Making the most of the Sounds

Queen Charlotte Sound. Photo: Russell Street
Queen Charlotte Sound. Photo: Russell Street

Belinda Feek enjoys the natural beauty of Queen Charlotte Sound - and tries not to disturb its harmony.

The water is so cold it feels like icicles are shooting through my wetsuit.

My singing sounds more like a high-pitched scream.

I'm swimming with the dolphins in the Queen Charlotte Sound in November. I should have been aware, but I was more excited about practising my karaoke with a bunch of precious mammals than worried about water temperature.

We're part of a tour group of 10 with Picton-based E-Ko Tours.

They're the only company in the sounds running tours where you can swim with the dolphins, head guide Ailie Suzuki tells me.

She explains that there are five different species in the sounds at varying times of year - the dusky, bottlenose, hectors, orca and common dolphin.

E-Ko Dolphin tours in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Russell Street
E-Ko Dolphin tours in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Russell Street
Part of our briefing prior to hitting the water includes a warning not to touch the dolphins, and suggestion we sing to them instead.

I'm hoping my poor singing skills won't scare the poor creatures off, and that the water can muzzle the racket likely to come out of my mouth.

We've already donned our wetsuits, which are fortunately very thick, and after about 20 minutes of searching, a few dusky dolphins are spied in the distance.

For some reason the 14degC water temperature doesn't register in my brain as cold, so I get a sharp shock as soon as I giddily jump in the water.

Fortunately, my high-pitched cry doesn't seem to scare the dolphins off and they frolic below and around us.

We float about on our tummies, feet in the air, like we're freefalling in a skydive.

We clamber back on to the boat where, thankfully, staff have flasks of hot water to tip down the front of our wetsuits and warm us up.

We continue to follow the dolphins - even spotting a few who get up close and personal - and each time we choose a point to stop, the dolphins swim underneath and around the boat, as if guiding us along.

After three dips in the water, we call it quits and head back to shore, warmed up with a cup of tea and biscuits.

Any visit to the sounds wouldn't be complete without giving the Queen Charlotte Track a go.

It stretches 70km between Ship Cove in the north and Anakiwa in the south.

The Queen Charlotte Track. Photo: Getty Images
The Queen Charlotte Track. Photo: Getty Images
The first section is 15km, taking roughly five hours, and ends at Furneaux Lodge in the Endeavour Inlet.

We begin rather abruptly with what seems like a near vertical, winding climb up the Ship Cove Saddle.

The only good thing about the climb is the views on offer; the water is as clear as glass as we look down.

Making the trek more comfortable is the ability to have your luggage transported straight to your accommodation.

We caught a ride out to Ship Cove on a Cougar Line Water Taxi.

Skipper Fred Gaudin is originally from Dunedin but moved to the sounds after a 16-year stint farming in the Waikato.

He's up front, sharing a few highlights of the region with passengers, including how the area is home to five Regal salmon farms.

We spy a few homes built in the cliff and hills. Gaudin explains how all the materials for them were brought out by boat, and that residents have to generate their own power.

The area is steeped in history.

A memorial to explorer Captain Cook takes pride of place on the waterfront; it was his favourite anchorage and the location of some of the first meetings between Maori and Europeans.

Queen Charlotte Sound. Photo: Sid Mosdell
Queen Charlotte Sound. Photo: Sid Mosdell
After several more hours on the undulating and picturesque track, baches and homes come into view before sprawling Furneaux Lodge is finally at my weary feet.

We're greeted by owner Bev Faulkner, who with husband Ralph, took over ownership of the lodge 16 years ago; well after the murder of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope rocked the small seaside settlement.

The couple, who also own the neighbouring resort at Punga Cove, gave up a pear farm on the outskirts of Hamilton to take on their new life and haven't looked back.

"It's absolutely pristine.

"You can walk five minutes and see trees that are 1000 years old, that have never been touched," Ralph says.

The lodge is renowned for its beer and wine selection, curated by Ralph, and its food is also delicious: I recommend the seafood chowder, which was the best I've had. 



Air New Zealand flies from Dunedin to Blenheim, with one-way Seat fares from around $240.


For information on E-Ko Dolphin ours, visit


Scenic Hotel, Alfred St, Blenheim Furneaux Lodge, Endeavour Inlet, Queen Charlotte Sounds Bay Vista Waterfront Motel Picton, 303 Waikawa Rd, Waikawa, Picton




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