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Wet Adventures: Getting Out on the Water

It’s not a question of whether you’ll go out on the water in Marlborough Sounds, but rather which vessel you’ll be on. The ferries from Wellington provide a good introductory view as they make their way toward Picton, but for a closer look you’ll need to go out on a smaller, more specialized boat. The Cougar Line, London Quay, Waterfront, Picton (tel. 0800/504-090 in NZ, or 03/573-7925; www.cougarlinecruises.co.nz or www.queencharlottetrack.co.nz), has a range of cruise options in Queen Charlotte Sound. If your time is limited, take the 3-hour Sounds Delivery Cruise, which departs daily from Picton at 10am and returns at 1:30pm; it costs NZ$75 for adults, NZ$38 for children ages 5 to 15. This is a good way to fill in time if you’re waiting for the ferry. Also offered are a twilight cruise during peak season and popular cruise-and-walk options to suit all levels of fitness. All-day tours cost NZ$75 to NZ$85 per person.

Another option is the 4-hour Queen Charlotte Sound Magic Mail Run Cruise operated by Beachcomber Cruises, London Quay, Picton (tel. 0800/624-526 in NZ, or 03/573-6175; www.mailboat.co.nz), for NZ$93 adults, NZ$47 for children 5 to 14. Or try the Pelorus Mail Run (tel. 03/574-1088; www.mail-boat.co.nz), which departs Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from Havelock at 9:30am and costs NZ$130 for adults, free for children under 16. Tea and coffee are supplied, but bring your lunch. A courtesy coach is available to and from Picton.

Sea kayaking is one of the best ways to get intimate and up close to the Sounds. I had my first-ever kayaking experience here and now I’m hooked. Two recommended outfitters are Sea Kayak Adventures, Anakiwa Road, RD1, Picton (tel. 0800/262-5492 in NZ, or 03/574-2765; www.nzseakayaking.com), which has half-day guided trips from NZ$75 and 1-day freedom trips from NZ$85; and Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, London Quay, Picton (tel. 0800/283-283 in NZ, or 03/573-6078; www.marlboroughsounds.co.nz). The latter company is the larger of the two and has more boats, more extensive trips, and the most central Picton base. Its most popular trip is the 1-day excursion for NZ$125 per person. For those who like sailing, Compass Charters, 20 Beach Rd., Waikawa Marina, Picton (tel. 0800/101-332 in NZ, or 03/573-8332; www.compass-charters.co.nz), is the South Island’s largest charter company. They have budget to luxury-yacht and launch cruises—skippered or self-driven—priced according to the vessel and duration. Picton-based Affinity Cruises (tel. 0800/862-334 in NZ, or 03/572-7223; www.affinitycruises.co.nz) offers excellent 1-, 5-, or 7-day cruises with private cabins, including a lovely 1-night cruise (Sept-Oct) for NZ$450.

Bird-watchers will love the remote Chetwode and Outer Island Bird Tour run by French Pass Sea Safaris, French Pass, Marlborough Sounds (tel. 03/576-5204; www.seasafaris.co.nz), which takes you to a closed nature reserve (Feb-Apr only), to see a diverse mix of birds and marine mammals for NZ$175 per person.

Combination food, wine, and water lovers should opt for the Marlborough Travel Greenshell Mussel Cruise (tel. 0800/990-800 in NZ, or 03/577-9997; www.greenshellmusselcruise.co.nz). This terrific half-day outing takes you into the stunning Sounds environment, visiting a Greenshell mussel farm, where you’ll be treated to a feast of yummy, freshly steamed mussels with a complimentary glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc. The tour operates November through March, departing Havelock and Picton wharves at 1:30pm daily and from Portage Resort Hotel, Marlborough, at 3pm daily. It costs NZ$115 from Portage and Havelock and NZ$150 from Picton, and is worth every cent. Children travel for NZ$45.

Although passengers on any of these vessels may see dolphins, Dolphin Watch Ecotours, London Quay (tel. 0800/945-3543 in NZ, or 03/573-8040; www.naturetours.co.nz), makes these lovely creatures the focus of its naturalist tours; try the Dolphin Swimming Ecotour (NZ$160 for adults, NZ$100 for ages 8-15), or the Dolphin Viewing Ecotour (NZ$100 for adults, NZ$60 for children 5-15). Excellent bird-watcher’s tour go for NZ$125 for adults, NZ$60 for children 5 to 15.

If you have fishing on your mind, contact Havelock-based Captain Clay’s Snapper Fishing Charters (tel. 03/574-2911; bluecottage@actrix.co.nz); fishing for two people costs NZ$250 for 3 hours from November through April. Sounds Connection, 10 London Quay, Picton (tel. 0800/742-866; www.soundsconnection.co.nz), offers a half-day fishing adventure for NZ$95 per person, departing Picton at 1pm.

