The Marlborough Sounds are certainly one of New Zealand’s natural wonders. Made up of the Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds – ancient sunken river valleys – the Marlborough Sounds offer spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving experiences in stunning locations amid waters that are teeming with fascinating life.
Diving in the Marlborough Sounds is an unforgettable experience. With more than 1500km of diveable coastline there’s a huge variety of dive sites. This is a real bonus when the weather is less than perfect as one can always find a sheltered site to dive. In the Marlborough Sounds, there’s a dive spot suitable for all levels of diver – from the beginner and ‘rusty’ diver to the more experienced diver.
The Inner Sounds offer very calm water, a number of shipwrecks, scallop diving and reefs. The Outer Sounds have it all – reefs, wrecks, kelp gardens, sea caves and more.
Paradise above and below the water
Out on and under the waters of the Marlborough Sounds, you’ll encounter penguins, sea and land birds of many varieties, marine mammals like dolphins, orcas, whales and a variety of seals, and a range of fish, such as scarlet and spotted wrasse, yellow-eye mullet, tarakihi, sea-perch, conger eel, blue and red moki, carpet sharks, rays, octopus and blue cod.
Blue Cod in particular are quite something to encounter on a dive. They’re unique to New Zealand and thanks to the Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park, some very large specimens can be seen in the no-fishing zones. In such areas they’re used to interacting with divers, coming close enough to be touched.
Grab a kina or a mussel off the seafloor, crack it open and watch the fish sweep in for a feeding frenzy, right out of your hand.
A Marlborough Sounds dive is also not just an encounter with a fascinating underwater world. It’s a scenic wonderland above the waterline as well, where sheltered coastlines are surrounded by mountains and lush green hills, with golden sandy beaches dotted throughout the many coves.
Amateur dive – what to expect
There are a number of dive operators operating in the Sounds. If you’ve managed to secure first-class accommodation at the stunning Tigers Den luxury lodge overlooking spectacular Waikawa Bay (just 2 minutes from Picton), then simply head down to Waikawa Marina, where Blenheim Dive Centre, who offer the PADI Discover Scuba Diving Experience, moors its 6m catamaran dive boat.
If you’re keen to have your first-ever dive but have the jitters about ‘the bends’ or decompression sickness, the pros will simply tell you not to come up any faster than the speed of your slowest bubbles and you’ll be fine.
If you’re setting out from Waikawa Bay, why not head over to Double Cove, a short journey across Queen Charlotte Sound from Picton and tie up at the small jetty on the tongue of land that separates the two coves. That way, you can start your dive by ‘walking’ into the water and taking to the depths one metre at a time.
Double Cove is a no-fishing zone, so the resident fish have become used to people there. Elsewhere, where fishing is permitted, the ‘residents’ may not be so trusting of humans.
You’ll wear a full-body wetsuit, boots and hood, and in the water you’ll be perfectly balanced. Your dive instructors will gave you instructions about hand signals, how it will feel like to breathe underwater and how they will check on you and adjust your buoyancy control device – they press a button and you drop lower into the water; they’ll also press it to re-inflate your wetsuit and raise you back to the surface easily.
To begin with, you’ll probably just snorkel on the surface so you can get used to the sensation of weightlessness and breathing through a mouthpiece. However, you’ll soon forget all the strangeness of breathing under water once you start looking at the entrancing underwater world through your dive mask.
Wreck diving in the Marlborough Sounds
There are also a number of interesting wrecks to dive in the Marlborough Sounds. Probably the most famous is the 20,000 ton Russian cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov. The Lermontov sank under mysterious circumstances in February 1986. For reasons still unknown, the Lermontov sailed through a shallow channel at the tip of Cape Jackson and struck the reef. She managed to limp into Port Gore in the Marlborough Sounds, where she sank in around 30m of water.
The Lermontov lies on her starboard side and is completely intact. Diving to the ship is a fantastic experience, as the propellers, funnel, bridge and pool area, and the damage caused by the reef that led to her demise, are all easily seen. The wreck has now become an artificial reef and is encrusted with invertebrates and is home to schools of fish.
Other wrecks include the Lastingham, which sank in 1884, and the Rangitoto, which sank in 1873. The Rangitoto lies in only 12m of water and is an easy and enjoyable dive. Another easily diveable wreck is that of the Koi. She sank in Picton harbour in 1940. She was later raised, towed across the Sound and sunk off a point between Torea Point and Double Cove in a depth of 12m, making the Koi a great Marlborough Sounds diving experience, particularly for the beginner.
For a new experience in a beautiful part of New Zealand, book your stay at Tiger’s Den Luxury Lodge situated in Waikawa Bay, Marlborough. We offer a luxury holiday home with a beautiful view, a spa pool, barbecue and much more!