Abbe Hutchins, Chief Executive Marlborough Tour Company Group
“New Zealand is open for business, support local, back your backyard.”
As the country heads into Queen’s Birthday Weekend, these are the messages that should be being shouted from rooftops. We are now heavily reliant on Kiwis to help our businesses, particularly tourism and hospitality businesses, survive.
Yet the endless apps to download and forms to complete, the empty seats on our limited regional flights, reduced passenger capacity on Cook Strait ferries, and above all the continued messaging from Government to social distance, to stay clear of other people, to remain very wary, tell an increasingly conflicted story.
Even more worrisome are reports that many government departments aren’t planning to return to operational capacity in Wellington’s CBD until sometime between October and December.
No new cases, none in hospital… all cases recovered in the South Island. Lockdown is over. The Government needs to be communicating messages of real confidence, not ‘cautious optimism’. It’s time be truly positive about New Zealand’s future, even if it’s a domestic future for the interim.
So how can the Government genuinely communicate that New Zealand is ‘open for business’?
It’s simple. Get the public sector up and running. Encourage employees back to work in central cities where they will support local cafes and retailers. Encourage officials to travel to the regions as happened before the lockdown. Not only would this ensure Wellington understands the issues regions are facing but it also gives airlines confidence to open up capacity throughout the country and, with it, urgently needed passenger and freight services.
Stimulate through investment – not entrenchment.
At the same time, start peeling back some of the restrictions facing businesses so that they too can interact confidently with their customers and offer the sort of experience that stimulates demand and continued investment in New Zealand’s future.
It’s time for 100% Pure Commitment by the Government – let’s start with the public sector and the ‘business’ of government.
For more information, please contact:
Abbe Hutchins | Chief Executive | Marlborough Tour Company
Ph +64 3 577 9997 | Mob +64 27 267 8866 | [email protected]
On 4 May 2020 TVNZ's 1 News featured Cougar Line, Punga Cove & Furneaux Lodge in a news item. Reporter Kaitlin Ruddock talked with Fred from Cougar Line, and Ed and his lodge staff in lockdown at Punga Cove about how at life under COVID Lockdown has been in Queen Charlotte Sound/Totaranui in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds.
Watch the news report:
Cougar Line - along with our Pelorus Mail Boat - are continuing to provide essential services freight deliveries to Marlborough Sounds residents at Alert 3. While Punga Cove, Furneaux Lodge and Marlborough Tour Company tours and cruises remain on hold.
On behalf of Marlborough Tour Company Group, and personally, I would like to congratulate Marlborough on being free of new COVID-19 cases since before Easter – more than two weeks ago.
This is testament to the brilliant effort of everyone across the region, from businesses to essential workers, to those who have been staying safely at home in lockdown bubbles.
It’s a huge step towards the region’s recovery.
Not only does this mean as a region we’re safe, but enables Marlborough to reopen quickly to begin to recover, and to start attracting New Zealand travellers once they’re able to travel again between regions.
This is a crucial step for a tourism-based business like ours, which is Marlborough’s largest tourism employer based across Blenheim, Picton, Havelock and the Marlborough Sounds.
Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, our tours, cruises and lodges hosted more than 100,000 visitors each year. Well over half of these were international tourists. The impact on our business has been significant, but we’re adapting and looking ahead to a new tourism future in Marlborough.
The success of our locally-owned and operated business - and other tourism, retail and hospitality businesses across the region - relies on our staff being in constant close contact with our customers, so the sooner we can get back to doing what we do best the better.
As a region we’ve kept COVID-19 at bay; now it’s time to move things up a few gears quickly, for the Government to pare back travel restrictions safely, and for Marlburians to proactively work together to support local to get Marlborough back on track and back in business.
The road ahead isn’t easy. Every region will be competing for the domestic tourism dollar, and even when New Zealand’s border with Australia reopens – we’ll be competing with towns, regions and states throughout Australia as they battle for their own domestic dollar.
There are many great reasons for New Zealanders to visit Marlborough. But one of the greatest is that Marlburians love the region they live in.
It’s time to rekindle that romance.
