Marlborough is a land of rolling hills, diverse microclimates and year round sunshine. Together, these factors mix to make the premier winemaking spot in New Zealand - repeatedly churning out some of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world. At your fingertips are over 40 cellar doors offering tours and tastings in all seasons.
For those looking to get away from the towns and into the bush, the Marlborough Sounds offer a gorgeous alternative. One of New Zealand's popular great walks that isn't in fact a Great Walk, the Queen Charlotte Track leaves from this area and provides a handful of days in a pure, natural retreat. You can look forward to coastal scenery, deserted coves, stunning campsites and lovely accommodation options. From art fanciers and wine lovers to trampers and sea fiends, Marlborough has something for just about everyone.
Don't forget to get your accommodation booked before your trip. Check out Wotif for the best deals on Marlborough accommodation.
Destination Marlborough: Getting There
Marlborough sits at the very northern tip of the South Island - consequently, it's the first area you'll come to after crossing the Cook Strait from the North Island. Picton is your gateway to Marlborough - and for that matter, the South Island. From here, you're a short two hours to Nelson, six down the West Coast to the glaciers or four down the east coast to Christchurch.
Destination Marlborough: Orientation
Marlborough sits to the East of the Nelson Tasman region and North of Canterbury.
- Blenheim :: This town is Marlborough's largest, and often claims to be the sunniest in the country. While Blenheim really is just a service town to the region, it has its fair share of quality restaurants, shopping and an impressive weekend market. If you're off wine-tasting (and you should be), odds favor you spending a night on either end here.
- Picton :: North of Blenheim you'll find Picton. This town is the jump off point to catch the ferry to the North Island, and considered to be the gateway to the South Island. Architecture from the European settlement in the 1840's still exists around here, lending a flavor of historical authenticity to the place.
- Havelock :: Just to the west sits Havelock, a small historic town with a museum and marina, known as the famous haven of New Zealand's green lipped mussels. The drive from Picton to Havelock is fantastic, and a perfect taste of what the Marlborough Sounds has to offer.
- Rai Valley :: A sleepy rural settlement, offers access to the Western Marlborough Sounds.
Destination Marlborough: Hot Spots
Wine Tasting in Marlborough
The Marlborough region is New Zealand’s leading wine producing area. Its weather conditions are perfect for growing the cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc grape – extremely dry, warm and sunny days, complemented by cool nights. With over 40 wineries, there is no shortage of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Gewurztraminer to be tasted.
The cellar doors of the wineries run the gamete from small, humble operations to more impressive places offering high-end meals, cheese tastings, and exquisitely decorated tasting rooms. Most tastings are free and include entry level, young Sauv Blancs, aged Pinot Gris, and vintage reserves. White wines dominate the region, although the Pinot Noir grape also grows well with Marlborough’s cool climate.
There are heaps of companies offering wine tours in the region. Most tours have a preset list of wineries to visit, while others tours can be tailored based on your tastes and curiosities. Planit NZ suggests you rent your own bike and tour the wineries by pedaling around the vineyards. Typically, bikes come with saddlebags so you can tote your favorite finds back.
If you are planning a longer day, we recommend packing a picnic lunch and sitting down with a bottle and some cheesy sammies on any of the gorgeous grounds that are the setting for Marlborough's wineries.
Blenheim is the the main service town of the region, and as the largest town in Marlborough it actually has plenty on offer. As the wine industry continues to blossom, so does the flavor and opulence of Blenheim. There are loads of new restaurants opening each year catering to the many wine tourists which visit the area.
You can walk the Wither Hills which afford a great view over Wairau valley, or take up on one of the mountain bike trails. Driving towards Renwick will land you on a few fruit farms that allow visitors to pick their own, and bring you by various olive growers and brandy makers that are keen to provide samples. For a classy dinner and fabulous food, take yourself to Herzog or Hotel d'Urville. More casual options are easy to come by, and be assured the wine selection will be more than satisfactory.
For backpackers or working holiday makers looking to earn a bit of cash, there always seems to be work of some description in or around Blenheim. With dozens of wineries and fruit farms, there is very often work focusing on some aspect of growing, pruning or tending to the vines.
The Marlborough Sounds are a geographic maze of inlets, peaks, beaches and coves formed when the sea flooded deep into the valleys after the last ice age. Three main bodies of water comprise the sounds: Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus. To give you an idea of their wandering coastline, Pelorus Sound is 42 kms long but offers up 379 kms of coastline.
You can find many operators in the region keen to hire you kayaks and canoes so you can explore the sounds on your own or with a guide. We recommend waking up with the sunrise and paddling before breakfast—the light is gorgeous and you'll work up a hearty appetite. You may also rent diving gear and hunt down the sunken shipwrecks, or drive your own boat, or sign up to swim with the dolphins. More of a landshark? Take one of the many hikes around the sounds or wind down in a waterfront café.
Queen Charlotte Track
The incredibly popular Queen Charlotte Track provides hikers or mountain bikers with isolated coastal scenery, deserted beaches and dense native bush. It's 71km in length, and the path courses through lush coastal forest and climbs up along lofty ridges that afford stunning panoramic views of the Marlborough Sounds. The track typically takes four to five days to walk, but shorter options are available to those who do not wish to walk the entire course. The track is not steep, only long, good for travelers looking for a less strenuous retreat into the bush. Accommodation is available along the way in a variety of accommodation, but booking ahead is recommended most of the time.
Marlborough claims to be the sunniest region in New Zealand, and the fruitful abundance of produce at the weekend market proves as much. Head to the market in Blenheim and you'll find fresh locally pressed olive oil, plump organic produce, New Zealand's famous manuka honey, almonds and figs, fish from the coast, fresh roasted coffee and all the gourmet foodstuffs you could want from a thriving agricultural town's farmer's market.
Destination Marlborough: Final Thoughts & Recommendations
Much of life in Marlborough takes place indoors; in tasting rooms, restaurants, shops, and cafés. But the opportunities to engage in the outdoors are myriad. Do paddle the sounds, bike through the vineyards, and hike the Queen Charlotte. Marlborough has just about the best weather anywhere, so bring a sunhat, pack your lunch, get out on the water, into the vineyards or hop on your bike and get lost in the bush.
Marlborough is a locavore foodie's paradise. It's the kind of place with a climate benign enough to keep many foods in season all year round, a coast that pours fresh fish right into your hands, a flourishing community of local winemakers, and enough artisan food producers to make the best of it all.
Keep your palate open, and listen to recommendations. A note to the wine drinkers—Marlborough concentrates mostly on white wine. Even if you are a self-identified “red wine drinker,” give the whites a try anyway. There's a good chance you'll change your mind.
Marlborough is also a sanctuary for artists and their work. Tour some of the larger wineries and you will see many works on display, from ceramic and copper sculptures in the gardens to paintings hanging in the tasting rooms. For a well rounded experience, make the worthwhile trips to galleries and exhibits around and outside of town. Many of the studios welcome visitors as well, providing opportunities to meet and speak to the artists. Create encounters with the winemakers and farmers as well, and you will meet the people who make Marlborough what it is.