Marlborough is located close to the heart of New Zealand, on the north-east corner of the South Island, due west of Wellington city.
For centuries it has offered safe harbour to travellers sailing to the spectacular South Island: first the Maori traders and war parties; then explorers like Captain James Cook and Dumont d’Urville; and now, to visitors seeking a retreat from city pressures, as they discover the unspoilt haven and foodie heaven that is Marlborough today.
The commercial hub is Blenheim, population 26,550. Originally a provincial service town to the farming community, it is increasingly geared towards urban lifestyle, visitor needs and the dominant wine industry, a meld of modern sophistication and relaxed ambience. North is Picton, population 3700, seaport gateway to the stunning Marlborough Sounds.
Wine, Water, Wilderness
Marlborough is synonymous internationally for its distinctive, herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc. It is New Zealand’s largest winemaking region with around 150 wineries and 650 grape growers and over 23,000 hectares planted in grapes, mainly Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
Marlborough is also known for its idyllic Sounds - sunken valleys which create a network of tranquil clear waterways amidst regenerating and virgin native forests. The Sounds are home to treasured bird and sealife – terns, shags, herons, blue penguins, dolphins, seals, and native forest birds, all easily viewed by private boat or charter tour.
The renowned 71km Queen Charlotte Track, a 3-4 day walk, curls around these coves and inlets and along skyline ridges between the breathtaking Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte Sounds.
Blenheim regularly claims the highest sunshine hours in New Zealand, and has low rainfall. Each season in Marlborough has its distinct appeal: summer brings long warm days and stunning evenings; autumn promises clear, still days, a blaze of vineyard colour, and is one of the best times to explore; winter is short and may bring a spectacular rim of snow on the distant high country mountains; spring arrives with a sudden burst of cherry blossom and leaf, and the opening of gardens to view.
The Marlborough Sounds are an unspoilt paradise for those who love the sea, tranquillity, the natural world, freedom walking or outdoor adventure. The broad pathway of the Queen Charlotte Track lures walkers of all ages and experience along the ridgelines of the Sounds, through virgin native forests and down to blue-green coves fringed with ferns.
Venture out on a cruise, charter a boat, paddle in these peaceful waterways, observe rare birds, dolphins, seals and penguins, catch a fish for dinner, relax at a hidden hideaway, or camp in a private bay.
It’s all deceptively accessible from the towns, yet feels a stunning natural world away. The Sounds remain relatively undiscovered, a retreat from the mainstream although - if you need it - civilisation is unexpectedly close at hand.
A host of travel operators offer services to help you
- guided or freedom walks and treks
- guided paddles or kayak hire
- mountain biking
- cruising the Sounds by tour or charter
- water taxis and pack transfer between accommodation
- mussel farm tours
- fishing excursions
- eco-tours to observe bird sanctuaries, native flora and fauna
- town accommodation
- getaways in resorts, campgrounds, lodges, backpackers or homestays
How The Sounds Were Formed
The Marlborough Sounds is a network of fjiord-like waterways, sheltered by steep hills, most clad in native and timber forests. Geologists would describe the Sounds as ‘drowned valleys’, where in past millennia, the mountains sank in earth movements and the sea flooded into the valleys. Maori legend tells a more exotic story of their creation, how as Kupe wrestled with a giant octopus he grasped at the South Island for support, his fingers digging deep and carving out the waterways
Walks/Queen Charlotte Track
The well-formed Queen Charlotte Track winds 71km through towering native forest and regenerating bush, along ridges and beside idyllic coves, and attracts walkers from around the world. Travel with a guide to learn more of flora, fauna and local Maori legends. Choose anything from a part day to a full four day walk, with regular boat services from Picton connecting to various entry and exit points along the track. Mountain biking is permitted at certain times of year, and the broad track allows plenty of space to allow walkers to pass. Bike hire is available in Picton.
The ultimate freedom is to travel without a pack – it’s delivered to your next night’s accommodation whether you’re biking, hiking or paddling your way. You’re free to choose quality camping, backpackers, personalised homestay or a luxury lodge to soak those tired muscles and sip a cool reviver as Marlborough’s renowned sunshine slips over the clear horizon.
Take care with campsites – open fires are strictly prohibited because of summer risk to native forests. The Picton Information Centre or Department of Conservation give full information and guidelines.
