, at the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island, are a network of deep water drowned river valleys, numerous islands and tranquil sheltered bays. With almost 1500 km of deep-water coastline to explore, it is a cruising area that just has to be experienced.
At Compass Charters we make it easy to get out amongst it with our fleet of yachts, launches and runabouts. Fully equipped and well maintained, there is a vessel to suit all budgets and experience levels. Explore from a shore base, chartering a runabout and hiring a "bach" or choose a different anchorage each evening onboard a yacht or launch. We have a network of moorings throughout the Sounds for our charterers to use or head to one of the Sounds Resorts.
The Marlborough Sounds are made up of Queen Charlotte Sound with more
developed infrastructure, Pelorus and Kenepuru Sound, more secluded and remote and extending as far as the wild isolation of D'Urville Island. The cruising area extends as far as the golden sands of the Abel Tasman National Park including Nelson.
Picton, a quaint wee town is the South Island's gateway for the Interislander and Bluebridge ferries with a population of 4000. In the summer months this virtually doubles as 'Kiwis' flock to the Sounds.
The Interisland ferries transit from Wellington entering through Tory Channel after crossing the Cook Strait, bringing freight and private vehicles, railway wagons and passengers, with the trip taking 3 1/2 hours.
Waikawa Bay is 5 minutes drive from Picton and has the largest marina in the South Island with over 600 berths, numbers reflecting the rich cruising grounds of Queen Charlotte Sound. Sheltered from the extremes of Cook Strait by the fjord like Sound, there is always a calm spot to moor up in without any risk of an ocean swell.
Marine mammals are common with seals and dolphins, including the playful Hectors, Bottle nose and endangered Dusky dolphins making regular appearances. Seasonal visits by Orca are common in the summer months. The significant tidal flow ensures nutrient rich, clean water which is
ideal for aquaculture including salmon and mussel farming.
Much of the Sounds is protected and administered by the Department of Conservation, ensuring large areas of virgin and regenerating native bush are left undisturbed. The isolation of the offshore islands has provided a safe haven for many of NZ's native birds and with native bush to the water line you will wake to the dawn chorus.
Motuara Island bird sanctuary offers public access (and great views across Cook Strait from the viewing platform at the top of the hill) and you will be joined by inquisitive South Island Robins and fantail, so unafraid that they will even stop for a photo. The island is also home to Okarito Kiwi, Saddleback and Kakariki as well as the giant Powelliphanta snails and Weta.
More isolated and with access strictly prohibited Stephens Island (off the tip of D'Urville Island) is a Tuatara sanctuary. This living fossil is directly descended from a reptile that flourished over 200 million years ago.
A mecca for diving and snorkeling Long Island Marine Reserve was set up in 1993. The island is predator free and virtually inaccessible with very limited landing spots (a great natural defense) Underwater, the reef systems are home to sea urchins (kina), abalone (paua), rock lobster (crayfish) and a healthy fish population including blue cod, perch, tarakihi and gurnard. Kelp beds support butterfish and moki.
Fishing conservation has been highlighted and in recent years a size and bag limit for the iconic "blue cod" was introduced to preserve the fishery for the future. The summer sees the return of the snapper to the shallows, in particular in the Pelorus Sound. Interesting cooler water species, less vibrant in colour by contrast to tropical fish find camouflage in the kelp beds with the highly sort after delicately flavoured crayfish (lobster). The July 15th annual opening of the scallop season always attracts the most hardy of divers in the depth of winter for the first of the season, although at present the Scallop season is closed to allow numbers to regain in strength.
The Marlborough Sounds has a rich history, firstly with Maori settling here up to 1000 years ago. It was ideal with narrow headlands with good visibility which were easily defended and had rich food sources.
The first Europeans settlements in the late 1800's were the early whalers, established inside Tory Channel entrance and inner Port Underwood. Captain James Cook on the "Endeavour" arrived into Queen Charlotte Sound in 1770. He visited Ship Cove on each of his 3 voyages and a substantial memorial has been erected.
This is now the beginning of the Queen Charlotte Track which offers the chance to explore more than 70kms from Ship Cove to Anakiwa, a walk (or bike) usually completed over 4 days and with a full support infrastructure, overnight accommodation and pack relocation services which makes this possible for all fitness levels.
There are a number of Resorts out in the Sounds, offering accommodation, meals ashore, some have limited supplies to purchase (including those all important summer ice creams) and all offer stunning views and great hospitality. No matter your age, everyone will enjoy their trip ashore at one of the resorts.
Access into the Sounds by water is easy with water–taxis and tourist operators, including the famous "Mail Boat".
Sailors start young in the Sounds with wee kids on the water in Picton harbour most weekends from spring through to autumn, learning the art of "Opti" sailing (Optimist class). The college teams 420's always hotly contest the national title at Secondary school level. Regular Tuesday night and weekend races see the marina empty as the grownups head out for some fierce competition on the water.
Sailing in The Sounds offers challenging sailing where tacking is to be expected, a wind shift can be a complete 360' or becalmed in a wind shadow as the fleet passes.