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.
The waves rolled in ever closer to our feet as we sat on a flat rock, sipping coffee, watching the tide rise and listening to the surf boom through the distant opening of a shoreline cave behind us.
There was nobody else around this morning and yet we were only 20 minutes from town, the source of our morning takeaway flat white coffees.
We were at Monkey Bay, a rugged and wild cove accessible by a long set of stone stairs topped by a viewing platform that, on a clear day like today, offers views over Cook Strait to Wellington. Just an hour ago, we’d been in our accommodation in Blenheim looking out at clear blue skies when we decided a morning walk was in order before a day of wine tasting and sightseeing. Grabbing coffee from a little cafe, we’d driven to Rarangi and climbed to Monkey Bay.
As the tide got disconcertingly close to our rock, we headed back and ambled along Rarangi Beach, admiring the views to the south which climaxed at the snowy peak of Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the highest peak outside the Southern Alps.
Rarangi Beach, Cloudy Bay
Back in town, satisfied with our nature fix, we prepared to spend the rest of the day sightseeing and enjoying the rest of Marlborough’s attractions, with which I mostly mean wine.
First, we spent the rest of the morning at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre admiring their huge collection of vintage planes and relics, some of which belong to world famous director Sir Peter Jackson.
Although we had our own transport, we were keen to sample the local delights, so we opted to join a private Marlborough Tour Company wine tour. Besides driving us, our guide would also provide us with some much needed advice on which wineries would best suit our taste and style, as there are over 100 in this area.
Our very comfortable Mercedes, driven by Ryan, took us from Blenheim into wine country where, between the long vineyard rows, we enjoyed a sumptuous gourmet lunch at Saint Clair Winery that showcased the best produce of the region including, of course, Marlborough’s world famous sauvignon blanc.
Then it was onto five cellar doors, ranging from large global labels to boutique operations - all within just a few minutes’ drive of each other. At each, we were personally welcomed and served, and we even chatted with a couple of winemakers.
For something different, we were then taken to a boutique beer brewery, surprisingly located smack bang in the middle of wine country. This enjoyable stop included a pint in the sunshine of the characterful bar garden.
By dinner time we were very satisfied that we’d seen a great deal of what Marlborough has to offer, from nature to history to wine, without feeling rushed for even a minute - that, surely, is what the perfect holiday is all about.
Marlborough is known for the sun and while we can’t guarantee the weather, we can always guarantee that on our luxury tours you will be greeted with a sunny smile.
Our strong commitment to high quality, friendly service and bringing that all-important personal touch to every tour we do is key for all Marlborough Tour Company’s guides and personnel, whether it be one of our knowledgeable drivers or our enthusiastic Seafood Odyssea Cruise captains.
We know our approach to creating the best experience possible for all our tours is well-received because Marlborough Tour Company and our Seafood Odyssea Cruise were recently awarded the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for 2017.
While we don’t spend much time blowing our own trumpet, we are pretty proud of this achievement because it was awarded by the most important people to our business: Our valued clients.
We invite you, too, to experience what everyone is raving about on Trip Advisor both about our company and our Seafood Odyssea Cruise - whether you choose to join us on one of our world class wine tours to meet winemakers and visit private wineries in the comfort of our Mercedes, or a Marlborough Sounds cruise complete with the freshest seafood you’ll ever taste.
Whatever you choose, you will always be welcomed with the most genuine of smiles: We look forward to meeting you.
A platter of fresh seafood on the table, a crisp glass of Marlborough’s best Sauvignon Blanc in hand and all of this while gliding through the pristine waters of the Marlborough Sounds; life surely doesn’t get much better.
The beauty of Marlborough lies not just in the Sounds of blue water and deep green bush or the pretty rows of vines across the sweeping plains, but in its variety.
There’s no need to rush things here; like a good wine, good things take time. But if you do it right, it takes a mere few hours, a single day, to be able to enjoy a smorgasbord of scenery, fresh local foods and wines at a leisurely, relaxed pace.
One way to indulge in only the very best Marlborough has to offer, in a small timeframe, is to jump into a luxury van on a small, personal full-day tour and leave it to the friendly, knowledgeable local guide to take you there.