The region’s local businesses and their locally-employed staff need your help to make Marlborough an even better place to live, work and visit. Please…
- support local businesses, particularly those that have been hardest hit;
- get behind the region’s events to ensure they can continue;
- support local initiatives that refresh and add vibrancy to our townships;
- provide suggestions, guidance and support for groups who are supporting Marlborough’s regeneration and growth;
- being positive, supporting the region’s progress together, and appreciating everything that makes Marlborough a brilliant place to live;
- rather than oppose new initiatives, let’s raise the bar by asking the question “is that all? Or could more be done?”
The sum of our region can and will become better than its parts – let’s join together and get moving, Marlborough.
Marlborough Tour Company Group
Marlborough Tour Company’s passion is showing off the Marlborough region, but we’d be nowhere without our well-appointed vessels which we use for our Marlborough Sounds tours.
They may never admit it, but some of our staff might actually count these boats as being among their favourite MTC team members, as they lovingly maintain and prepare them for every cruise through the Queen Charlotte/Totaranui or Pelorus/Te Hoiere Sounds.
It’s easy to see why. The boats range from very well-appointed to pretty luxurious, and each add their own flair to every Marlborough Sounds cruise. After all, what’s better than relaxing on deck with a glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, taking in the views, on a boat that glides as effortlessly through the water as ours do?
Because they are such an important part of Marlborough Tour Company, we thought we’d introduce our vessels here:
Based at Picton Marina, MV Odyssea is our largest vessel. A 20-metre catamaran, it can take up to 90 people for cruises, or 70 people for meals – but normally, our tour groups are smaller.
The MV Odyssea is perfect for exploring those secluded Marlborough Sounds coves and beaches, nudging up to jetties so passengers can hop off and explore.
The stylish 14-metre catamaran MV Spirit is based in Havelock and used for our popular Greenshell Mussel Tours in the scenic Pelorus/Te Hoiere Sound. Roomy and very comfortable, MV Spirit can take up to 35 passengers and is perfect for gliding past one of the many Greenshell mussel farms in the area for a closer look. Like all our vessels, MV Spirit is equipped with a kitchen so our on-board chef can prepare freshly steamed Greenshell mussels, mere minutes before our guests are able to sample them.
One of the most recent additions to our tour fleet, MV Mantra is a 14-metre premium catamaran and is also based at Picton Marina. This premium boat can take up to 25 people and is perfect for an intimate cruise of the Marlborough Sounds over lunch or a mid-afternoon seafood platter, freshly prepared onboard and served with Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
MV Tarquin is a 20 metre private charter launch based at Picton Marina. A vessel of pure understated luxury, Tarquin can take up to 20 guests for a day cruise or six on an overnight or multi-night getaway in the Marlborough Sounds in absolutely style. Enjoy your own private chef who will prepare gourmet delights perfectly to your liking - matched with Marlborough wine of course - personal service and a feast of incredible scenery.
More cruise options
Culinary vacations, vineyard retreats and luxury in nature are on the forecast for 20 travel trends of 2019 - and here at Marlborough Tour Company we can tick all that off in a day.
According to The Richest, more travellers are starting to find new ways of experiencing new cultures through food, rather than adrenaline-filled activities.
That’s exactly how we see it here at Marlborough Tour Company, where we specialise in showing you the best of Marlborough by literally tasting the region - through its seafood, wines and even chocolate.
Vineyard retreats, too, are on the list of 20 travel trends, with The Richest reporting that increasing popularity in wine tours and wine-filled vacations have led to the rise of luxury resorts that exist only for the celebration of wine. Don’t mind if we do.
Marlborough Tour Company visits many Marlborough wineries every day, and can point you in the direction of the best luxury wine retreats in the district.
At number 1 on the list is something we at Marlborough Tour Company specialise in every day of the year: Luxury in nature, “for those with a higher standard of luxury”. You only have to board one of our luxuriously appointed launches, where the freshest seafood is served to you alongside crisp sauvignon blanc as you glide through pristine Marlborough Sounds scenery, to experience the precise meaning of luxury in nature.
Come at us 2019 - we have the travel trends of the coming year well and truly covered.
When you really want to see as much of the Nelson and Marlborough regions as possible, but your schedule only allows a minuscule time frame, in an area as beautiful and diverse as this, it’s quite a dilemma.
We wanted the best local food, wine and scenery, and we wanted it all in one day, without rushing and in comfort.
With that in mind – and the question if our requests could even be filled - we decided this was a job for some local experts.
