Located at the top of the South Island east of Abel Tasman National Park, the Marlborough Sounds are as easy going as anywhere in New Zealand. Most of the wooded hillsides and peaceful bays are inaccessible by road, leaving the only means of transportation by boat or by foot (and sometimes by bike). More, the local seafood is fantastic—Havelock is world famous for mussels and hosts the annual Havelock Mussel Festival in March as an official showcase. Given that Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region, it’s certainly not a bad place to visit.
The Queen Charlotte Track
For those who love the outdoors and finishing the day in comfort, the Queen Charlotte Track offers the best of both worlds. This 71-kilometer route skirts the ridge tops between the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds through temperate rainforests and secluded coastline. Unique to this track is the wide range of accommodations, from basic campgrounds and cabins to boutique eco-hotels. The small passenger boats even operate a baggage transfer service and will drop your belongings at your next stop. With local catch served with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, tramping doesn’t get much better.
The area around the Queen Charlotte Track has no road access. The track can be walked in either direction but almost everybody takes the passenger boat from Picton to Ship Cove and walks back (the water taxi and luggage transfer service operate in this direction). The full track takes 3–4 days to complete, but the frequency of boats make it easy to choose a shorter section or even skip walking altogether and travel exclusively by water.
For those interested in mountain biking, the Queen Charlotte Track is the longest dual-purpose track in New Zealand and readily accommodates bikers and walkers. The section from Ship Cove to Punga Cove is closed to bicycles from December to March, but there are still over 40 kilometers of trail available during this period. The water taxis haul bicycles as well.
The infrastructure on the Queen Charlotte Track is limited and the track is extremely popular, so advance booking is mandatory. Natural Encounters can coordinate the details of unguided trips, and they and Wilderness Guides both offer well-regarded guided options.
Further information about boat transfers, accommodations, mountain bikes, combination bike and kayak trips, and other facets of the trip can be booked through the Cougar Line or the Queen Charlotte Track websites. For those on a budget, there are six DOC-managed campsites on the track and a number of hostels and tent sites.
Kayaking the Marlborough Sounds
The Marlborough Sounds don’t feel as tropical as nearby Abel Tasman but are considerably bigger and less crowded. The three main areas for kayaking are Queen Charlotte Sound, Kenepuru Sound, and Pelorus Sound. All have unique characteristics but are wonderful kayaking destinations. Dolphins and orcas frequently are spotted in the Sounds. The Queen Charlotte Track through the Marlborough Sounds provides an impressive network of establishments catering to paddlers and other outdoor enthusiasts. For information on kayaking tours and rentals, see the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company and Wilderness Guides.