The Marlborough Icons Tour is designed to sample a taste of every treasure in this region, in the best way possible. A wealth of local knowledge and close relationships with the Marlborough wine industry means access to a delightful mix of both boutique and the larger iconic wineries. Marlborough Icons guides live and breathe Marlborough: Just sit back, relax and enjoy.
Each tour dedicates its morning to the wineries, where an exquisite range of reserve-grade wines are on offer and served along with the stories and history behind them, from those who know it best. These are people whose passion and knowledge for wine runs deep, and it’s something they love to share.
Back on the road, the scenic trips between wineries are a chance to take in the beauty of the Wairau Hills, framed by rugged mountains on one side and, by contrast, rolling hills on the other. The routes travel between row upon row of the very source of Marlborough’s famed Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties.
Once the last winery is visited, the road leaves sweeping plains behind for the deep valleys of the Marlborough Sounds and the tour heads towards the source of another of the region’s iconic products, seafood.
There is no better way to enjoy this quality, locally grown goodness, freshly harvested from the Sounds’ pristine waterways, than to head out on a seafood cruise.
Firstly, grab a seaside lunch, with spectacular views before boarding the spacious, comfortable launch. Don’t fill up too much at lunch; during the cruise, a feast of fresh, local seafood is unveiled, not only on deck but also below.
The boat visits a salmon, oyster or mussel farm for an insight on how and where these products are grown in the Marlborough Sounds.
There is plenty of time for questions and discussion in between tastes of the freshly prepared seafood, served with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. In between treating your tastebuds, don’t forget to drink in the views which glide past of sea, bush, the fascinating local birdlife, seals and perhaps even some dolphins.
As the boat glides back into port, there is nothing left to do but once again board the comfortable van for the return trip, while reflecting on a perfect Marlborough day.
There can’t be too many places in the world where you find yourself in almost complete isolation within the splendor of nature while being surrounded by all the modern comforts and small touches of luxury.
This is the beautiful reality of Raetihi Lodge, nestled at the base of a fern-lined gully on the peaceful shores of the scenic Kenepuru Sound within the Marlborough Sounds.
From the friendly, small and laid-back lodge, the only sounds guests are likely to hear are the calls of the bellbirds and tui, along with the soft swish of calm waters lapping the pebbled shores and perhaps a passing boat.
This is because Raetihi Lodge is surrounded by 50 acres of private, pristine Marlborough Sounds native bush, creating a feeling of utter peace and providing rare uninterrupted views of untouched nature.
Here, guests can walk straight off the beach and onto the deck of their suite, stopping only to kick off wet shoes before walking inside.
Part of the joy of visiting Raetihi Lodge is the journey to get there. One particularly good way to see the best of the Sounds on the way is to hop onto a Greenshell Mussel cruise, which depart daily in summer.
Along the way, the boat moors up to one of the many mussel farms which dot the Marlborough Sounds. This is a chance to learn about the green shell mussel farming industry, the largest of our aquaculture exports and a species unique to New Zealand. It’s also a chance to sample this unique species in the form of hot, steaming bowls of mussels matched perfectly with another of Marlborough’s famous exports, Sauvignon Blanc.
You could also take a Link Transfer tour to Raetihi Lodge; a sumptuous full day tour which includes a wine tour in the morning, waterfront lunch and seafood cruise, with drop off at the lodge.
With just 14 rooms, Raetihi Lodge can accommodate 31 people and is large enough to cater for mid-size conferences and weddings but small enough to ensure a personal and intimate experience.
Given its central location within the Marlborough Sounds, Raetihi is also the perfect base for an active break away, taking in all the Marlborough Sounds has to offer.
Fishing, boating, paddle-boarding, kayaking, golfing, hiking, biking, cruises and guided tours can all be organised from Raetihi Lodge, with a range of equipment available complimentary to guests – as well as a pampering massages to balance out all that activity.
As the massage suggests, the lodge is equally well-equipped for a more sedate kind of holiday. Its homely lounge comes complete with comfortable sofas plus, a media room and a huge collection of board games and books. Wireless is available throughout the lodge.
You could very well choose not to leave your room; Each airy, spacious suite with king-size bed and ensuite has its own secluded outdoor area.
