Top 10 Things to Do in Marlborough Sounds (A Guide by Locals)

Top 10 Things to Do in Marlborough Sounds (A Guide by Locals)

Marlborough Sounds is a coastal paradise that beckons many people to New Zealand’s South Island. If you’re an adventure junky, you’ll be thrilled to know that Marlborough Sounds is bursting with a wide range of exhilarating activities. 

And guess what? We’re your go-to experts for all things Marlborough! Just keep scrolling to uncover the hidden gems nestled within this maze of inlets – we’ll take you through an extraordinary adventure.

1. Walk or cycle the Queen Charlotte Track

Website: https://www.qctrack.co.nz/ 

Address: Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand.

Contact details: N/A

Operating hours: Year-round

Price: (for access to the private land sections of the track)

  • Single Day Pass: $12
  • Multi-day Pass: $25 (valid for 5 consecutive days)
  • Seasonal Pass: $35
  • School Children (5-18 years old): Free

If you’re seeking an unforgettable outdoor experience in the Marlborough Sounds, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Queen Charlotte Track. 

This 70-kilometer walking and biking trail winds its way through untouched native forests and scenic mountain ridges, allowing you to take in the breathtaking views of the stunning Sounds.

Now, while the track can be challenging, the sense of accomplishment upon completing it is truly rewarding. Plus, the scenery is simply breathtaking, and the wildlife is abundant. You’re likely to see seals, dolphins, penguins, and birds of all kinds!

Pro tips:

  • For walkers, sturdy boots are essential for tackling the track’s terrain. Additionally, having a good level of fitness is recommended, as the 73.5-kilometer trip can take 3 to 5 days to complete.
  • If you prefer to explore the track on a mountain bike, keep in mind that the entire Queen Charlotte Track is open for biking from March 1 to November 30 each year.

2. Watch birds at the Motuara Island Sanctuary

Website: https://www.e-ko.nz/tours/motuara-island-dolphin-wildlife 

Contact details: +64 (0)3 573 8040

Operating hours: Monday – Sunday: 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Price: 

  • Adult: $129
  • Child (15 years and under): $65
  • Infant (under 2 years): $30

Motuara Island Sanctuary, with its thriving birdlife and predator-free haven, is an absolute must for those who want to immerse themselves in the local avian wonders.

It’s a favorite spot of ours for glimpsing rare species like saddleback and yellow-crowned parakeets. You can also immerse yourself in the enchantment of kererū, tūī, gray warbler, and bellbird, our beloved feathered companions. 

The sanctuary beckons and we guarantee an unforgettable experience. After all, even our non-avian-loving crew adored it, and we know you will too!

Pro tip:

  • Enhance your visit to Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary by considering a tour with companies like E-ko tours. They offer convenient transportation and the opportunity to combine your trip with a thrilling dolphin-watching tour, maximizing your experience and creating lasting memories.

3. Go fishing in the Marlborough Sounds

Website: https://soundsconnection.com/fishing-charters-marlborough/ 

Address: Building 4B/1 London Quay, Picton 7220, New Zealand

Contact details: +64 3 573 8843

Operating hours: Monday – Sunday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Price: Price on inquiry.

With over 1,500 kilometers of stunning coastline, the Marlborough Sounds offer incredible fishing opportunities. 

Revel in the abundance of seafood that awaits, including the famous salmon and delectable green shell mussels. But don’t stop there – take it a step further and hop aboard a fishing charter to explore the Sounds by boat.

We suggest challenging yourself with species like gurnard, tarakihi, kahawai, and scallops (in season). Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced angler, you’ll enjoy the excitement of fishing amidst the natural beauty of this coastal paradise.

Pro tips:

  • If you’re fishing from a boat, consider anchoring in the shallows where the fish are likely to be. If you’re fishing from shore, seek out areas with shallow water for better opportunities to catch these coastal species.
  • We recommend targeting snapper when fishing in the Marlborough Sounds, as it is another popular fish to catch for their excellent taste and significant size potential. 

To increase your chances of success, concentrate your fishing efforts around structures, as snappers tend to congregate in these areas. 

