The deep inlets and drowned river valleys of the Marlborough Sounds are often described as ‘a little slice of Norway'. The Sounds are a charming introduction to the South Island, with opportunities for cruising, sea kayaking, walking and wildlife watching from the town of Picton.
Close by is Blenheim, the region's capital and the centre of the world-famous Marlborough wine country. Most people start or end their travels in the Marlborough Sounds in the small township of Picton, which was once the site of a Maori pa (fortress).
At one time Picton was a candidate to be the nation's capital, which seems somewhat surprising now, given its population is just 4,000. For much of the year it is a quiet place, but it comes to life in the summer, when its craft shops, cafes and galleries fill up with visitors, who arrive by ferry, train or car before heading off to explore the nearby Sounds and vineyards. The Interislander - a car and passenger ferry that operates between Picton in the South Island and Wellington in the North Island - runs daily services from the ferry terminal, 500 metres from the town centre.
Queen Charlotte Sound
Leaving Picton, it passes through the scenic Queen Charlotte Sound, where dolphins can often be seen swimming alongside the ship. There's also wildlife to see on Motuara Island, a predator-free haven for native birds that includes oystercatchers, herons, fantails and shags. The very rare Okarito brown kiwi can also sometimes be seen, as can South Island bush robins and bellbirds. Another local attraction is Ship Cove, which Captain Cook used as a base during his travels around New Zealand in the 1770s. It's one of the key sites on the spectacular Queen Charlotte Track.