Things to Do in the Marlborough Sounds
Covering one-fifth of New Zealand’s coastline, the Marlborough Sounds is a mecca for all things coastal! As a haven for wildlife, a treat for landscape-lovers, and an area steeped in history, the Marlborough Sounds makes the perfect setting for some awesome activities. So whether you’re into mountain biking, hiking, watching wildlife, or just relaxing, you’ll certainly find some awesome activities in the Marlborough Sounds.
Many travellers’ first introduction to the Marlborough Sounds is when they take the ferry between Picton and Wellington. Believe us, the stunning mountainous hills rolling into the ocean is just the beginning. Secluded bays, historic sites, walking and cycling trails, wildlife reserves, retreats tucked away in native bush can all be found in the Marlborough Sounds. So start adding these activities in Marlborough Sounds to your New Zealand bucket list!
The Marlborough Sounds are located at the north of the South Island and are typically accessed via Picton and Havelock.
1. Walk or Cycle the Queen Charlotte Track
An excellent way to spend some time in the Marlborough Sounds is by doing the Queen Charlotte Track. This 70km walking/biking trail winds its way through native forest and high mountain ridges overlooking the Marlborough Sounds. While the full multi-day hike is the best way to make the most out of the track, there are options to do sections as day hikes or rides. For more information on biking the trail, check out Mountain Biking in Marlborough.
Location: Boat transport to various sections of the Queen Charlotte Track can be taken from Picton.
2. Spend Time at a Resort
Not quite a typical backpacker activity in New Zealand, but the Marlborough Sounds is home to quite a few resorts and lodges packed with activities. What’s more, they are pretty affordable! Many of the accommodations on the Marlborough Sounds have their own kayaks, paddleboards, snorkelling gear, beaches, bush walks and more. So why not take a boat out to one of these paradise-like locations for a couple of days and relax! Try Anakiwa Lodge, Punga Cove Resort and Lochmara Lodge.
3. Watch Birds at the Motuara Island Sanctuary
New Zealand is home to some fascinating native birds. Many of which can be seen on the pest-free Motuara Island. An hour walk takes you up to a stunning viewpoint across the Queen Charlotte Sound. However, we recommend spending a good amount of time at the watering hole with a seating area looking onto it. The birds will come to you! For more about New Zealand’s birds, check out the 10 Things You Did Not Know About New Zealand Wildlife.
4. Cruise Around the Marlborough Sounds
There is no lack of boats in the Marlborough Sounds! Just take your pick from Picton or Havelock and cruise out into the majestic setting of Queen Charlotte or Kenepuru Sound. A popular choice is a mail boat cruise, with Beachcomber Cruises, Cougar Line and The Mail Boat, taking passengers out on the water to the remotest stretches of the Marlborough Sounds to deliver mail.
5. Swim with Dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins are regular visitors to the Marlborough Sounds. The playful dolphin species are often seen riding the bow of the many boats out on the water. To get a real close encounter with these fascinating creatures, join a dolphin swimming tour.
Location: E-Ko Tours’ Dolphin swimming tours is a licensed operator that departs from Picton.
6. Visit Ship Cove
Check out this heritage icon of New Zealand near the entrance of the Queen Charlotte Sound. Not only did the first Maori to discover New Zealand, Kupe, stop here on a voyage of the Marlborough Sounds, but it was also an anchorage for Captain James Cook, the first European to land on New Zealand. Sculptures, memorials and heaps of interpretation panels help tell the story of these early days among a stunning coastal setting. Ship Cove is also the start of the Queen Charlotte Track (see above).
Location: Cruises with Beachcomber Cruises to Ship Cove depart from Picton.
7. Kayak or Hike in Okiwi Bay
Those who have their own car or campervan can experience an awesome road trip through the Rai Valley to Okiwi Bay. Once in this quiet corner of the Marlborough Sounds, there’s kayaking to be done and hikes to tackle. Try the Goat Hill Track to see some wildlife, get awesome views and walk through native forest.
Location: Okiwi Bay
8. Do a Road Trip Down French Pass
To get well and truly off the beaten track, extend your visit to Okiwi Bay and drive down the French Pass Road. This beautiful drive reveals far-stretching coastal views all the way out to D’Urville Island. Stop along the way to visit a beach and some ferocious whirlpools. Once you reach French Pass, go camping or hop on a water taxi to D’Urville Island. For more information, check out French Pass and D’Urville Island – Guide for Backpackers.
9. Go Fishing in the Marlborough Sounds
Marlborough is renowned for its abundance of delicious seafood, particularly its salmon and Greenshell mussels. A great way to see the Sounds while experiencing the thrills of catching your own dinner is by fishing! Hop on a fishing charter and see just how easy it is to grab yourself a blue cod or aim for something a little more challenging like gurnard, tarakihi, snapper, kahawai and scallops (in season).
Location: Fishing charters depart from Picton and Havelock
10. Take the Cook Strait Ferry
Well, when money’s tight and you need to get between the North Island and South Island, the Cook Strait ferry is actually a pretty good way to see the Marlborough Sounds. The ferry taking passengers and vehicles between Wellington and Picton travels right through the Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte Sound, providing some stunning photo opportunities along the way. Find out more at the Ferry Between the North Island and South Island and book your tickets to Wellington here and to Picton here.