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.
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.