(more about the Queen Charlotte Track) http://www.qctrack.co.nz/
Numerous safe short tracks offer short excursions to harbour lookouts and secluded beaches near Picton, whether you have an hour or a day to explore. Take the lovely Essons Valley Dam track near town for an easy stroll through native forest alongside a clear stream, to the call of native birds. Or walk the Tirohanga Walkway for stunning views over Picton. The Information Centre has a guide to all walks around Picton.
On Motuara Island bird sanctuary, a track winds up to the highest point with fantastic views across to Ship Cove, where Captain James Cook anchored while charting New Zealand.
Queen Charlotte Sound from Picton
Discover New Zealand history and the natural world in the tranquil coves of Queen Charlotte Sound. One of New Zealand’s most picturesque waterways, it welcomes visitors to Marlborough on the daily ferries. Bush-clad hills soar from the water’s edge in this unspoilt wilderness, easily explored by boat, mountain bike or walks from Picton.
Once known as Waitohi, Picton was the site of a Ngati-awa Pa (Maori village), and the area is rich in both maritime and Maori history. The intriguing history of whaling and shipping unfolds in the Picton Museum and at the Edwin Fox - one of the world’s oldest ships now being restored at the harbour.
Take a cruise to the historic anchorage favoured by explorer Captain James Cook as he charted New Zealand. On Motuara Island, he stood to claim the South Island - it’s now a sanctuary strictly for the birds, where rare South Island robins come to your hand and fantails flit in your footsteps. It attracts birdlovers from all over the world, entry is free, and only 40 minutes by boat from Picton. See rare Hector’s dolphins, penguins and sunbathing seals, along with king shags and spotted shags. Bring your camera, not your catch bag, to Long Island’s marine reserve where the protected waters teem with Sounds fish species - identify them back at Picton’s new aquarium.
Accommodation is plentiful from smart Picton motels, B&Bs and backpackers, to shoreline hideaways. Along the waterfront, numerous companies offer trips, guides and gear for land or water excursions and the renowned Queen Charlotte Track. Hike, bike or paddle out on your own, or tap into our guides’ knowledge of native bush, birds and history.
Take time to explore
- Queen Charlotte Track (from a half day to 4 days) – regular boat services offer transport and pack transfer at several entry and exit points, with accommodation from luxury resort to friendly campsites. Book a freedom walk or guided package.
- a guided or independent sea kayaking trip from Picton – for a day or more
- the historic ship Edwin Fox, relic of the Crimean War, and its museum
- charter a sailboat – skippers can be hired – for a day or a lazy week afloat.
- take an eco-tour to learn about conservation programmes for rare and endangered species; see dolphins, penguins, seals. On a typical calm morning the grace of the sacred white heron (kotuku) will leave you breathless…
- a fishing trip for blue cod, snapper and other white fish
- historic Maori pa site at Karaka Point (road acces)
- short walking tracks from Picton town to beaches and lookout points
Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds
By road or by charter boat from Havelock township, the Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds are a photographer’s paradise. Each headland reveals a view better than the last. You’ll find civilisation here too, in restaurants and resorts, gardens open to view, motels, moorings, holiday parks, fishing lodges, backpackers and homestays, many tucked into their own fern-fringed cove. Cruise out to a mussel farm, and sample them fresh-cooked on board. Click here for further information
Active adventurers will love the great sailing, boating, kayaking, water-skiing, swimming, diving or fishing here. Venture further for nature at its untamed best in the outer reaches of Tennyson Inlet and French Pass, by road via Rai Valley, or by boat from Havelock.
Across an exhilarating tidal pass is the wilderness experience of d’Urville Island, named for the explorer who charted the Sounds. Dolphins will ride with your boat, your camera will capture seals basking in the sun. They, too, enjoy the superb fishing and absolute peace and quiet…
Quaint colonial buildings and quirky craft define the historic seaport of Havelock, where the Pelorus River flows into the tranquil Pelorus Sound. Once a bustling goldmining town, this character-filled village now thrives on seafood bounty - the prized Greenshell mussel.
Drive west to find a lost world in the towering stands of rimu and beech at Pelorus Bridge Reserve near the undulating pastures of Rai Valley. Cast a fly for famed Pelorus River trout, or venture onto the Nydia Track away from the crowds.
Start planning your Sounds idyll…
- Snapper fishing charters from Havelock
- The Nydia Track, a two-day hike finishing at Tennyson Inlet
- Visit the tiny settlement of French Pass and its offshore island d’Urville
- View virgin forest at Pelorus Bridge to the song of native birds
- Tour splendid coastal gardens
- See the mussel industry in action - or simply savour the results