Discover the hidden gems of Marlborough
Need a weekend of sunshine, wine and good vibes? It’s time you checked out Marlborough. As one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets, this region boasts postcard views, unforgettable dining experiences and incredible outdoor adventure. So if you’re looking for somewhere close by that feels worlds away, Marlborough ticks the box.
Many, if they could, would choose to spend forever in Marlborough, this South Island gem. But for those of you who’ve only got the weekend to catch a break, we’ve hand-picked some of the best things to pack in. Here’s ten.
Gear up for Marlborough's Golden Mile
Marlborough’s world famous for its wine. And with more than thirty cellar doors and some of the country’s best conditions for growing grapes, it’s easy to see why.
If you’re the kind that likes to combine wine and food sampling with leisurely exercise, then you’ll want to cycle the famous Golden Mile. The 6km track features some of the region’s best wineries (Forrest, Giesen, Wairau River – and more), along with seafood restaurants, cafes and spectacular scenery. Grab yourself a bike from one of the hire companies in Blenheim, book a tour or choose to go at your own pace. There are nine stops in total, but we’d recommend doing just five in a day – to make the most of each one. Should you choose to make it a two-day adventure, there’s some excellent accommodation to bunker down at, some of which include complimentary bikes and wine tours. Bonus.
Soak up the Marlborough Sounds
For a date with nature in one of Marlborough’s most idyllic settings – that’s also home to the Picton Ferry Terminal – weave your way through the Marlborough Sounds. With four different pockets of waterways (Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, Pelorus and Mahau) that stretch for 1500km, the Sounds make up a large chunk of New Zealand’s coastline. Each sound has something different to discover. And you’re free to explore whichever way you like, whether that’s on foot, by boat, bike or if you’re up for it – kayak. There’s also plenty of tours to sign up for, including dolphin swimming, wildlife spotting, seafood cruises and even helicopter rides – which take you to some secret spots and hidden coves that you wouldn’t see otherwise. So if you’ve got the time, we’d say it’s worth it.
If you’re serious about seafood, jumping on one of Marlborough’s seafood cruises is a no-brainer. And being right next to the Interislander Ferry terminal and Coastal Pacific stop, it could be the very first activity to tick off.
Whether you’re a fan of mussels, clams or Regal Salmon, there are several cruises to suit a variety of palates. In between savouring mouth-watering seafood and sampling some of Marlborough’s finest wines, you’ll get to stop off at a local salmon or mussel farm, where you’ll learn about the region’s fascinating aquaculture. Tours are three hours long and run in the afternoon. But if you’ve got a crew with you, you’re free to pick a time that suits – just give them a bell beforehand. It’s also worth mentioning that all tours leave from either Picton or Havelock. So if you’re here without a car, you might be better signing up for the Marlborough Icons Tour and making a full day of it. You’ll be picked up and dropped off from wherever it is you’re staying.
The Mussel Pot Cafe and Restaurant
We get that mixing boat rides with eating isn’t for everyone. So if you’d rather taste Marlborough on land, look no further than the Mussel Pot Café and Restaurant – located in Havelock. This restaurant’s been doing its thing for almost twenty years, serving fresh and local seafood, wine, pasta, burgers – and more notably, their “New Zealand famous” green lip mussels. But in staying true to their seasonal nature, they’re only open from September to June. Which is a good reason to plan your Marlborough weekend during those months.
The Queen Charlotte Track
For a spot of exercise that’s well worth the sweat, set off and hike the mesmerising Queen Charlotte Track. With 71km of panoramic ocean views, native bush and wildlife encounters, it’s a sight to behold. The track is an easy/intermediate grade and takes three to five days to complete, but if you’ve only got a day or few hours to explore, there’s plenty of shorter tracks to choose from – like the Ship Cove Waterfall Track or the Mistletoe Bay. What’s more, the start of the Queen Charlotte track can be accessed by water taxi, so it’s easy to get there and back. In saying that, if you’d like to make it a multi-day adventure, there’s some great accommodation on hand. Choose between a lodge, resort, B&B or pitch a tent at one of the DOC sites.
Prefer wheels to walking? Great news - Queen Charlotte also offers great Mountain Biking. And just like the walking tracks, there are a few shorter rides on offer. But should you want to ride the entire track, be sure to allow two to three days. For bike hires, check out Marlborough Sounds Adventure Co.
Note: you’ll also need a QCTLC pass before heading off (some parts are privately owned) – walkers that goes for you too.
