Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound

Last Modified: 4-6-2021 11:32


Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound
Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound
View down the sound from the end of Grove Arm.
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound is the western most sound in the Marlborough Sounds, extending from Grove Arm in the west to Cape Koamaru and Cape Jackson in the east where the sound meets Cook Strait. Within the sound are a number of islands with Oruawairua / Blumine Island the largest of these, while Arapaoa Island forms the southern land boundary of the outer section of the sound. Like the rest of the Marlborough Sounds, Tōtaranui is a drowned valley formed by sinking and tilting of the northern part of the South Island, and sea level rise following the last glacial period. No major rivers flow into the sound, although several small stream flow into it. Following European settlement and land clearance in the 19th Century, significant erosion caused sediment built up on the seabed. Most of the seabed, up to 75% is flat, muddy sediment, with a few areas of sand, however in the outer sound near Cook Strait there are areas of rocky reefs and ridges. Although the sea floor is mostly flat, there are areas of waves or dune like structures in the sediment.

Natural History

Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound is home to a variety of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species. Human intervention, beginning with the arrival of Māori in the early 14th Century, and Europeans in the late 18th Century has led to significant changes in the ecology, and decline of some species.

Coastal Ecosystems

Coastal vegetation is mostly regenerating native forest, although the northern coastline includes areas of mature mixed beech and podocarp forest that was once common throughout the Sounds. Introduced pines were becoming a significant threat to indigenous ecosystems, however a successful campaign by the Marlborough Sounds Restoration Trust has significantly reduced their numbers.

Marine Plants

Kelp beds are found around the coastline of the outer sound and a few locations in the inner sound,

Fish Species

Ubiquitous spotties are found throughout, and highly prized blue cod numbers are gradually recovering following catch restrictions. Sting rays, eagle rays, kingfish, kahawhai, guarnard are some of the other fish species present.

The area around Long Island is a marine reserve, with fishing prohibited.


Blue, and green lipped mussels, and oysters are found around the coastline attached to rocky substrates. A variety of other molluscs are also present. Other invertebrates include crab species, starfish, and tube worms.

Marine Mammals

New Zealand fur seals and five dolphin species can be found in the area. Occasionally orca and humpback whales also enter the sound.


A variety of coastal birds including species of shags, gulls, and herons are present in the sound. Motuara and Blumine Islands are bird sanctuaries where many endangered birds have been relocated from the mainland including saddleback and the critically endangered rowi / Okarito brown kiwi. The New Zealand King Shag found only in the Marlborough Sounds, with its distinctive pink feet, has a colony in the outer sound.

Human Presence

Tōtaranui was inhabited by various Māori groups before Europeans discovered New Zealand, with Māori occupation of the area dated to the early 14th Century Between Captain James Cook’s first visit in 1770, group dynamics changed significantly between so that he encountered different tribal groups on his final visit in 1777. Cook spent a total of 170 days at Meretoto / Ship Cove in the outer sound, resulting in some of the first sustained interactions between Europeans and Māori in New Zealand. Aropaoa Island, which forms the southern boundary of Tōtaranui is of special significance to Te Ātiawa.

Numerous holiday homes are scattered around the coastline, many with boat access only, although road access is possible in much of Grove Arm, and to a handful of bays off the northern side of the sound.

Economic Importance

The inner part of the sound between Waitohi/Picton and the entrance to Kura te Au / Tory Channel is part of the route used by inter-island shipping, while a mail boat offers a mail and passenger service from Picton to the outer reaches of Tōtaranui. A number of marine farms are present in the outer reaches of the sound. Tōtaranui is a significant tourist attraction, with operations ranging from kayak hire up to cruise ship visits, with water taxis providing access to the start of the renowned walking and mountain bike track, the Queen Charlotte Track.

Web Links

Cite this page

Cookson, C. (2021). Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound. Retrieved May, 29, 2024, from