The North Entrance to the Marlborough Sounds

Sailing between Wellington and Picton is often referred to as one of the most scenic ferry journeys in the world. When travelling to New Zealand’s picturesque South Island, the journey itself is just as spectacular as the final destination. Aratere is one of the Interislanders’ Cook Strait ferries, and it will be embarking on an alternative route until the end of December 2021. So, why not take the journey less travelled and discover the untouched natural wonders of the north entrance to the Marlborough Sounds. Here’s our guide to exploring the region:

InterIslander Kaitaki Aerial Marlborough Sounds v2

What to expect on this Cook Strait crossing

Some of the well-seasoned Cook Strait travellers will be familiar with the original route, cruising to Picton. On the Interislanders' usual course, you set off from Wellington and cruise east through the Tory Channel, entering the Marlborough Sounds at Arapawa Island and continuing to Hitaua Bay, before arriving in the scenic town of Picton.

The Aratere is taking the scenic route this summer. On the alternative route, you will take in all the same sights of the wonderful Wellington harbour. You will then proceed further north across the Cook Strait, before entering the breathtaking Queen Charlotte Sound, also known as Tōtaranui, from the northern entrance. This new route will add an extra hour of sightseeing to your journey so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the stunning views along the way.

Unmissable sights along the way

The iconic Marlborough Sounds is a series of sea-sunken valleys found at the northern point of New Zealand’s South Island. What better way to discover this natural wonder than by a scenic boat trip. Step out on the viewing deck and take in the 360-degree views of this breathtaking part of the country. There are many notable locations to see in this unique part of New Zealand. Here are some of the highlights:

Queen Charlotte Sound / Tōtaranui

You will enter the Sounds from the northern entrance at Queen Charlotte Sound. Be sure to head out onto the viewing deck to take in the breathtaking views that surround you. If ever there’s a photo opportunity to be had, this is it.

Look down to the sparkling turquoise waters and keep your eyes peeled for the dolphins that swim around here. The waters are brimming with marine life, and on a good day, they might just put on a show for you.

Tōtaranui is the Māori name for the Queen Charlotte Sound, an area of historical significance. This sheltered Sound once provided shelter and food for Captain James Cook and local Māori that settled in the area.

Arapaoa/Arapawa Island

Arapaoa, previously known as Arapawa Island, is the first island you’ll pass through after entering the Marlborough Sounds.

Arapaoa Island is another historically and culturally significant part of the Sounds. Ancestors of local iwi Te Atiawa settled on Arapaoa, before moving to other areas in the South Island. In Māori mythology, a Māori navigator Kupe, overcame the giant octopus near the island, Te Wheke-o-Muturangi.

In the years that followed when Europeans arrived in New Zealand, they later established Arapawa Island as a whaling settlement. This began in the 1800s and continued until 1964 — making this the longest whaling base in New Zealand’s history. Discover more of the rich history of the island and venture back for a day trip.

Motuara Island

Another highlight on the journey is Motuara Island, situated at the entrance to Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound. This scenic reserve is the perfect spot to enjoy some native birdwatching. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the rare Saddleback or Yellow-Crowned Parakeet.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation notes the historical significance of Motuara Island, stating, “Motuara Island was the location where, in 1770, Captain Cook proclaimed British sovereignty over the South Island.” Enjoy a cruise past this historic spot and gaze out at the beautiful scenery.

Aratere rounds Dieffenbach Point

Endeavour Inlet

You will also pass the scenic Endeavour Inlet. This inlet is named after Captain Cook's ship, also called ‘Endeavour’, that sailed into the bay in 1770. Look out to the bush-clad hills that meet golden sand and turquoise waters — be sure to have your camera at the ready.

The beautiful views and proximity to the Queen Margaret Track make this a hot spot for a romantic getaway. If you want to explore more of Endeavour Inlet, consider making your way back here and spend a few days unwinding in amongst nature.

Best local eats in the Marlborough Sounds and Picton

Both the Marlborough Sounds and Picton are renowned for the delicious fresh seafood caught locally in the area. This is the perfect holiday destination for all the food connoisseurs out there. Take a tour of all the best local eats and fill your belly with fresh seafood, enjoy a local tipple and keep caffeinated as you travel.

Is your mouth watering just thinking about it? Luckily you don’t have to wait until you get there before you can enjoy a nice meal. New Zealand salmon is a new menu item on the Interislander — enjoy this on the ship as you pass the king salmon farm.

Here are our top picks of eateries in the Marlborough Sounds region:

The Boatshed Bar, Punga cove

Venture to Punga Cove, a scenic spot, just a short boat ride away from Picton. Head to the Boatshed Bar. Try to reserve a table out on the deck and soak up the views of the sparkling waters of Endeavour Inlet. Try one of the famous stone-baked pizzas on the menu — the chilli garlic prawn comes very highly recommended.

The Mussel Pot, Havelock

Head to Havelock in Marlborough Sounds and pay a visit to the Mussel Pot. Sample the world-famous New Zealand green-lipped mussels from the best in the business. Travellers come from near and far to get the taste of New Zealand, you won’t want to miss it.

The Foredeck Restaurant, Arthurs Bay

If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, be sure to put the Foredeck Restaurant on your list. This award-winning fine dining restaurant is the perfect spot to spend a romantic evening. The restaurant is set against lush greenery and the turquoise waters of the Sounds. You can easily travel to the Bay of Many Coves by water taxi and spend a few hours wining and dining.

Lochmara Cafe, Lochmara Bay

Travel from Picton to the scenic Lochmara Bay in the Queen Charlotte Sound by water taxi. Visit Lochmara Cafe and enjoy the locally sourced produce. Be sure to try the delicious, seasonal fruit that is grown on-site. This scenic resort also has an underwater observatory on the premises. Discover the Marlborough Sounds in a new light with this unique experience.

Oxley’s Bar and Kitchen, Picton

Visit Oxley’s Bar in the heart of Picton to enjoy a delicious meal with a wine match. Stay awhile and enjoy the sharing platter while soaking up the views of the stunning Picton harbour.

Other must-do foodie experiences in the Marlborough Region

Shelley beach

Best things to see and do in the Marlborough Sounds

Immerse yourself in local history

Marlborough has an inspiring history and heritage just waiting to be discovered. Enjoy a day soaking up the local history at the Havelock museum and Marlborough museum. Then journey back in time and connect with the story of Captain James Cook and visit Meretoto Ship Cove. If you’re keen to learn more about the area, why not visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and experience war stories brought to life.

Get lost in nature

  • Queen Charlotte Track
    Embark on a multi-day hike that showcases the best views of the region. The scenic 71km (one way) track takes around 3-5 days to complete.
  • Archer Track Walk
    Enjoy a day walk through the native and pine forest. This 9km (one way) walking track should take around 3.5 hours to complete.
  • Grovetown Lagoon
    Explore the scenic wetlands on a day walk. This 3.8km loop track is a great option for those travelling with children in tow.

Are you ready to cruise to the Marlborough Sounds?

Take the opportunity to cruise on the route less travelled to Marlborough Sounds this summer. Book your spot on the Aratere today. Journey to the Marlborough Sounds through the northern entrance and take advantage of the beautiful sights and rich history of the region. If you’re looking for more inspiration for things to do in the Marlborough Sounds, you can read more about the area on our destination page.