Art and Aviation
If you’re into aviation or are keen to soak up a bit of war history, The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim is your best bet. Located just a short driving distance from Blenheim Train Station. With a collection of WWI and WWII aircraft on display, you’ll be transported back in time. One of the more noteworthy exhibitions is Peter Jackson’s ‘Knights of the Sky’, which with its incredibly crafted artefacts and mannequins brings the war back to life. As well as experiencing the museum, you’ll also have the chance to check out these planes from above. Joy Rides operates the US Army Boeing Sterman, which has three seats, so couples or friends can travel together. Or if you’re after something a little more daring, the Yak-3 Russian fighter has a maximum speed of 407 mph, meaning it’s very acrobatic – except plenty of twists and turns. In between high flying and museum exploring, this centre also has a café that serves up sweet treats and great coffee.
Tickets range between $10-25, depending on what exhibition you choose to visit. But if you’ve got little ones, they’ll get in free.
It’s no secret that Marlborough’s a bird lover’s paradise. So if you’re keen to check out some of the world’s rarest, either the Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary or Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary will be right up your alley. Kaipupu sits at the head of Picton Harbour and can only be accessed by water taxi, which makes for all the more fun. As well as spotting wildlife like the kereru, fantail, grey warbler and tui, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the sounds, which are all within the sanctuary’s jungle-like forest. Entry is free for all, just be sure to pack sturdy shoes and snacks.
Motuara Island is equally as fantastic. But with perhaps even more unique species – like the saddleback, yellow-crowned parakeet, penguins and if you’re lucky enough to spot it, the nocturnal brown kiwi. This island also has a bit of history to it, being the place where Captain Cook claimed British rule over the South Island.
Places to wine and dine
The Marlborough locals are serious about fine dining. And they love nothing more than sharing it with visitors. So whether you’d like to sip mulled wine by a crackling fire or nibble soufflé between the vines, you’re bound to find your calling.
Home to some of Marlborough’s oldest vines and a family run business, who pioneered wine in Wairau Valley, they’re more than passionate. If you’re after a glass or two beneath the trees (there’s a roaring fire during cooler months), head to the tasting room – it’s open most hours of the day, seven days a week. Or if you’re after a seasonally inspired meal and delicious dessert menu (their blue cheese soufflé is famous), make a booking at the restaurant. You’ll enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and friendly service.
Also a family (three brothers) affair, “Great Wine, Great People and Great Times” is everything they stand for. Expect warm hospitality, a selection of incredible wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz) and generous helpings.
Yet another famous face, being the winery that created Marlborough’s first Sauvignon Blanc. So if you’re into Sav, this is the place. Their restaurant is also second to none. You’ll love the fresh flavours, stunning views (wildlife scenes included) and of course, premium wine.
Swim with Picton's locals
For a date with Picton’s favourite locals, sign up for a dolphin swim experience with Eko-tours. Throw on your swimwear, strap on a lifejacket and dive into a few hours of adventure. Or if you’d rather snap pictures from the comfort of the boat, you’re more than welcome to do so. As well as rubbing shoulders (or fins) with some of the most unique dolphin species around – Dusky, Bottlenose, Orca, Hector’s (just to name a few) – you’re bound to come across other wildlife such as fur seals and penguins. The scenery’s also worth a mention, being in the heart of the Marlborough sounds, you’ll be surrounded by rolling hills, golden bays and tranquil waters.
Each tour kicks off at Picton’s main waterfront, which neighbours the Picton Ferry Terminal and Train Station.
Waterfront places to stay
Between all the fun and games, you’ll need somewhere to recharge your batteries. So it’s a good thing Marlborough’s got plenty of accommodation for exactly that.
Mistletoe Bay Eco Village is a green lover’s paradise. The village holds a strong passion for environmental practices and protecting the Marlborough Sounds, so you’ll be well and truly at one with nature. From camping to cabins to cottages, there’s plenty of accommodation options to choose from – which might we add, are all very affordable. The sights and sounds are also worth mentioning – you’ll wake to singing birds and views of crystal clear waters.
Lochmara Lodge is equally as picturesque, if not more. And with its own private beach, wildlife recovery centre and stacks of activities (cruises, kayaking, massages) you’ll find everything you need at arm’s reach. Accommodation wise, there’s four units and two chalets, some of which are perfect for families.
If you’re after something a little more contemporary, the Picton Waterfront Apartments offer modern accommodation in the heart of Picton. You’ll love the large balconies, stunning views of the Queen Charlotte Sound, free parking and array of cafes and shops, which are all within walking distance.
Onboard? See you in Marlborough
Whether you’re into wildlife spotting, world-class wine, aircraft wonders or glamping (glamorous camping), Marlborough makes for a fantastic weekend break. And with the Interislander Ferry just a stone’s throw away and the Coastal Pacific train stopping at Blenheim and Picton, it makes getting there all the more fun – not to mention easy. So pick a weekend, make a booking and we’ll see you there.