MARLBOROUGH SOUNDS | Cook Strait
To see the best of both the North and the South Islands, we take the most scenic route between Wellington and Picton: across the Cook Strait and through the magnificent Marlborough Sounds. The Cook Strait is the narrow body of water that separates the North and the South Islands and we travel between the two islands on a large passenger and vehicle ferry.
The ferry crossing is rated by many as one of the best in the world, and it’s not difficult to see why this is rated as a must-do New Zealand experience, and some may argue that you haven’t really been to New Zealand if you haven’t done the crossing.
As you sail through the drowned river valleys (10,000 years ago the Sounds were a valley), keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins – they often like to accompany the interisland ferry. If you’re very lucky, you may see whales in the Cook Strait waters – in winter months humpback whales migrate through the Cook Strait. On a calm sailing you may see a visible line where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet.
If you travel with us from north to south, Marlborough Sounds with its forested green hills rising straight from the blue secluded coves and sheltered inlets will be a memorable introduction to the South Island. The Cook Strait ferry travelling to the South Island arrives into the quaint little port town of Picton at the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound.
If you’re taking the ferry to Wellington and the North Island, the fantastic views start before the ship has left dock – take a few minutes to appreciate the view up the Queen Charlotte Sound and perhaps aim to get on board and get a viewing spot at the front of the ferry for the very best camera angles.
more about marlborough
At the top of the South Island, sunny Marlborough has a worldwide reputation as a top New Zealand wine region. Marlborough produces some of the world’s most famous and tasty Sauvignon Blancs and is home to about 75% of New Zealand’s wine industry! The area is also famous for seafood – if you’re on tour in the region with us, your guide will help you sample these wares. Travellers with a few extra days up their sleeve may like to spend some time exploring the beautiful secluded reserves and walking and mountain biking tracks in the Marlborough region – especially the 70km Queen Charlotte Track.
Five facts about the Cook Strait Crossing
- It takes just over three and a half hours to sail between the North Island and the South Island.
- The Marlborough Sounds comprises an astonishing one-fifth of New Zealand’s coastline! That’s 1500km of coastal beauty!
- The Marlborough Sounds is made up of four distinctly different Sounds: Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, Pelorus, and Mahau, at the top of New Zealand's South Island. Extra tip: In geography, a sound is a large inlet or a narrow channel between two bodies of land.
- Cook Strait is named after Captain Cook, the English explorer who first mapped it in 1773. He spent much of his time in New Zealand based in Ship Cove within Queen Charlotte Sound.
- It takes almost an hour to sail from the narrow entrance into Wellington harbour to the ferry terminal on Aotea Quay, but the cool little harbourside city is worth the wait!
Photo Credits: The Great Journeys of New Zealand
Tours including Picton/Marlborough Sounds
Amplified NZ Tour
Discover the best of the North and South Island. Tours run from Auckland to Christchurch, or Christchurch to Auckland.View tour
South Island Adrenalin Junkie Tour
Starting in Christchurch, we’ll get your pulse racing at these Southern highlights including the West Coast & Queenstown’s adventure playground.View tour
A sample platter of North and the South Island highlights including the Coromandel, Tongariro, Rotorua, Kaikoura & Christchurch.View tour
Legendary NZ Tour
Our Legendary Tour lives up to its name, with stupendous scenery, bucket loads of adventure and eye-opening cultural experiences.View tour
Visit Queenstown, Wanaka, glaciers & rainforests then see more of the South Island on the world famous TranzAlpine rail journey.View tour
Epic NZ Tour
Discover more of NZ than most New Zealanders, as you thoroughly explore the best of both the North and South Islands.View tour
New Zealand Uncovered
Uncover all the beauty, adventure, culture and fun activities of New Zealand and tick practically everything off your bucket list.View tour
Want to be featured here? Simply tag your Insta pics with #hakatours