Marlborough Sounds is the perfect curtain raiser for those arriving from New Zealand's north island by water. The coastline is made up of inlets, bays, islands and peninsulas rising out of the water then giving way to a backdrop of lush, verdant wilderness and farmland. Much of the area can be reached only by water, with part given over to around 60 reserve areas. It is relatively untouched and certainly unspoiled, the perfect place for fishing, walking, sailing, kayaking and general exploring.
Picton is the centre of the area and is a charming little town, snuggled between hills and the calm, deep waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. A buzzy place in the warm months, particularly when ferries pull in, the rest of the time it is a sleepy little place.
Cougar Line runs luxury catamarans from Picton. The skipper gives a commentary about the area as you glide through the sheltered maze of inlets and bays. There will be seals basking in the sun, shags and gannets diving for fish and sooty shearwaters skimming across the water. Cougar's marine mammal permit allows them to spend time watching dolphin antics, if they are around.
Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company is one of New Zealand's oldest sea kayaking companies. They know every nook and cranny of the area and focus on giving adventurers an insight into flora, fauna, history and culture mixed with fun, enjoyment and safety.
A one-day guided Queen Charlotte Walk starts with water taxi pick-up at Picton at 8am, followed by an hour's travel up the sound to Ship Cove, where your five-hour walk begins.
Vegetation is made up of virgin bush, subtropical rainforest and beech forest. From the viewing platform you will see the snow-capped peaks of the Kaikoura Range to the south and to the north, Kapiti Island and Wellington's north coast. At the end of the walk you board a water taxi at Furneaux Lodge for the return journey to Picton.
Just 30 minutes from Picton is the Bay of Many Coves Resort, offering luxury accommodation right on the sound's doorstep. There are no roads in, so it really does offer tranquillity. There is a mooring for those arriving in their own boat and for ferries.
The owners want their property to remain part of the nearby community. While the resort has all the luxuries you could wish for, the use of muted colours and natural timbers means it is unobtrusive. There is a choice of one, two or three-bedroom apartments, as well as cosy one-room studios which share bathroom facilities.
The apartments use warm wood, sand and stone, have microsuede sofas, kitchenette with designer appliances, beautiful cookware and glassware and wonderful bathrooms. All have a private balcony overlooking the bay.
Studio units are also tastefully decorated and comfortable. Tea-making facilities and refrigerator storage are provided and each has a balcony with table and chairs.
Kayaks are available for guests to explore the coves and inlets. Chances are you will spot a seal or two swimming around one of the salmon farms with the hope of an easy dinner.
The Queen Charlotte Track has one of the sound's last stands of native bush and is spectacularly beautiful. It is 71 kilometres long and connects Ship Cove with Anakiwa. It is quite broad, relatively easy-going and there are a lot of accommodation and camping sites along the way. Boats visit many of the bays, so the track can be tackled in sections or just day trips. A full walk would take three to four days.
The track is well-defined and from its ridges you can soak in the beauty of Queen Charlotte Sound on one side and Kenepura Sounds on the other.
Resolution Bay Cabins and Cafe is a collection of rustic buildings and one of the original walkers' guesthouses. Set in park surrounds, it is an institution, catering for backpackers, families, schools and other groups. People dream about their famous muffins, which are served with plunger coffee or herb tea. There are side tracks, kayaks, swimming and children love feeding the pet fish.