4. Taste the Havelock’s green-lipped mussels

Website: http://www.millsbaymussels.co.nz/ 

Address: 23a Inglis Street, Havelock 7100, New Zealand

Contact details: +64 3 574 2575

Operating hours: Wednesday – Saturday: 10:30 AM – 2:30 PM

Price: 

  • Crumbed mussels $15.5
  • Garlic butter mussels $15.5
  • Classic steamed mussels $23.5

Located at the head of Pelorus Sound in the captivating Marlborough Sounds, Havelock holds the well-deserved title of the “Mussel Capital of the World.” It’s one of those towns that remains a hidden gem until you visit, but once you do, it becomes an experience you can’t help but rave about.

Anyway, there are many places in Havelock to eat green-lipped mussels, but our absolute favorite is Mills Bay Mussels. Their steamed mussels in a garlicky white wine sauce are a true delight!

So, when you’re next in town, be sure to give this spot a whirl.

Pro tips:

  • Don’t miss the opportunity to try mussels in various mouthwatering ways. Steamed, grilled, baked, or in a rich curry sauce, each preparation offers a unique and delightful experience for your taste buds.
  • To take your mussel indulgence to the next level, pair them with good wine.  Its refreshing characteristics beautifully complement the flavors of the mussels, elevating your dining experience.

5. Go swim or hike in Okiwi Bay

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Those who have their own car or campervan can experience an awesome road trip to Okiwi Bay, which is one of the many sounds that make up the Marlborough Sounds. 

It has a sheltered coastline, making it a great place to go swimming. The water is clear and clean, and there are often dolphins and other marine life swimming in the bay.

If swimming isn’t your cup of tea, you may want to go hiking! Okiwi Bay offers a plethora of hiking trails to explore, with the Okiwi Bay Walkway being a standout choice. 

Pro tips:

  • When swimming in Okiwi Bay, make safety your top priority by sticking to designated swimming areas between the yellow flags. These areas are carefully chosen and regularly patrolled by lifeguards, ensuring the utmost safety for swimmers.
  • Before starting your hike, inquire about the current trail conditions at the local visitor center or check for any updates or closures. Some trails in Okiwi Bay may become slippery or impassable during or after heavy rainfall

6. Road trip down French Pass

Website: https://www.dangerousroads.org/australia-and-oceania/new-zealand/5977-french-pass-road.html 

While the Marlborough Sounds truly come alive on a boat, there’s another way to experience its magic during your stay. Take a road trip to French Pass or Te Aumiti and let the stunning coastal views unfold before you.

Here’s a little secret: keep an eye out for a secluded beach where nature’s fierce whirlpools put on a mesmerizing show. If you’re up for it, make a stop along the way and witness this captivating phenomenon.

Once you reach French Pass, if you’re feeling adventurous, why not hop in a water taxi and journey across to the remote D’Urville Island? It’s the perfect addition to your Marlborough Sounds escapade!

Pro tips:

  • Make sure to visit the quaint coastal town located at the end of the road, right by the water. Take a relaxing walk along the long wharf and enjoy the stunning views. 

Keep in mind though, that access to the nearby island is only possible by private boat or water taxi.

  • Don’t miss the opportunity to take a short walk from the township to a scenic viewpoint, where you can witness an exciting sea battle in the narrow strait.

7. Cruise around the Marlborough Sounds

Website: https://www.beachcombercruises.co.nz/scenic-cruises/scenic-cruises-options/UltimateMarlboroughDayOut/ 

Address: London Quay, Picton 7250, New Zealand

Contact details: +64 3 573 6175

Operating hours: Monday – Sunday: 7:30 AM

Price: 

  • Drop off Picton $299.00 per adult
  • Pick up / Drop off from Blenheim $320.00 per adult

A cruise through the Marlborough Sounds is an extraordinary way to witness the natural splendor of the region, immersing yourself in its captivating allure. You can choose your vessel from either Picton or Havelock.

Now, here’s the secret to an unforgettable day: opt for a mail boat cruise with Beachcomber Cruises. It’s the go-to choice for locals seeking the ultimate Marlborough Sounds experience.

