Marlborough Sounds

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Sea kayakers in the Marlborough Sounds.
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Sea kayakers in the Marlborough Sounds.

The Marlborough Sounds is an extensive network of sea-drowned valleys at the north of the South Island of New Zealand.

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Geography

Covering some 4000 km2 of sounds, islands, and peninsulas, the Marlborough Sounds lie at the South Island's north-easternmost point, between Tasman Bay in the west and Cloudy Bay in the south-east.

The steep, wooded hills and small quiet bays of the sounds are sparsely populated, as access is difficult. Many of the small settlements and isolated houses are only accessible by boat. The main port is Picton on the mainland, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. It is at the northern terminus of the South Island's main railway and State Highway networks.

The main sounds, other than Queen Charlotte Sound, are Pelorus Sound and Kenepuru Sound. Tory Channel is a major arm of Queen Charlotte Sound, and between them they isolate the hills of Arapawa Island from the mainland. Other islands in the sounds include D'Urville Island.

Ferries and marine farms

The Marlborough Sounds are connected with Cook Strait at the north-east extreme. At this point, the North Island is at its closest to the South Island, and the interisland road, rail, and passenger ferry service between Picton and Wellington travels through the sounds.

Marine farming is increasingly common, although the wake caused by fast catamaran vehicular ferry services to the North Island has been alleged to damage farms, and resulted in a dispute heard in the environment court. The fast ferries (which only operate for the summer season) are restricted to a lower speed in the sounds, reducing their time advantage over the conventional ferries.

Dangerous waters

The main channels of the Marlborough Sounds have calm water and are popular for sailing. Cook Strait, however, is infamous for its strong currents and rough waters, especially when the wind is from the south or north. Because of this, some of the narrow channels closer to the Strait are notoriously dangerous. Notable amongst these is French Pass at the southern end of D'urville Island, which has several vortices.

The most notable shipwreck in the sounds is that of the Russian cruise liner Mikhail Lermontov, which sank in 1986 in Port Gore, close to the mouth of Queen Charlotte Sound, after striking rocks. One life was lost in the incident.

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