife of the British King George III. Captain Cook considered this his favourite New Zealand base. It is situated on the east of the main Marlborough Sounds and the nearest town is the seaside village of Picton.

The highlight is the Queen Charlotte Track, but other recommended ways of exploring are a boat cruise or a sea kayak tour from Picton. Enjoy amazing views, listen to the happy songs of chirping little birds and savour a private picnic lunch on one of the many hidden beaches.

A group on a hike in the native bush overlooking blue water bays
Spend the day outdoors in the sun and fresh air with only the sounds of birds chirping away
© TravelEssence
Spotting wildlife on a cruise in Queen Charlotte Sound | New Zealand holiday
Spot wildlife while on a boat cruise through the Sounds
Stunning view in Marlborough region | New Zealand holiday

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Picton

Picton is located in the heart of Queen Charlotte Sound and is the largest town in the Marlborough Sounds area. It acts as the main port for the inter-island ferry between North and South Islands. It may be small and picturesque but it offers a world-class destination experience with its proximity to an extensive coastline and the famous Marlborough wine region. The waterfront view is unparalleled with its ever-changing watercolour.

Relish a leisurely lunch at a seafront cafe, pop into an art gallery or visit the floating maritime museum and aquarium. If you want to feel the sun on your skin and get your heart rate going, go mountain biking or kayaking.

A white boat docked at the pier
Picton harbour and town are the gateway to Marlborough Sounds
© Miles Holden
A girl and a dog waving on the deck of a boat docking port
Meet friendly locals as you journey through Marlborough
© Miles Holden

How to get there

If you are travelling from Wellington you can enjoy a three-hour journey on the inter-island ferry across Cook Strait to Picton. From Christchurch, you can drive the coastal road to Picton (about 4.5 hours) or take the coastal train (about a 5.5-hour ride). The drive from Blenheim to Picton is 25 minutes.

There is also an option to fly to Picton and Blenheim with Sounds Air NZ and to Blenheim only on Air New Zealand.

People on yellow kayaks in the water
Relax and have fun in an outdoor adventurers playground
A white boat docked at a pier with a queue of people waiting to embark
Enjoy being on the cool waters as your travel from one adventure to the next

Where to stay?

Make your trip extra special by experiencing a unique stay from our large collection of hand-selected accommodations located in the Marlborough region and its surrounds. Your travel specialist will match you with accommodation that suits your wants and needs. A journey where your accommodation is an experience in itself.

A light, bright bedroom with white linen and large windows
Indulge in afternoon naps at your luxurious accommodation
A large marble bathroom
After a day of exploring, relax your muscles with a long soak in the tub

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  • 30 years of experience in travel to New Zealand

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At TravelEssence, we specialise in crafting custom-made holidays that take you off the beaten path and create memories to last a lifetime. We believe in connecting with the heart and soul of a place, introducing you to the locals who call it home. Engage in conversations with fascinating individuals who will share their stories, traditions, and way of life, leaving an indelible mark on your journey.