Enter the Marlborough Tour Company, who came to the party with a private day trip from Nelson to Marlborough that covered all of our wants, and more.
Shortly after breakfast we were collected from our Nelson accommodation by our driver and guide for the day, Allen, in a very well-appointed luxury sedan. It was a good start and it only got better. Allen whisked us straight to some pretty incredible scenery – and that was just on the highway leaving Nelson. Mirror-still water filled the Atawhai estuary, framed by the Boulder Bank and its lighthouse which were in turn backed by snow-capped mountains. Stunning.
By 9am we had traversed a scenic windy road and arrived at Pelorus Bridge amidst ancient beech forest for a quick break at the picturesque little cafe. Takeaway coffees in hand, Allen took us onto the bridge we had just crossed in the car to look down at the emerald-green Pelorus River snaking through the ravine below, where, Allen told us, a scene from The Hobbit movie was filmed.
Back on the road, with Allen providing all sorts of interesting local facts and insights, it was an easy drive among green hills and through quaint seaside village Havelock to Marlborough’s Wairau Plain in time for our wine tour. And it was only 10am!
We visited several wineries on the so-called Golden Mile of wine, where we were offered wine tastings and even got to chat to a couple of winemakers. By the time we had to leave for lunch we really felt like we’d been immersed in the Marlborough wine scene – and as a reminder, we took a few bottles with us.
Allen was ready to take us back to Havelock, where we indulged in a delicious fresh seafood feast at the Slip Inn Cafe which overlooks the Havelock Estuary. The cafe was conveniently located alongside the meeting point for our next tour, the Marlborough Tour Company’s Greenshell Mussel Cruise.
After being welcomed aboard the MV Spirit by the super friendly crew, we glided gently out into the Pelorus Sound and any fears we had of potential sea sickness dissipated when we realised that the tranquil Marlborough Sounds waters produced little more than a surface ripple, which our solid catamaran cut through without a bump.
As we headed into nearby Kenepuru Sounds, our guide and skipper were full of interesting information and while we relaxed on deck drinking in the stunning scenery and spotting seals, we learned plenty about the local history, aquaculture and natural environment.
A highlight was pulling up at a Greenshell mussel farm and – we were on a seafood cruise after all – sampling the freshest mussels I think we’ve ever had, which were steamed to perfection by the onboard crew, right at the source. A glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc just topped the whole experience off.
On our return to Havelock, the wonderful Allen was waiting for us with the car – and our purchased wine – ready to take us back to Nelson.
Allen and the Marlborough Tour Company team really made sure that we saw, experienced and tasted the best that the Top of the South offered in a very short timeframe. We'll be back for longer next time.
GreenshellTM mussels are synonymous with the Marlborough Sounds, and for good reason. Grown in the pure seawater of the Sounds, among incredible natural beauty, Greenshell mussels are best enjoyed in the place where they are grown and harvested – you can’t get fresher seafood than that.
Here at Marlborough Tour Company, we can’t get enough of these amazing local seafood delights either, and we love to share them with our visitors.
By far the best place to enjoy them is on a Marlborough Tour Company cruise - we have cruises departing daily. We like to enhance the experience by serving them in a location that simply can’t be beaten – right on the water, within sight of a mussel farm. We might be a little bit biased, but, really, there are few things better than sitting on the deck of our luxury vessels eating the freshest of fresh steamed Greenshell mussels, surrounded by incredible Marlborough Sounds views.
Not only that, but our crew are pretty great at steaming Greenshell mussels to absolutely perfection and matching them perfectly with Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
But one thing about Greenshell mussels is that one meal is never enough, so here are a five top Marlborough places to enjoy them after you leave our cruises:
- The Slip Inn Cafe, Havelock. Located over the water in the picturesque Havelock Marina, you may even be able to watch Greenshell Mussels being unloaded as they come in on the boats. Sit on the veranda and enjoy the sea breeze, or stay warm inside while gazing over the water. The Slip Inn is also handily located right next to Marlborough Tour Company’s Greenshell Mussel Tour departure point.
- The Mussel Pot, Havelock. The name says it all really, but if that’s not enough to draw your attention then the parade of giant Greenshell Mussels on the roof will. Open September to April, and with 20 years of experience preparing local mussels, this quirkly little cafe is a must-do for the Greenshell Mussel connoisseur.
