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Queen Charlotte Drive winds around the coast from Picton to Havelock and is a must do either on the way to Nelson or even in part as a quick sidetrip while you wait for your ferry to Wellington to arrive.
Carefully stop at various lookout points including above the commercial port of Picton (over the hill from Picton and the ferry terminal).
Enjoy a feed of mussels in Havelock.
Come back via Blenheim and check some wine estates on the way.
On the Water
The Marlborough Sounds offer wonderful opportunities to enjoy and interact with nature including:
Dolphin and seal interaction with commercial cruise operators
Catching, collecting and/or consuming seafood. Mussels, crayfish and blue cod are local delicacies. Be aware of certain size, quantity and location restrictions that are in effect in New Zealand or locally. Note: The ban on recreational fishing for blue cod inside the Marlborough Sounds was lifted on 1 April 2011 and replaced by size, quantity and fishing season restrictions.
Boating, kayaking. Hire or charter boats at the Picton foreshore from serious yachts to paddle boats. You can even drive your boat and join a guided 'safari' round the sounds. Guided kayaking wilderness trips are another option.
Travel to islands and coves. Numerous cruise and water taxi operators will take you to a cove of your choice.
Beaches and swimming. Picton foreshore, Shelly Beach (10 minutes walk past the marina over the coathanger bridge), Bob's Bay (30 minutes walk from Shelley Beach) and Waikawa Bay are near to Picton.
Diving. The wreck of the Mikhail Lermontov (1986) at Port Gore is viewable at about 30 metres. There are numerous other quality dive sites around.
Walks, Hiking and Mountain Biking
There are short local walks or multi day tramps (hikes) of famous tracks so there is something to suit everyone in the Marlborough Sounds.
Picton Harbour to The Snout & Waikawa Bay
Via Shelley Beach (10 min) and Bob's Bay (30 min) out to the point known as The Snout (3 1/2 hrs return). Great views from the headland. There are two routes upper and lower with the lower following some steep cliffs.
A challenging 45min each way hike through bush high above Picton with a great view from the summit. You can return via Essons Valley and visit a pottery gallery if you wish.
Queen Charlotte Track
Whilst this is normally a 4 or 5 day tramp, various day walks are possible. For example, a visit to Ship Cove and the Captain Cook memorial is a must (get there by boat). This can then be either the start of the full track walk or just a day trip if preferred (in which case you need to arrange for the boat to pick you up).
You can undertake the Queen Charlotte Track in an organised fashion with a guide or unguided. A range of accommodation and luggage porterage options also exist - from basic DOC campsites through to luxury lodges.
The track is moderately demanding with one day requiring an 8 hour walk but most reasonably fit people should be fine, especially if your pack is sent ahead by boat.
Pelorus Track, Nydia Track, French Pass Walk
Many of the tracks can be biked including the Queen Charlotte (except for part that is closed at summer peak times), Nydia and Cullens Creek Tracks. Check with the Information Centre.
Several islands in the Sounds are protected bird sanctuaries. Motuara Island opposite Ship Cove at the start of the Queen Charlotte Track may be visited. Here the saddleback, New Zealand robins, bellbirds, grey warblers, New Zealand pigeons and other species provide great rewards.
You can arrange to be dropped off here before being picked up and taken to Ship Cove later.
There are local eco-tour operators that can provide a guided perspective including river valley walks, high country mountain tours and lagoon kayak trips.
Waterfront Home and Farm Stays
There are numerous opportunities to stay on secluded waterfront properties and/or on farms. You may be whisked over by water taxi to your own Robinson Crusoe hide away for uniquely different New Zealand experience.
Ecoworld Aquarium (formerly known as the Sea Horse Aquarium)
See Marlborough Sounds creatures from fish, eels, giant squid and invertebrates to tuatara, colourful geckos, skinks and scary giant wetas (and, of course, the seahorses).
Millenium Public Art Gallery
Hosts exhibitions of national and regional artists as well as showcasing some fine pieces of local art and craft.
Has interesting displays on the early whaling days in the Sounds, Maori taonga and the early European settlers amongst others.
Gallery/cafe/restaurant down at the marina which is a tribute to the scow and those that sailed in them.
The Edwin Fox sailing ship and museum
Built in 1853, this is the 9th oldest ship in the world on permanent public display.
Marlborough Wine Trail
Marlborough has a reputation for some of the best wine in the world. There are over 100 vineyards in the area and more than 50 have cellar doors open to the public for tastings and purchases.
The area produces around 60% of New Zealand's wine. Sauvignon blanc is the most renowned variety. Reisling, pinot gris and pinot noir have growing reputations.
There are guided or self-guided tours that encompass vineyards and gourmet experiences of the region. The Information Centre will be able to provide further information.