At the top of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds are a series of sunken river valleys that form a dazzling landscape, with countless peninsulas, islands and inlets. Though the region represents only 1 percent of New Zealand's total area, its irregular coastline, with its many bays and coves, means it accounts for a fifth of the country’s coast.
There are three principal sounds: Pelorus, Kenepuru and the largest, Queen Charlotte Sound, which runs along the southern edge of the region. While the sounds were home to a number of settlements of Maori, who were able to fish these protected waters safe from the currents of the open sea, the area is sparsely populated today. For the traveler who wants to escape the bustle of civilization, the walking trails along the stunning coastline and the protected bays dotted with the white sails of yachts are a good choice. Queen Charlotte and the other sounds are also an important home for some of New Zealand's fauna, with five different types of dolphins swimming in the waters here and threatened bird species finding sanctuaries in the 50 different nature reserves throughout the region.