Marlborough Sounds

Queen Charlotte Sound from The Snout lookout between Picton and Waikawa Bay

The Marlborough Sounds are a series of drowned valleys at the north eastern tip of New Zealand's South Island and the northern edge of the province of Marlborough.


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.

Get in

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.

Get around

By car

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 24hr 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.

For rental cars in Picton go to

By bus

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.

By boat

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

Pelorus Sound


Rare Hectors Dolphin in Queen Charlotte Sound.

Dolphins, sea birds, forest from the ridgeline to the sea.




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.


Holiday homes

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

Pelorus Sound

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.

Go next

Enjoy the sun and a sauvignon blanc in Blenheim or the beach and art in Nelson.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, October 20, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.