With 1500km of New Zealand's coastline, Marlborough Sounds is a collection of ancient sunken river valleys filled with the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Forested hills rise steeply from the sea around an intricate coastline of sheltered inlets and sandy bays. The area has three main bodies of water - Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds. The Department of Conservation manages over 50 reserves in this scenic playground.
Several islands within the sounds are predator-free sanctuaries for native wildlife. Motuara, Long, Blumine and Allports Islands are ideal for picnics, forest walks or viewing historic sites.
According to Maori tradition, the South Island is the canoe of Aoraki. Its sunken prow forms Queen Charlotte Sound/Totaranui and Pelorus Sound/Te Hoiere. In earlier times, the sounds provided good shelter and food for Maori people. To avoid travelling out into the open sea to get from one sound to another, they carried their waka/canoes over low saddles.
Captain James Cook also used the sounds for shelter and food. He made Ship Cove his base in the 1770s and discovered a plant (Cook's scurvy grass) that is high in vitamin C to cure scurvy.
Plenty to see and do
Today, the sounds are popular for kayaking and hiking, and there are numerous tent camping sites available. Kayaks, yachts and motor launches are available for hire or charter.
Walking tracks in the area range from short trails of an hour or two to overnight hikes through native forests and along beautiful sandy beaches. Five of the tracks are open to mountain bikes.
Picton (on Queen Charlotte Sound) and Havelock (on Pelorous Sound) are the main towns in the area. The large passenger and vehicle ferries from Wellington arrive at Picton.