However, the temptation of a scrumptious meal may tempt you out of your suite and onto the alfresco deck and lawn, where three-course dinners, long lunches or simply a rich flat white are served within meters of the tranquil water’s edge. Once a month, live musicians make the scene even more special.
Dining is informal yet elegant with fresh local food and wines. For larger groups, the chefs fire up the huge barbecue and cook up the sumptuous seafood and wild game which the Marlborough region is famous for.
Raetihi’s indoor bar and dining area also capture the views, with full length folding doors leading out onto the deck; the perfect place for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc while watching another magical Marlborough sunset, followed by breakfast the next day with the tui.
Raetihi Lodge began as a guest house for holiday makers in 1931, but has changed hands many times since. A fire in 2000 devastated the lodge, but it was rebuilt and now has a fresh, modern yet relaxed appeal, synonymous with the quintessential kiwi bach.
What hasn’t changed is its magical location, and part of the joy of visiting Raetihi Lodge is the journey to get there. A myriad of options are available to guests, including road, air and sea.
For your return trip you could take a water taxi back to Havelock. Or a popular, and certainly the quickest, option is to take a charter plane, float plane or helicopter to Picton, Koromiko, Nelson, Blenheim or even Wellington airports from Raetihi’s private helipad or nearby Nopera Airstrip.
With all the fun, adventure and romance of the Marlborough Sounds, Raetihi Lodge is a place to embrace seclusion and totally get away from it all - without giving up the comforts of home.
Contact Marlborough Tour Company to organize getting to and from Raetihi Lodge.
The pristine waters of the tranquil Marlborough Sounds are the perfect place to farm some of the world’s most coveted seafood, not to mention sampling it paired with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Oysters, mussels and salmon grown in the Marlborough Sounds are served at some of the most prestigious restaurants around the world, by top international chefs.
The delectable taste of this seafood smorgasbord is pure Marlborough Sounds and the health benefits of an Omega-3 ladden seafood fest are enormous.
Not only is seafood good for you, it’s also good for the local economy; according to Aquaculture New Zealand New Zealand’s aquaculture sector generated over $400 million in revenue in 2011, employed over 3000 Kiwis and has a target goal of reaching $1 billion in sales by 2025.
Greenshell mussels have been farmed since the 1970s with many innovations along the way including the most recent long-line method of growing mussels on suspended ropes. This has resulted in a plump, juicy mussel much bigger than its wild cousin.
Like mussels, oysters have been farmed in New Zealand waters for over 40 years. Tio Point oysters, grown on ropes at 9 farms in the Marlborough Sounds, are cold water flat oysters characterised by plump and firm meat, and a sweet salty flavour.
King salmon has been farmed in the Marlborough Sounds for over 30 years. Because of New Zealand farming practices, strict bio-security procedures and absence of any native salmon species, King salmon grown here doesn’t need any vaccines or antibiotics.
The very best way to enjoy local Marlborough seafood is to head out on a Seafood Cruise in the Marlborough Sounds. Sample fresh local seafood to your heart’s content in the stunning surroundings it was farmed. As an added bonus, a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is paired with your seafood feast.
As well as tasting the seafood on the cruise you will also head to a salmon, oyster or mussel farm to find out how they are grown and so that you can ask any questions.
When you think of Marlborough your first thoughts might be wine and the Marlborough Sounds. But, wonderful as these delights are, did you know that Marlborough has a huge range of amazing walks, all starring some of the best scenery in the country?
From a one hour scenic stroll to a full day hike through to a 5 day serious tramp, there is a walk to suit anyone’s fitness level, time preferences and scenery interests.
It’s hard to narrow it down to five, but here are some of the most popular walks in the region.
1. Mt Vernon Lookout
Mt Vernon forms part of the beautiful Wither Hills that provides the striking ochre backdrop on the southern side of Blenheim. It’s worth the walk to the lookout with 180 degree views from Cloudy Bay, across Blenheim and right up the Wairau Valley.
A steep but rewarding climb that’s great for kids and reasonably fit adults.
Park at Redwood Street Carpark. Take the Mt Vernon Track to the left up the grassy hillside or the Sutherland Stream Track to the right up the shaded valley to the lookout. Do a return trip on your track of choice, or a circuit using both.
