Marlborough – wine, water and wilderness

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New Zealand’s Marlborough region might be best known for its medal-winning wines but its stunning fjord-like waterways offer much more than its cellar doors.

If you subscribe to the idea that good wine tastes better when consumed while looking at beautiful views, then New Zealand’s Marlborough region should be at the top of your travel list.

Sunshine, cool nights, low autumn rains, free draining alluvial soils and the creativity of the region’s winemakers has put Marlborough on the map as one of the best sauvignon blanc regions in the world. But its stunning shoreline in the north-eastern corner of New Zealand’s South Island has 1500km of coastline, bays, beaches and bush that also makes it a wonderful spot to enjoy a top drop and the great outdoors at the same time.

marlborough new zealand

Here are some ways to discover Marlborough:


Marlborough’s award-winning sauvignon blanc wines has made the region a star on the world’s stage. It’s the largest wine producing region in New Zealand, with 110 wineries and 40 cellar doors laid out in an area that is easy to drive or cycle around. Besides crispy sauvignon blancs, the region also produces chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer and decent drops of pinot noir.

Australian-born winemaker, Kevin Judd, helped make the region the success it is today when Cloudy Bay opened in 1985. Now owned by a French luxury goods empire, LVMH, Cloudy Bay’s cellar door is chic and contemporary with polished floorboards, soaring ceilings and a stone fireplace.

marlborough new zealand

Not far from Cloudy Bay, Twelve Trees Restaurant is a lovely spot for lunch. It’s run by Allan Scott Family Winemakers which also has a cellar door, and serves up hearty Kiwi fare. If you’re travelling with kids, there are lovely gardens with fountains and giant chess set.

The oldest boutique winery in Marlborough, Te Whare Ra was founded in 1979. Now owned and by South Australian winemaker Anna Flowerday and her husband Jason, this small winery is one where you’ll get the chance to chat directly to the winemakers.


According to a Maori legend, the waterways and headlands of the Marlborough Sounds were formed when Kupe, a great Maori warrior, battled with a giant octopus in the Cook Strait. These fjord-like waterways are serenely beautiful and sheltered by steep forested hills. According to geologists, the Sounds as ‘drowned valleys’ where earth movements sank mountains and the valleys were flooded by the sea.

marlborough new zealand

Of the four Sounds – Queen Charlotte, Pelorus, Kenepuru and Mahau – Queen Charlotte Sound gets the most visitors. It’s also the scenic highlight of the inter-island ferry journey from Wellington to Picton. Many of the lodges in the Sounds can only be accessed by boat such as Lochmara Lodge which has a wildlife rehabilitation centre and an arts centre where resident artists conduct workshops for guests, and Bay of Many Coves, which offers one-, two- and three-bedroom luxury apartments. The lodge has a fine-dining restaurant, licensed café and a spa. The views of the Sound at dawn and dusk are ethereal.

marlborough new zealand

Here, boats are like buses, a common form of local transport picking up passengers from all over the Sound. You can book a cruise or kayak around the Sounds. But if you’re pressed for time, a boat transfer from your lodge to Picton is enough to give you lovely views and the chance to spot dolphins.


Beautiful, peaceful and unspoilt, stretching from Ship Cove (where Captain Cook stopped in 1770) to Anakiwa, the 71-km Queen Charlotte Track has stunning coastal views and pristine native bush and wildlife. The track is the jewel of the wilderness in Marlborough’s crown.

There are several ways to tackle the track including hiking, climbing, mountain biking and horse trekking. It takes three to four days to walk the entire length of the Queen Charlotte Track but there are several leisurely walks that you can do that only take from two hours to a day.

marlborough new zealand

One option is to catch a water taxi to Ship Cove and walk to Furneaux Lodge, while the water taxi transports your luggage onto the lodge. The walk takes in the history of Ship Cove, views over Resolution Bay, Tawa Bay and Endeavour Inlet. If you stay overnight at the lodge, there will be time in the afternoon to paddle in the inlet.

Keen hikers can walk in Sir Edmund Hilary’s footsteps to Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku, in the Awatere Valley. It’s Marlborough’s highest peak and where the explorer did his first mountain climb.

Discover New Zealand

Getting there

Direct flights operate from Australia to Wellington from Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast and Brisbane with services provided by Air New Zealand, Qantas and Pacific Blue. Air New Zealand flies from Adelaide and Perth to Wellington via Auckland. From Wellington, take the Interislander between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The 92km voyage takes around three hours.

Getting around

The Cougar Line has transfers and cruises. Queen Charlotte Track has a temperate climate that makes it suitable for walking all year round.

Peter Jackson connection 

There’s a fantastic collection of World War I aircraft at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. It’s the largest private collection in the world and worth a look, even for those who are not fans of aircraft or World War I. Many of the centre’s aircraft belong to film director Peter Jackson who is known to turn up unexpectedly at the centre.

The aircraft are displayed as part of a series of theatrical dioramas artistically constructed to tell stories of World War I. For example, there is an entire room dedicated to the Red Baron – Baron Manfred von Richthofen – with a re-created scene of the fighter pilot’s death. Richthofen lies under his badly damaged Fokker Triplane while Australian soldiers, who reached the scene first, gather souvenirs such as the Baron’s boots and fabric from the wings.

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Christina Pfeiffer Travel Writer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.