Culture buffs might enjoy a visit to the small but interesting Marlborough Museum, 26 Arthur Baker Place, Blenheim (tel. 03/578-1712; www.marlboroughmuseum.org.nz), which has excellent exhibits on the area’s early pioneer days and the history of the local wine industry. It’s open daily from 10am to 4pm (closed Dec 25), and admission is NZ$10 for adults and NZ$5 for children.

Another highlight is the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, 79 Aerodrome Rd., Blenheim (tel. 03/579-1305; www.omaka.org.nz), where you’ll find the brilliant Knights of the Sky exhibition. New Zealand’s most respected cinematic and special-effects craftsmen at Weta Workshop have created a dramatic aviation theater in which original and full-scale replica WW1 aircraft, both static and working, are presented in all their glory. The collection is managed by the 14-18 Aviation Heritage Trust, which is chaired by film director Sir Peter Jackson, and includes several rare aircraft. Admission is NZ$25 for adults, NZ$10 for ages 5 to 15, and NZ$55 for a family. It’s open 10am to 4pm daily. Every second year at Easter, the center hosts a Classic Fighters Air Show. The next show is in 2013.

Although passengers on any of these vessels may see dolphins, Dolphin Watch Ecotours, Picton Foreshore (tel. 0800/945-3543 in NZ, or 03/573-8040; www.naturetours.co.nz), makes these lovely creatures the focus of its naturalist tours. A Dolphin Swimming Ecotour costs NZ$145 per person, and a Dolphin Viewing Ecotour costs NZ$95 for adults and NZ$55 for children. They also have an excellent bird-watcher's tour for NZ$95 per person.

If you have fishing on your mind, call up Havelock-based Captain Clay's Snapper Fishing Charters (tel. 03/574-2911; bluecottage@actrix.co.nz), or Sounds Connection, 10 London Quay, Picton (tel. 0800/742-866; www.soundsconnection.co.nz), which offers a half-day fishing adventure for NZ$79 per person, departing Picton at 1pm.

Especially for Kids

There's a treat in store for young and old alike at Eco World Aquarium & Terrarium, Picton Foreshore (tel. 0800/800-081 in NZ, or 03/573-6030; www.ecoworldnz.co.nz). Watch tiny, mysterious sea horses court and dance, see thousands of babies at various stages of growth, and find out about the mysteries of the male pregnancy. On top of that, there's a 6m (20-ft.) preserved giant squid-only one of two examples in the Southern Hemisphere. Kids can also get up close and personal with crayfish, sharks, stingrays, and the multitudes of fishes that thrive in New Zealand waters. Fish are fed at 11am and 2pm and there are free guided tours (excluding entry fee) at 10am, noon, 1pm, and 3pm. It costs NZ$17 for adults, NZ$9 for children, and NZ$44 for a family pass. There's more fishy business at Eyes on Nature Fish Museum, 61 Main Rd., Havelock (tel. 03/574-1256; www.eyesonnature.co.nz), which presents life-size models of New Zealand fish in a darkened environment in the old Havelock Post Office. If you're driving to Nelson, call in on the way and let the kids loose with a torch.

The Queen Charlotte Walkway

If you’re like me and love walking but hate carrying things, the Queen Charlotte Walkway is for you. It’s a 1-to 4-day experience with amazing views and not a pack in sight. That’s because kind people in boats do all the pack lifting and transferring of your goodies for you. Even better, you don’t have to stay in cramped huts or tents, as there are smart lodgings along the way. The 71km (44-mile) walking track passes through lush coastal forest, around coves and inlets, and along skyline ridges with breathtaking views of Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru sounds. If you’ve got time, try the excellent kayak/walk combos offered by Wilderness Guides, 3 Auckland St., Picton (tel. 0800/266-266 in NZ, or 03/573-5432; www.wildernessguidesnz.com), from NZ$240 per person day up to NZ$1,850 for a guided multiday experience. You can also tackle the track on mountain bikes. Cycle Adventure Tours Downunder, 1 Auckland St., Picton (tel. 03/573-8565; www.cyclenz.com), has 1-day bike rentals from NZ$45 and 1-to 3-day guided tours from NZ$425, which includes transport, gear, and accommodations. The tour requires a reasonable level of fitness. The Picton and Blenheim i-SITE Visitor centers have an excellent brochure on the track, listing all transporters and accommodations, and you can find out more at www.qctrack.co.nz.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.