Travel to the top of the South Island and you’ll discover the sun-drenched region of Marlborough. These fertile plains are framed by mountains to the south and west, and headed by the Marlborough Sounds to the north. The area is renowned for yielding some of New Zealand’s best wines, particularly the signature Sauvignon Blanc, whose taste will linger on your tongue long after you’ve left. Pair this with any of the local seafood delicacies and you may start to think you’ve died and gone to foodie heaven.
But there’s much more. The remarkable Queen Charlotte Sound, Kenepuru Sound and Pelorus Sound, provide opportunities for hiking, boating, fishing and camping. While the towns of Havelock, Blenheim and Picton provide plentiful accommodation and some excellent restaurants, cafes and shopping.
This region has so much on offer that boredom isn’t a word that features in Marlborough’s vocabulary. You’ll be too busy sampling some of the best food, wine and scenery in New Zealand.
Showstopper Sauvignon Blanc
Captain James Cook claimed British sovereignty of the South Island in Queen Charlotte Sound on the 31st January 1770. Two hundred and forty odd years later, and little has changed landscape wise in this region. But it is an area that has particular merits, most notably soil quality and dryness of climate, which makes it well suited to grape growing.
New Zealand’s second oldest wine-making region has been producing wine since the 1970s but it wasn’t until the 1980s, when Marlborough started bottling standout Sauvignon Blanc, that people started taking notice. And these crisp, fruity little numbers have had the wine critics raving ever since. Experts say it’s the unique climate and landscape here that create growing conditions for Sauvignon grapes unequal to anywhere else in the world. The ensuing wine has an intense flavour and emits fruity aromas that have been likened to gooseberries, grapefruit and melon.
Travel around this region for a while though and you’ll discover many other award winning wines existing alongside their famous cousin. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer all make an appearance to varying extents here. Some of the top wineries to visit to sample Sauvignon Blanc and other award winning wines include: Marisco Vineyards, Hunters Wines, Brancott Estate, Cloudy Bay Vineyards, Saint Clair Estate Winery, Framingham Wines and Grove Mill.
With over 9,000 hectares of vineyards in Marlborough, you’re spoiled for choice on where to taste. The overwhelmed are best to start in Blenheim, and fan out from there. If you’re seriously intent on indulging in this wine paradise, then you’ll need to pace yourself.
The word on the street in Marlborough when it comes to food is ‘fresh’. The sea and land are bountiful providers in this area, and restaurants and cafés can create menus with seasonal produce and year round seafood.
Start your gastronomic journey in Havelock with a trip to iconic local eatery The Mussel Pot. A recent change of hand hasn’t stymied the praise this place receives for its green-lipped mussels. Enjoy them either: steamed, grilled, in batter or a chowder. Must tries on the menu are also the Blue Cod, when it’s available, and Marlborough salmon. Of course the flavours are so much better when complimented with one of the region’s fine wines.
For a range of bistros, taverns, informal and fine dining restaurants and cafes, then focus your stay on Blenheim. Here you can sample Thai, New Zealand fusion, Seafood, Pizzerias or pick up ingredients for a picnic at one of the artisan delicatessens. With fresh fish on the doorstep the humble takeaway is always a tasty option and Blenheim has Codfathers Takeaways or Main Street Fish & Chips right in the centre of town.
Head south to Kaikoura to sample the local delicacy, crayfish. The Store at Kekerengu, forty minutes out of Blenheim, will satisfy your craving with a whole or half a steamed lobster. Or if you prefer, they also have ‘West Coast’ whitebait fritters or local beef and lamb dishes.
For a more rustic affair, keep a look out for Nin’s Bin, just north of Kaikoura. Looks can be deceiving, this small but much beloved roadside trailer is well known for its delicious crayfish cooked in garlic butter or steamed fresh. They can also cook you up some mussels in a zesty white wine sauce.
Take a Walk and a Ride on the Wild Side
If you can manage to tear yourself away from the food and wine, then the Marlborough Sounds boasts some of the best scenic hiking in New Zealand. Queen Charlotte Sound has walks ranging from Governor’s Bay Track (a gentle stroll to a swimming beach) to the Peninsular Walk (a one hour trek between Mistletoe and Waterfall Bays).
For something a bit more energetic, then opt for the popular three to five day Queen Charlotte Track. This beautiful walk is a gem for nature lovers and encompasses native rainforest and ridges studded with hidden bays and coves. Accommodation options featuring homestays and huts are available along the way, and to underline its remoteness, the start of the track is only accessible by boat.
Speaking of inaccessible, the New Zealand Post makes its delivery runs by boat to the isolated Pelorus Sound on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. You can take a ride on board with the postie for a glimpse into the backblocks of New Zealand life and a close up view of the Pelorus Sound mussel farms. This is a great way to meet some genuine local characters and witness the full beauty of the Sounds.
Must-Visit: Marlborough Wine and Food Festival
If you’re heading to Marlborough in early February then you’ll be able to time your visit to coincide with the Marlborough Food and Wine Festival. This is when vintners proudly showcase their best wines to visitors each year from New Zealand and overseas. New Zealand’s iconic festival has been running for thirty years and is hosted in the grounds of Brancott Vineyard, the oldest and most picturesque vineyard in Marlborough.
This really is Marlborough’s premier event of the year, so if you’re a wine and food lover but pressed for time to sample all the wineries in the area then it’s worthwhile booking a ticket. As well as wine seminars, fashion shows and entertainment, you’ll experience the best wine and food Marlborough has to offer in the most magnificent of settings.
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