- Le Cafe, Picton. Dedicated to using fresh, local seasonal and preferably organic products, a bowl of steamed Greenshell Mussels ticks all the cafe’s boxes. The menu changes depending on availability, so ask if mussels are on the list when you visit.
- On the beach or looking at the water. If you can’t be on one of our boats, because your tour has already finished but you want more Greenshell Mussel goodness in the beautiful outdoors of Marlborough, then the beach may just be the next best thing. Most local supermarkets sell them fresh and you can steam them yourself and pop the pot in the car, or ask one of Havelock or Picton’s cafes for a perfectly prepared Greenshell Mussel takeaway, and hightail it to the nearest beach or lookout point to enjoy them while they’re hot. Try the Picton foreshore, a meander along Havelock’s Motuweka Pathway in the estuary, or take a short drive to one of the many vantage points along Queen Charlotte Drive such as the Picton or Cullen Point Lookout.
- Arbour Restaurant, set among the vines near Renwick. If you haven’t tried chef Bradley Hornby’s Greenshell Mussels, then you are missing out on something incredible. They went out on our Greenshell Mussel Cruise recently:
"We loved our day out with Marlborough Tour Company, in fact straight after our cruise we immediately put a dish on our menu using the wild blueshells, greenshells and the seaweed off the lines." Brad & Liz, Arbour
Arbour's delicious Greenshell mussel dish
When he's not showing guests the wonders of Marlborough our Tour Guide Stephen Russell is snapping beautiful photos of our diverse and beautiful region.
Here just a few of his amazing vistas sum up just how varied Marlborough's landscape is and how different it looks at various times of the day and of the year.
Sheep in Marlborough's hill country
A cabbage tree with Marlborough hills in the background
Marlborough’s natural beauty is not only world class, but its easy access to stunning wilderness areas makes the scenery so easy to enjoy, for the whole family.
Wither Hills Farm Park - photo: MarlboroughNZ
Stroll for just five minutes from your car and be surrounded by towering cliffs, sea caves and crashing surf?
Or walk for another 20 minutes along forested pathways to reach a white sandy beach where a swim in the ocean is a given?
Even the Marlborough Sounds requires little footwork to enjoy, with as little as 10 minutes of relaxed strolling required to find yourself on a rocky headland with sweeping views across Queen Charlotte Sound, or a secluded, bush-clad beach.
Short walks abound in Marlborough, be it beside a crystal blue river, a rushing creek, rolling hills or along stunning coastal hillsides.
There are walks are for all ages and abilities: Take the kids, or amble along at your leisure, enjoying the feeling of being surrounded by nature with little more than a water bottle and a camera to carry.
Read on for some examples of short walks around Marlborough.
- The Whites Bay Track is one hour return. Starting at Rarangi Beach, follow the signposted track through coastal native bush until you emerge on Port Underwood Rd. Here, enjoy stunning views across the Pacific Ocean as you walk, until you find the signs pointing to the next stage of the track. A relatively steep descent through pine forest leads to beautiful Whites Bay, a safe and pristine swimming beach popular with locals in summer.
Whites Bay - photo: MarlboroughNZ.com
- At Whites Bay you’ll find the 10-minute Pukatea Walk which follows a clear stream from near the beach to the upper camping ground. Great for kids, the track is through bush and bridges the stream twice. Several longer walks connect to this track including the Black Jack Track.
- For views across Blenheim, the Wairau Plain, Cloudy Bay and even to the North Island, visit the Wither Hills Farm Park and choose from the many walks that criss-cross these hills to suit your timeframe and ability. The Wither Hills is a much-loved recreational escape for locals, with options ranging from gently sloping valley meanders to the more challenging climb to the lookout on the highest peak, Mt Vernon.
- Monkey Bay is a rugged cove just five minute walk from the east coast settlement of Rarangi, up a flight of stone stairs and down a narrow cliffside path. At the top is a viewing point towards the North Island, easily visible on a clear day, with interpretive signs.
- Onamalutu Scenic Reserve, on the North Bank of the Wairau River, offers short walks through a stand of mature podocarp forest of matai and kahikatea trees to the Onamalutu River, perfect for swimming and picnics.
- Momorangi Bay Forest Experience is a great walk for kids, with interactive interpretation along the way including bird calls and weta motels. The 20 minute walk takes in bush and streams and is accessible from the back of Momorangi Campground.