2. Sawcut Gorge
(3-4 hours return)
In Southern Marlborough, Sawcut Gorge is a unique walk up a river to a narrow two metre wide gorge with 150 metre high towering cliffs.
Be prepared to get wet feet as you walk up through the scenic riverbed. This is a geographically and botanically interesting area.
Turn off State Highway 1 on the north side of the Waima River Bridge 55 km south of Blenheim (72 km north of Kaikoura) into the Waima/Ure Valley and follow the narrow gravel road up to Blue Mountain Station, 12 km from State Highway 1.
3. The Snout Track
Take a leisurely stroll along the bushy hillside track from Picton north to the The Snout peninsula.
Enjoy scenic views across Queen Charlotte Sounds and you walk up to the Queen Charlotte View Lookout then carry on along to The Snout headland, a great spot for a picnic.
From Picton Marina at the east end of the Picton foreshore, head over the high foot bridge to where the track starts. There is paid parking at the Marina, and some free longer term parking spaces within Picton township.
4. Nydia Track
The Nydia Track takes you through regenerating forest and farmland with stunning coastal scenery starts at Kaiuma Bay near Havelock and ends at Tennyson Inlet, with Nydia Bay in the middle.
You can stay at the Nydia Bay campsite, the Department of Conservation lodge, local bed and breakfasts or the eco lodge.
You can drive to either end of the track or get there by charter launch or mail boat from Havelock. A popular plan is to organise to go at the same time as another group in opposite directions and swap keys at Nydia Bay.
27km – 9 hours walking, one way.
5. Queen Charlotte Track
(up to 5 days)
The Queen Charlotte Track is a spectacular coastal walk stretching from historic Ships Cove in the outer reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound to Anakiwa near Picton.
At 70km in length and relatively easy walking, the full track can be walked in 3-5 days, depending on fitness and experience. All levels of accommodation are available along the track. Your pack can be transferred by water taxi, leaving you to just carry a day pack while walking.
For serious guided walks, including multi-day walks, check out Wilderness Guides or if you’d prefer a shorter sample of the track with a guide see Marlborough Tour Company. Otherwise unguided day walks – or part day walks – are available along every part of the Track to give you a taste.
Ships Cove is accessible only by boat – with lots of options to get you there and to any other part of the track you wish to walk. You may wish to include a seafood tour in your trip. Parts of the track, including Anakiwa, are accessible by road as well as water.
For more info on these Marlborough walks and many more visit MarlboroughNZ.com
Several of these walks are also mountain biking tracks.
Guided walking tours
If you like the idea of having a walking guide to assist and give you more information about the area, we have a range of options that can be tailored to suit you. Contact us to enquire.
My favourite kind of holiday involves large doses of relaxation, delicious food, gorgeous scenery, a great book and a stylish place to stay. Oh, and fine company of course.
So, it was with great delight that I embarked on Marlborough Tour Company’s ‘Link Series’ tour from Marlborough Airport to Bay of Many Coves Resort. Not only does it tick every box on my dream holiday list, but it added a few extra boxes for future reference.
After being collected at Marlborough Airport, we headed to Cloudy Bay winery for a wine tasting. The knowledgeable host talked us through a range of delicious wines. The settling unbelievably idyllic with deck, expansive lawn, egg chairs hanging from trees, vines beyond and the Richmond Ranges silhouetted as a distant backdrop.
With the sweet taste of wine still lingering about mouths and heads, we travelled for about half an hour to the pretty seaside town of Picton, on the shores of the Queen Charlotte Sound – the largest sound in the Marlborough Sounds family.
We headed to Le Café on the waterfront for lunch, overlooking the picturesque marina and with expansive views out to the stunning sounds. The menu was tempting, focused largely on local produce and mostly organic, we settled for the fresh fish – divine.
Next up was boarding MV Seafood Odyssea. Two levels of lounge-style comfort with plenty of decks for outdoor viewing. Cruising out through the plethora of boats moored, we enjoyed the lively commentary on the Marlborough Sounds with breathtaking vistas in every direction.
Arriving at a salmon farm, complete with resident seals cavorting nearby, looking for a late lunch, our lovely captain talked about salmon farming in the area and we walked onto the farm to view the masses of swirling fish.
