Endangered kiwi and various native birds including the King Shag thrive on predator-free islands in the Marlborough Sounds, as well as tuatara, gecko and native frogs.
The winding waterways of the sounds hold dolphins, stingrays, seals, and even orca and whales on their seasonal migration.
Back on dry land, the Picton Museum hosts interesting rich stories of the region's whaling history.
Other ways to immerse yourself in Marlborough's wildlife and conservation is to Kayak on the Wairau Lagoons, cruise close to a multitude of New Zealand bird species, or visit the rare population of bats being protected at the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve. Stroll the wildlife trail at Lochmara Lodge, or discover more about the award-winning sustainability practices at Yealands Estate winery.
Marlborough’s sanctuaries are home to precious geckos, frogs and tuatara, as well as beautiful birdlife and marine life. These wildlife sanctuaries are vital to the continued survival of native species, with some places open to the public.
Seals laze on sun-drenched rocks, while gannets dive into schools of fish. In winter months you can find humpback whales at the edge of the Cook Strait on their annual migration, and in summer it’s the turn of orca. Five types of dolphin also ply these waters, including pods of the rare Hector’s dolphin.
Marlborough wine companies are leading the charge in many environmental practices, from organic vineyards to solar-powered wineries. The environment is at the forefront of planning for a number of Marlborough Sounds accommodation providers as well, with eco-trails and restoration projects ensuring a bright future.
- Maud Island Scientific Reserve
- Motuara Island bird sanctuary
- Long tailed bats
- Blumine Island bird sanctuary
- Marlborough Sounds Wildlife Recovery Centre
- Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary
- Wairau Lagoons, including royal spoonbills
- Kokomohua Marine Reserve
- Mistletoe Bay Eco Village
- The Marlborough Falcon Trust
Tash Luxton Conservation Kids Picton
“This is paradise. In so many parts of the world you have to be a millionaire to enjoy these things, but everyone can experience it here.”My insider guide to Marlborough
It’s taken an enormous amount of work over decades to return the bush and the birds to islands like Motuara in the Queen Charlotte Sound, which was covered in lush forest when Captain James Cook used it to claim British sovereignty over the South Island in 1770.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the island was used for farming, but in 1920 Motuara was declared a reserve.
The bird sanctuary is now predator free, and visitors can walk to a lookout at the top, via tui, bellbird, cheeky robins and fantails, as well as yellow-crowned parakeets and around 200 South Island saddleback. Cruises depart from Picton daily for trips to the island, which is about an hour by boat.
You’ll see penguin nesting boxes, with downy chicks in residence, but the most important species on the island - the nocturnal Okarito brown kiwi - is hidden from sight to most.
There are just 400 rowi nationwide, and the birds here are part of Project Rowi and Operation Nest Egg, through which eggs are removed from the natural habitat of Okarito on the West Coast, hatched in captivity, and the chicks taken to Motuara to grow through to adolescence, before being returned home.
Please make sure there are no pests stowed away on your boat or in your gear. No dogs allowed.
Spot the king shag, a rare bird with a population of 500-600, which sit off Motuara Island, three other nearby islands, and nowhere else in the world. These birds are shy and precious, so keep at least 100 metres from their nesting and roosting sites.
You’ll see plenty of other seabirds in the Marlborough Sounds, including beautiful little blue penguins, gannets, shags, terns, shearwaters, white-faced herons, kingfishers and oystercatchers.
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Ferries & Water Transport
Picton Water Taxis
The Magic Mail Boat