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Travel Guide

Marlborough Sounds, #nzmustdo activities and places to visit

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Marlborough, South Island

Brilliant, marine wildlife sanctuaries, personality plus Marlborough Sounds is wrapped around stunning inlets and coves. Enjoy the premier Queen Charlotte track showcasing the beauty of native forest. Sip award winning Sauvignon blanc local wine as the Picton Mail Boat cruise passes by. Embrace adventure and try your hand at sea kayaking.

Scroll through 14 reasons why your next holiday must-do’s will be in the Marlborough Sounds.


Things to do in Marlborough Sounds


SMALL TOURS, LOCAL KNOWLEDGE, WINE QUALIFIED GUIDE, feel at home here during your Marlborough wine tour! GROUP TOUR, PRIVATE TOUR, SHORE EXCURSION. GREAT WINE, DELICIOUS FOOD, and cheeky summer treats are what we’re all about. In other words, get stuck in!

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Naclachan Wine Tours
Naclachan Wine Tours
Naclachan Wine Tours
Saddleback, New Zealand endangered bird, Motuara Island, Marlborough Sounds, south island, New Zealand
Saddleback, New Zealand endangered bird, Motuara Island, Marlborough Sounds, south island, New Zealand

Visit Motuara Island Sanctuary to See New Zealand’s Exotic Birds

Marlborough Sounds is a haven for birdlife.  A visit to the Motuara Island Sanctuary should be high on your list of things to do in Marlborough Sounds. Predator-free Motuara Islands located in the Queen Charlotte Sound and is a short cruise away from Picton.

Explore Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary

Kaipupu Point sanctuary is worth visiting in Marlborough Sounds. The sanctuary is located on an island which is a 10-minute boat ride from Picton. Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for native birds. During the autumnl and winter months, New Zealand fur seals can frequently be observed sunbathing on the jetty. Discover more about Nature, wildlife & conservation in Marlborough places to go – Best Bits.

Kaipupu Point Mainland Island sanctuary, NZ
Kaipupu Point Mainland Island sanctuary, NZ
Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough, New Zealand
Queen Charlotte Track

Cycle or Walk the Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track is one of New Zealand’s most popular walking and cycling tracks. The 73.5-kilometre track winds through the Marlborough Sounds, taking in native forest, high mountain ridges and coastal lookouts.

Enjoy a Leisurely Stay at One of Many Resorts

Resorts in the Marlborough Sounds are surprisingly affordable. Most luxury accommodations have complimentary use of kayaks, SUPs, and snorkelling equipment for guests.

There are local bush walks and activities for families. It’s a perfect way to unwind in beautiful surroundings with nature, creating a zen space for everyone.

Some of our favourite Marlborough Sounds resorts include:

We recommend booking your resort stay in advance, especially during the peak season from November to May.



Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

Take a Scenic Cruise Through the Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds is a paradise for boating and sailing enthusiasts. The sheltered waterways make it perfect for exploring by boat, with plenty of coves and bays to anchor in overnight.

There are many different Marlborough Sounds cruises to choose from, ranging from half-day trips to multi-day charters. Some cruises focus on wildlife spotting, while others include wine tastings and gourmet meals. Take your ride from Picton or Havelock, and head out into the breathtaking scenery of Queen Charlotte or Kenepuru Sound. Scroll through for more holiday inspiration.

Beachcomber Cruises, Cougar Line and Affinity Cruises are all reputable Marlborough Sounds cruise operators.

Sign up and deliver mail on a Mail Boat Cruise 

If you want a unique Marlborough Sounds experience, how about taking the mail boat? That’s right, Marlborough Sounds still has a regular mail delivery service by boat. The vessels also take passengers so that you can ride along.

Cruising in The Marlborough Sounds on a mail boat catermeran, Picton, New Zealand
Cruising in The Marlborough Sounds on a mail boat catermeran, Picton, New Zealand

What are the Names of the 4 Sounds in Marlborough?

Marlborough Sounds, located at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, are made up of four distinct Sounds (drowned river channels)

  1. Queen Charlotte
  2. Kenepuru
  3. Pelorus
  4. Mahau


Dolphins Marlborough Sounds, Marlborough, New Zealand
Dolphins Marlborough Sounds, Marlborough, New Zealand

Swim With the Dolphins in Marlborough Sounds

Swimming with dolphins is one of Marlborough’s most popular tourist activities. Dolphins are a common sight in Marlborough Sounds. The sheltered bays make it a safe haven for these friendly creatures. The area attracts a number of different species, including Dusky, Bottlenose, Common, Orca and the rare Hector’s dolphins.

