Top of South: Marlborough Sounds

"A view is something gained through effort." 
 A Year in the World, by Francis Mayes

At the north-east top of South Island, the Marlborough sounds are an extensive network of valleys that drowned as the land tilted and lowered them into Cook Strait. There are 4 sounds in Marlborough: Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, Pelorus and Mahau.

Getting There

To Picton from Nelson via curvy Queen Charlotte Drive, one of the most scenic drives in NZ.

Stop at the Pelorus River Bridge

Where the Wine Barrel Scene in “The Hobbit” was filmed.

Picton’s hills are notable whether you are coming from the south (SH1, Blenheim) or the west (Nelson.)

Havelock – Greenshell Mussel Capital of the World

A view across the sounds at Cullens Point/Havelock – 45 minutes from Picton.

Havelock is a small/cute town at the head of the largely untouched Pelorus and Keneperu sounds. THINGS TO DO FROM HERE:

  • Daytrip on a working Mail Boat – Pelorus Express to deliver mail and supplies to residents on Pelorus sound.
  • Greenshell Mussel Cruise – into the sounds to mussel farms to pull up ropes covered in mussels – steamed on board and served with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
  • The Mussel Pot Restaurant for green lipped mussels, chowder, fish & chips.
  • Anakiwa – kayak/walk Queen Charlotte Track. Carpark/entry 22 minutes east of Havelock.

The Queen Charlotte Track

Walk/Kayak/Bike . . . Long or Short . . . Worth It!

Picton is the beginning of Queen Charlotte Track, NZ’s 11th Great Walk (9th in the South Island) and NZ’s longest single-track mountain bike ride. There are entry points as the track winds around inlets and peninsula ridgetops for 44 miles (70 km) with steep inclines and long drop-offs.

IT IS A BEAUTY! Boat companies will drop you along the route for 1 to 4-days walks AND carry your luggage. Overnight stops range from huts to plush resorts. Guided inn-to-inn walking or biking is available (BOOK IN ADVANCE). Water taxis are easy to arrange offering half-day walks, half-day kayaks or combinations.

We walked independently for a day.


The base for the inter-island ferry, Picton is a picturesque seaside town. We spent a week, with plenty to do.

Picton Hikes

  • Tirohanga Track- hilltop views
  • Snout Track – views are amazing of the sound
  • Link Pathway – Picton to the Whenuanui Bay Lookout
  • Picton to Shelly Beach over the marina ‘Coathanger’ bridge
  • Bob’s Bay Track – Upper and Lower to Bob’s Bay swimming beach
  • Harbour View Track – Walk or drive to lookout point

Daytrip: Birding on Motuara Island Sanctuary

The goal is to spot the king shag, a rare bird with a population of 500-600, which sit off Motuara Island, three other nearby islands, and nowhere else in the world. The predator-free bird sanctuary is an hour sail from Picton with a walk to a lookout. Look/listen for tui, bellbird, robins, fantails, yellow-crowned parakeets and saddleback. Home to brown kiwi and little blue penguins.

Time to Leave: Crossing Cook Strait

The 3-hour passage across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough sounds is one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world.

Through the Sounds to Open Water

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5 thoughts on “Top of South: Marlborough Sounds

  1. We loved Picton, too! Gorgeous pics…again!

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