It typically starts with a cruise on Queen Charlotte Sounds in the morning, then back on shore for a lunch stop at a winery, and then a relaxing afternoon of wine tasting through the wine region.

Pro tips:

  • The tour finishes with a visit to the boutique chocolate factory before returning you to your accommodation. Take the opportunity to sample unique chocolate creations infused with local ingredients.

Also, consider selecting a beautifully packaged assortment of chocolates to bring back home or share with friends, showcasing the essence of the Marlborough Sounds in a delicious and thoughtful way.

8. Tour the amazing wineries

Website: https://www.oysterbaywines.com/nz/our-place/marlborough/ 

Address: 305 Queen Charlotte Drive, Blenheim 7254, New Zealand 

Contact details: [email protected] 

Operating hours:

Price: 

  • Signature tour $55 per person
  • Private tour $110 per person

Fact: No trip to the Marlborough Sounds is truly complete without immersing yourself in the world of winemaking. And when it comes to must-visit destinations, Oyster Bay Wines and Wairau River Wines take the spotlight.

Well, they only produce Sauvignon Blanc, which is what sealed Marlborough as one of the great wine regions of the world.

Just join their winery tour for a wholesome experience, and voila! You’ve expanded your wine knowledge and developed a refined palate.

Pro tips:

  • If you’re eager to expand your knowledge about Oyster Bay Wines and its exquisite offerings, the Signature Tour is the ideal choice. This tour will give you an opportunity to explore their facilities, learn about the meticulous winemaking process, and savor 6 of their award-winning wines.
  • For those yearning for a more intimate and personalized adventure, the Private Tour is a fantastic option. This tailored experience allows you to ask specific questions about the wines, delve into the nuances of their production, and create lasting connections with the winemaking team.

9. Discover the enchanting Hobbit filming locations

Website: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/marlborough/places/pelorus-bridge-scenic-reserve/?tab-id=50578 

Address: Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

Contact details: +64 3 546 9339

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

If you’re an avid fan of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises, you might find yourself drawn to Marlborough Sounds for an unforgettable adventure – and we’re right there with you!

While there are various filming locations scattered throughout the Sounds, one that we recommend to truly capture the imagination is located near Havelock, on the picturesque Pelorus River.

Here you can relive the thrilling barrel rider scene from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as you visit Pelorus Bridge, a breathtaking spot nestled along the river.

For a truly immersive experience, consider embarking on a guided kayak tour down the river, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the world of Middle-earth.

Pro tips:

  • While visiting the Pelorus River, make sure to take advantage of the crystal-clear waters and consider going for a refreshing swim.

Just assess the water conditions and ensure your swimming abilities match the current. If you’re unsure, it’s best to stick to shallower areas or ask for local advice.

10. Visit the historic ShipCove

Website: https://www.beachcombercruises.co.nz/scenic-cruises/scenic-cruises-options/Ship-Cove-Cruise/ 

Address: London Quay, Picton 7250, New Zealand

Contact details: +64 3 573 6175

Operating hours: Monday – Sunday: 7:30 AM

Price: 

  • Adult $96
  • Child $60

History buffs, here’s something for you! If you’re exploring the Marlborough Sounds, there’s one place that absolutely deserves a spot at the top of your itinerary: the iconic Ship Cove. 

To make a long story short, the first Maori to discover New Zealand, Kupe, stopped at Ship Cove on a voyage of the Marlborough Sounds. It served as an anchorage for Captain James Cook, the first European to land in New Zealand.

Now, here’s the best part: Ship Cove is part of the incredible Queen Charlotte Track. Whether you’re up for the full-track adventure or simply want to make a special visit to Ship Cove, Beachcomber Cruises offers convenient trips from Picton Marina.

Pro tips:

  • To make the most of your experience, begin your exploration by taking the Captain Cook Monument Track, a well-marked trail that leads you to a captivating viewpoint. Along the way, you’ll encounter informative signage that shares fascinating insights into the historical significance of the area.
  • Ship Cove offers a stunning coastal setting that’s perfect for a leisurely picnic. Bring along some local delicacies or your favorite snacks, find a scenic spot with a view, and take a moment to soak in the natural beauty that surrounds you.