Where is Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand, Located?

Marlborough Sounds are at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. Marlborough is a province located in the northeast of the island, and Marlborough Sounds are just off its coast. Here is a guide that will help you explore Marlborough Region.

Marlborough Sounds are steep, bush-clad hills, small coves, and inlets are thinly populated as access is often only possible by sea. The hub is the large port of Picton, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound and home to the Interislander ferry terminal.

Picton is at the northern terminus of the South Island’s main railway and state highway networks. The main small-boat port, Waikawa, is one of New Zealand’s largest and provides a base for holidaymakers.

Visit the Historic Meretoto/Ship Cove

Ferry pier at Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds, NZ
Ferry pier at Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds, NZ

Visit the Historic Meretoto/Ship Cove

Meretoto, also known as Ship Cove, is a historic and picturesque sheltered cove with a lush coastal forest backdrop in Marlborough Sounds. Today, Ship Cove is a popular tourist destination for anyone wanting to experience New Zealand’s unique history and natural beauty. Sculptures, memorials, and a plethora of interpretive panels are lined up along a coastal setting to help bring the area’s past alive.

Meretoto/Ship Cove can only be reached by boat, either privately or on a commercial cruise.

Check DOC resource for up to date information.

Explore Okiwi Bay

Okiwi Bay is Marlborough’s best-kept secret. This sheltered haven is located 112 kilometres, approximately a 1-hour 40-minute drive.

Okiwi Bay is a great place to relax, swim, fish, or go kayaking and paddleboarding. The area is also famous for camping, with several Department of Conservation campsites nearby.

There are various walking tracks to explore the native bush and coastline, namely –

  • Okiwi Bay Lookout Walk – Easy, 10-minute walk one way with views along the coast of Kaikoura.
  • Okiwi Bay Seaward Valley Track – Advance level, 6-hour track following old farm tracks and logging roads. Enjoy ocean views and camping sites.
  • Pacific Lookout Track – Advance level, 1-hour 30-minute one-way track with views of the coastline and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Patutu Route – Expert level, 4-hour 30-minute track one-way climb to the summit of Patutu (1162 m). Fantastic views of the coastline and the North Island.
@Okiwi Bay Holiday Park & Convenience Store
@Okiwi Bay Holiday Park & Convenience Store

What is the Maori name for the Marlborough Sounds?

Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka-a-Māui is the Mori name for the Marlborough area (as well as the whole of the Upper South Island). It translates to “The prow of the canoe of Māui”.

Wooden pier during the sunset in French Pass, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
Wooden pier during the sunset in French Pass

Drive Down to French Pass and D’Urville Island

Wooden pier during the sunset in French Pass.

After exploring Okiwi Bay, make your way down to French Pass. A stunning drive that offers magnificent coastal views that extend all the way to D’Urville Island.

Rai Valley will be your first stop on your trip to French Pass. This is an excellent rest break along the way, and the area offers excellent kayaking and hiking opportunities.


Strong incoming tide at Te Aumiti French Pass which separates D'Urville Island from the South Island, New Zealand. The tidal flow at French Pass is the strongest in New Zealand. Strong incoming tide at Te Aumiti French Pass which separates D'Urville Island from the South Island, New Zealand. The tidal flow at French Pass is the strongest in New Zealand.

Go Fishing in the Marlborough Sounds

With 1500 kilometres of coastline and sheltered waters, Marlborough Sounds is a fisherman’s paradise. The area is home to various fish species, including Snapper, Blue Cod, Salmon, Gurnard, Scallops, and Kahawai. Hop into a boat and head out to the open waters for an unforgettable day of fishing.


Marlborough Sounds South Island New Zealand
Marlborough Sounds

Visit Havelock and Enjoy Mussel Tasting

Havelock is a small town located at the mouth of the Pelorus and Kaituna Rivers in Marlborough Sounds. Havelock is best known for its green-lipped mussels, which are considered some of the best in the world. The town is also regarded as the “green-shell mussel capital of the world”.

Mills Bay Mussels and Mussel Pot are great places to try the local mussels.

Pelorus Sound, New Zealand

The hub for visitor activity is Havelock, a small town on State Highway 6. Havelock marks the exit/entrance to Queen Charlotte Drive (road access to the Sounds network of bays).

