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Beachcomber Cruises. Beachcomber Cruises runs scheduled daily scenic and eco-cruises throughout the Queen Charlotte Sounds, including their well-known Mail Run cruise, which explores the outer reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound and Ship Cove. Help deliver mail and supplies to families living in these wild, remote spots. They can also take you to and from many points along the Queen Charlotte Walkway for one-day or longer unguided walks and bike rides. Boats depart from the Picton waterfront throughout the day (times vary according to the time of year; check the website for options). Beachcomber Pier, The Waterfront, Picton, 7220. 03/573–6175 or 0800/624–526. www.mailboat.co.nz. NZ$65–$99.
Cougar Line. Cougar Line runs scheduled trips from Picton through the Queen Charlotte Sounds three to four times daily, depending on the time of year, dropping passengers (sightseers included) at accommodations, private homes, or other points. Their scenic cruises range from a popular three-hour morning and afternoon cruises to shorter ones suitable for passengers waiting for the Cook Strait ferry. The Earlybird Eco Cruise to Motuara Island bird sanctuary (8 am departure, May–Oct.) is a great way to include an extra activity for the day: you can visit the island then be dropped off for a walk along part of the Queen Charlotte Track for the afternoon. A perfect end to the day is onboard the "Blue Cod and Chips" evening cruise to see the Sounds at sunset and savor local fish. Bookings must be confirmed before 5 pm (so the fish can be ordered). Reservations for all trips are essential at peak times and recommended at others. The Waterfront, Picton, 7220. 03/573–7925 or 0800/504–090. www.cougarline.co.nz or www.queencharlottetrack.co.nz. A Queen Charlotte drop-off and pickup service costs NZ$105 for multiday hikes, NZ$80 for day cruises and day hikes that end at Furneaux Lodge; water-taxi service to area lodges, NZ$38–NZ$55, depending on distances and number of people.
Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company. A three-day trip organized by Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company combines walking, biking and kayaking in a fully guided experience with meals and lodging taken care of, and your luggage ferried ahead each day. Accommodation is in a quality lodge, and you need to be reasonably fit. The NZ$1,060 fee includes all water transfers, guide, accommodations, packed lunches, and equipment. The trip kicks off weekly from November through April. As well, four- and five-day guided walks on the Queen Charlotte Track include an eco-tour of nearby Motuara Island, which may include dolphin encounters, and provides resort-style twin-share en suite accommodations. The Waterfront, Picton, 7220. 03/573–6078 or 0800/283–283. email@example.com. www.marlboroughsounds.co.nz.
The Marlborough Sounds have an excellent dive site in the Mikhail Lermontov, recognized as one of the world's great wreck dives. In 1986, this Russian cruise ship came too close to shore and sank on her side in 30 meters (100 feet) of water in Port Gore, on the edge of Cook Strait. (One life was lost.) The 200-meter-long (600-foot-long) ship is now an exciting dive site for anyone with moderate diving skills. September and October generally have the best visibility but trips run all year.
Dive Boat Picton, Nine Dives. Swim with seals, dive on the wreck of the Russian cruise liner, Mikhail Lermontov, and other wrecks, and scuba and snorkel in Long Island Marine Reserve with this PADI-certified and Department of Conservation licensed company. You can dive with a qualified guide or just head down with a buddy. Picton. 0800/934–837. www.ninedives.co.nz.
Dolphin Watch Nature Tours. Swim with or watch dolphins from September through April. Rare Hector dolphins, bottlenose, dusky and common dolphins all frequent the stunning Marlborough Sounds. Visits from orcas (killer whales) are another highlight. Or engage with the prolific birdlife on Motuara Island, an island wildlife reserve and home to rare and endangered species. Walk to the top of the island for a great view of the sounds. Several tour options include Dolphin Swim and View, Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary and Dolphin Cruise, Bird Watchers Expedition, including close-up encounters with King Shags. The Waterfront, Picton Foreshore, Picton, 7220. 03/573–8040 or 0800/945–354–33. www.naturetours.co.nz. From NZ$99. Morning tours depart 9am and run 2–4 hours; guided walks leave at 1:30pm (4 hrs).
Sounds Connection. The Sounds Connection is a long-standing Picton company that runs a host of land- and water-based tours, including regular half-day fishing trips and full-day trips by request/charter. All fishing trips leave from Picton. They can pick you up from accommodation in the Sounds for a small fee. They supply all the necessary gear— it's up to you to get the fish! Then they'll fillet it for you and prepare it for you to eat. They also run half- and full-day winery tours, scenic tours, and any kind of custom-designed tour you would like to organize, out of Picton and Blenheim. 10 London Quay., The Waterfront, Picton, 7220. 03/573–8843; 0800/742–866 (NZ only). www.soundsconnection.co.nz. from NZ$525 for 1–6 people.
Queen Charlotte Track. Starting northwest of Picton, the Queen Charlotte Track stretches 70 km (44 mi) south to north, playing hide-and-seek with the Marlborough Sounds along the way. Hike through lush native forests, stopping to swim or take photos along the way. Unlike other tracks, there are no Department of Conservation huts to stay in, just a few camping areas. Other accommodations are on the walk, however, including backpackers, lodges, resorts, and homestays. Cruise companies Cougar Line or Beachcomber Cruises can drop you at various places for one- to four-day walks (guided or unguided), or you can kayak alongside sections or mountainbike some or all of the Track. The cruise companies can also arrange for your packs to be carried between overnight stops. Though it's relatively easy to access, the track shouldn't be taken lightly. It has steep inclines and long drop-offs, and the weather can be unpredictable. The Track is part of Te Araroa—The Long Pathway walking trail that runs the length of New Zealand—and includes The New Zealand Cycle Trail rides. www.qctrack.co.nz.
Wilderness Guides. To see the glorious Marlborough Sounds, try a four- or five-day fully catered and guided inn-to-inn walk on the Queen Charlotte Track with Wilderness Guides. Price includes land and water transport and three lodge nights along the track. Bookings essential. Alternatively they'll set you off to walk independently, organizing your accommodation, water taxi transport, a packed lunch, map and directions, starting from $695 (price varies depending on the standard of accommodation you chose). Picton Waterfront, Picton, 7220. 03/573–5432; 0800/266–266 (NZ only). www.wildernessguidesnz.com. From NZ$1,750 with luxury upgrade option available.
A great way to experience the Marlborough Sounds is by sea kayak—and the mostly sheltered waters of Queen Charlotte Sound are perfect for it.
Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company. Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company runs guided and self-guided sea kayak trips, from half-day to three-day tours, in either Queen Charlotte or Kenepuru Sound. The bays are ringed by dense native forest, echoing with the trilling calls of native birds. Reservations are essential. The Waterfront, Picton, 7220. 03/573–6078 or 0800/283–283. www.marlboroughsounds.co.nz. Half-day guided trip, NZ$85; three-day guided trip, NZ$545. Kayak rental for self-guided kayaking is available from NZ$60 per person per day.
Wilderness Guides. Wilderness Guides' one-day guided kayak trips include a tasty lunch, and they offer multiday trips of kayaking, or walking or mountain-biking along the Queen Charlotte Track. Accommodations for such excursions are in stylish, boutique lodges. Quality bike and kayak rentals are available if you want to do it on your own (as long as a minimum of two people are paddling together). And there's a special combo day with a guided kayak trip in the morning followed by an independent hike or mountain bike trail along part of the Queen Charlotte Track in the afternoon. Bookings are recommended. Picton Waterfront, Picton, 7220. 03/573–5432 or 0800/266–266. www.wildernessguidesnz.com. From NZ$120.