Ease your kayak around a bushclad headland and drift silently under overhanging branches into a secret cove. The dark green foliage of the forest is reflected in the calm, clear water, and streaks of sunlight seem to dance over the ripples from your wake.

Ahead is another intimate bay, and beyond a densely wooded peninsula that rises sharply to a mountain ridge that meets the blue sky. Your kayak journey through this maze of drowned river valleys, a legacy of rising sea levels at the end of the last ice-age, whets your appetite for more exploration of these wonderful sounds.

Marlborough Sounds, embracing the Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds, are due west of Wellington at the northern tip of the South Island. They were named in honour of the Duke of Marlborough.

The best way to appreciate the sound scenery is from the water – on cruise boats, charter yachts or kayaks. Picton is the base for aquatic activities, including dolphin watch eco tours, and fishing excursions. The pretty port town is the terminal for the Cook Strait ferry and is well supplied with accommodation, cafes and restaurants, offering local seafood specialities.

The Queen Charlotte Walkway gives another perspective on the sounds. This walk starts at historic Ship Cove, Captain James Cook’s exploration base in the South Pacific. The track initially follows the shoreline and then climbs to skyline ridges, where you enjoy wide views over two sounds. Excellent overnight stays can be arranged along the 67 km track, which ends at Anakiwa, near Havelock on the Pelorus Sound.

Marlborough is also notable as New Zealand’s largest grape growing and wine making region with over 300 growers. Many of the 65 wineries encourage visitors to taste their product and stay for lunch or dinner in a vineyard setting.

Travellers on the Cook Strait ferry cannot fail to get a favourable first impression of the South Island when they traverse the sounds. A stopover in Picton to explore these labyrinthine waterways, and taste their serenity and solitude, can be a worthwhile investment in holiday time.