Pelorus Sound’s major arm in Kenepuru Sound. Characteristic of the Sounds are steep-sided hills, sometimes metres apart and separated by bodies of water; this is very evident at Te Mahia Bay and Portage Bay.

View of Pelorus Sound from Cullen Point Lookout on Queen Charlotte Drive, Marlborough Region on South Island of New Zealand
View of Pelorus Sound from Cullen Point Lookout on Queen Charlotte Drive, Marlborough Region on South Island of New Zealand

How Do You Explore Marlborough Sounds

Most of Marlborough Sounds are only accessible by water. Several companies offer boat tours of the Marlborough Sounds.

aerial view of Picton town and Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand
Picton town and Marlborough Sounds

Picton town and Marlborough Sounds

Picton is the largest hub; however, there are water taxi services in Havelock and Anakiwa. Boat operators are mostly located at the designated town wharf, which is adjacent to the interisland ferry terminal.

Marlborough Sounds water taxis provide:

  • Transfer visitors to a lodge nestled in the Marlborough Sounds
  • Transfer walkers to a designated Queen Charlotte Track wharf location
  • Provide transport to the Marlborough Sounds islands of D’Urville
  • Transfer luggage to a designated drop-off point, including mountain bikes and kayaks
  • Offer day trip excursions to Queen Charlotte Track highlights and day trips throughout the Marlborough Sounds.

Some popular Marlborough Sounds tour operators include:

Cougar Line

Cougar Line has a fleet of high-quality vessels and an experienced crew. They offer fast and reliable transport to lodges, resorts, homes, beaches and campsites in Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui.

Cougar Line also offers:

  • Scenic and day walk cruises
  • Lunch cruises to Marlborough Sounds resorts
  • Mountain bike packages
  • Twice-daily delivery service for goods and passengers.

Arrow Water Taxis

Arrow Water Taxis has been operating on Queen Charlotte Sound for over twenty years. They can take you anywhere you like, at the time you choose. Arrow Water Taxis operates two purpose-built fast aluminium vessels driven by bio-diesel.

Picton Float Plane

Picton Floatplane specialises in seaplane flights throughout the Marlborough Sounds, Wellington, and Abel Tasman.

Kenepuru Water Taxi

Kenepuru Water Taxi offers:

  • Transport options in Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds
  • Pickup/Drop off in Havelock
  • Cruises in the Marlborough Sounds

Pelorus Sound Water Taxi

Whatever your travel requirements in Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds, Pelorus Sound Water Taxi can cater to your individual needs. They offer:

  • Water taxi service throughout the Pelorus & Kenepuru Sound
  • Scenic boat cruises
  • Nydia track transport

Picton Water Taxi

Picton Water Taxi is a friendly and personal water taxi service, transporting customers to any destination they choose in Queen Charlotte Sound. They offer:

  • On-demand Water Transport
  • Queen Charlotte Track water transport
  • Mountain bikes to the Queen Charlotte Track

Marlborough Sounds Weather

The Marlborough Sounds have a moderate maritime climate. Summer temperatures average 22°C, while winter temperatures average 13°C.

During the summer, you are more likely to have pleasant days with average temperatures ranging from 20°C to 25°C.

With eight hours of sunshine on average every day, January is the sunniest month. With an average high temperature of 23°C, February is the warmest month in Marlborough.

During the winter months, you can expect some rain and average temperatures below 15°C. July is the coldest month, with an average temperature of 12°C.

Rainfall in Marlborough is spread throughout the year, with a peak in winter. May is the wettest month.

View over French Pass, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
View over French Pass, Marlborough Sounds

Seasons in New Zealand are the reverse of what they are in the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore, summers in New Zealand are from December to February, and winters are from June to August.

Best Time to Visit Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds can be visited all year round.

However, the best time to visit Marlborough Sounds is during the summer months, i.e. December to February. This is when you can expect the best weather with warm temperatures and long days. You’ll also be able to enjoy water-based activities such as swimming with dolphins, whale watching or kayaking.

If you want to avoid the crowds, March to May is an excellent time to visit. This is shoulder season between summer and winter. However, you should be aware that the weather is more unpredictable during this time, and you may experience some rain.

Find out more about Marlborough things to do, attractions, places to go.

Cyclists on the Link Pathway, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
Cyclists on the Link Pathway, Marlborough Sounds

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Best Bits travel guide is published by Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.

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