Back on board we were treated to a feast of fragrant smoked salmon and heavenly freshly steamed Greenshell mussels, matched with Marlborough sauvignon blanc. As we cruised further up the Queen Charlotte Sound, listening to more of the captain’s fascinating commentary on the area, its history and its marine and birdlife, we came upon a happy pod of dusky dolphins.
We stopped and watched them at play - diving, leaping and generally showing off their Olympic-level synchronised swimming skills. My favourite was one who jumped repeatedly out of the water 12 times in a row, I kid you not - I counted, as I laughed.
After dragging ourselves away from our new marine friends, our next and final stop was Bay of Many Coves Resort, aptly named for the bay it resides in. Its reputation as a luxury retreat was fully evident from the very first glance. Sleekly modern but integrated beautifully in the hillside with wooden features and lush landscaping.
We were given a tour of the resort, then shown to our beautifully appointed room where we relaxed on the deck for a few hours with books – with a massage thrown in for true bliss. Tick, tick, tick!
At the pre-dinner gathering we mingled with the other guests and our host talked us through tasting Marlborough sauvignon blanc from several subregions – fascinatingly unique. Later we ate in fine dining style at the Foredeck Restaurant with fresh local produce the outstanding feature.
Falling asleep with the curtain open to the magical view of stars and moon over the stunning water, I couldn’t help but think holidays would have to step up a notch or two from now on to match this one.
It’s been a busy few months… Along with developing a whole new site, we have refreshed our name from Marlborough Travel to Marlborough Tour Company.
The main reason for the change is that we are a tour company based in Marlborough and tours are what we do, so ‘Marlborough Tour Company’ is the perfect name. We’re pretty to the point like that.
We’re also a great advocate for positive change, because a change is as good as a holiday, and we’re all about awesome holiday experiences. In fact, we add new tours and cruises all the time – you should check out our unique tours and cruises, for the experience of a lifetime.
This isn’t the first time we’ve changed our name over the twenty years we’ve been in the business of Marlborough tours. We began life as ‘Wilderness Express’, then as times changed and Marlborough and the Marlborough Sounds became more of a tourism destination, we changed our name to Marlborough Travel. Now it’s on to the next exciting phase in the Marlborough tour business – watch this space…
Recently voted New Zealand’s 4th best destination and 8th best destination in the South Pacific by Trip Advisor, Marlborough is really starting to shine as a New Zealand travel must-go for travellers – whether local or from overseas. Whether you’re a first time visitor or you just need to return, Marlborough is pure magic.
What’s not to like?
Marlborough is situated smack bang in the middle of Aotearoa at the top of the South Island, boasts the largest wine region in New Zealand and the endless bays of the stunning Marlborough Sounds take up a phenomenal one-fifth of the country’s coastline. Add to that all-day scenic vistas that take your breath away and a gourmet heaven of produce and cuisine, and you have a recipe for a truly magical holiday and not much space on your camera.
So many delights, so easy to get to
Base yourself in Marlborough and you can be on a Marlborough wine tour in the morning, on a seafood Marlborough Sounds cruise in the afternoon and staying at a luxury resort in the Marlborough Sounds that night. While you’re there you could walk or bike the famous Queen Charlotte track, go dolphin watching or kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds, and finish off with a waterfront dinner in Picton.
Then next few days can be filled with all sorts of Marlborough tours, from an art and garden tour through to a Māori cultural tour, a farm tour or a tour for planes, cars and history enthusiasts, sprinkled liberally with award-winning wine and gourmet food.
Once you’ve feasted on the delights of Marlborough, the exciting news is that you’re really close to a whole bunch more activities – 90 minutes drive can have you skiing at Rainbow Ski field, checking out the art scene in Nelson or whale and seal watching in Kaikoura, in 3 hours you could be at the Hanmer Springs hot pools or sunbathing on the golden sands of Golden Bay.
Stick around a while
With a wide range of accommodation to suit your budget and style, you may as well base yourself in Marlborough for a while. Choose from backpackers, motels and hotels in Blenheim, Picton and Havelock, through to cute Marlborough vineyard villas and luxury winery hotels, and holiday houses, lodges and boutique resorts in the Marlborough Sounds.
Simply put, you’d be mad not to make Marlborough your next destination.