- Governers Bay Track is accessible from Queen Charlotte Drive just before Ngakuta Bay and well worth stopping for. From the car, walk an easy 10 minutes downhill to find a classically beautiful Marlborough Sounds beach framed by bush, with clear blue water lapping gently on to the shore.
- Karaka Point is a sacred place for Maori, and the site of a former fortified village overlooking Queen Charlotte Sound. An easy wide track leads from the carpark through bush to the head of the peninsula where you’ll find a rocky beach. Information signs along the way tell the story of the Maori people who once occupied this area and hollows in the earth mark the former settlement. The walk is about 10 minutes one way.
Karaka Point - photo: MarlboroughNZ.com
- On the highway about halfway between Blenheim and Nelson you’ll pass through Pelorus Bridge, a beautiful pocket of rare untouched native forest with the Pelorus River at its heart. There are numerous walks, from mere minutes on wheelchair accessible tracks to more difficult trails of several hours, all starting at one of the two car parks. Choose from one of two short loop walks or just stroll a few minutes downstream and enjoy a swim in the cool, deep Pelorus River.
Pelorus Bridge - photo: MarlboroughNZ.com
Take your own car, or ask Marlborough Tour Company guides to show you some of the best short walks - they know them all.
Beaches and surf, green rolling hillsides and snow-capped mountains, sweeping plains - natural beauty comes with the territory when you’re exploring Marlborough wine country.
While you could easily, and happily, spend the day sampling a swathe of different wines within just a few square kilometres, variety is the spice of life, and we have plenty of that in our landscapes, all within a half hour drive of Blenheim.
Either bring your own car or take a Marlborough Tour Company guided tour - daily departure, group or private - complete with in-depth local knowledge and information, not to mention that having your own driver gives you the freedom to sample as many wines as you wish.
In Marlborough, winegrowers are continuing to push the boundaries of climate and soil further, and vineyards now stretch from the sea ever closer to the mountains. The views this creates are magnificent, and there’s no better example of this than Yealands Family Wines in the Awatere Valley.
Located just south of Blenheim, a short drive through scenic Weld Pass, Yealands has the closest vineyards to the coast. Here, vines are planted on towering cliff tops with magnificent views overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Peter Yealands allows visitors to self-drive through his estate on the private White Road. From here you can take in vistas over the ocean towards the North Island, which can be seen on clear days. Check out the section where they play music to the vines.
Yealands winery & cellar door
Looking inland, you’ll be greeted with equally astonishing scenes of vineyards marching up-valley towards the snow-capped Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku (Mt Tappy to locals), New Zealands highest peak outside of the Southern Alps.
Closer to Blenheim, you’ll find coastal vineyards from a number of well-known wine labels at Rarangi. Take a beach walk, or a short jaunt up the stone stairs to Monkey Bay to see the sea caves. Then, ask your guide to take you to the Golden Mile at the heart of the Wairau Plain and indulge in a tasting of the wines grown in these coastal locations, known for their unique mineral qualities.
Heading inland up the Wairau Valley, bordered by rolling hills on one side and the jagged blue Richmond Ranges on the other, you’ll find Clos Henri’s quaint Sainte Solange Chapel, a relocated and converted country church nestled into the hillside. Pull up a pew and enjoy an intimate wine tasting, or relax outside in the sun and take in the tranquil views.
Closer to Renwick, at the start of the Waihopai Valley, you’ll find Spy Valley Wines, named after the mysterious spy base located just a few kilometres away, where satellites are “hidden” under two giant inflatable white domes.
Little is publicly known about the base, but Spy Valley Wines is more than happy to let you in on their secrets, with complimentary tastings at their architecturally designed tasting rooms - you can even try deciphering the morse code on the timber walls.
Spy Valley winery & cellar door
North of the Wairau Plain, towards Picton, you’ll find the lush Koromiko Valley and home of boutique artisan winery Johanneshof Cellars. Here, close planted vineyard rows climb the hillside towards exotic tree specimens, wine is stored underground. Ask your guide to organise a tour through what was New Zealand’s first rock cellar, or contact Johanneshof to arrange a time.
Wherever you end up in Marlborough wine country, you can’t escape the natural beauty of this region. So sit back with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir – or any other of the many local varietals – and enjoy the ride.