Marlborough Sounds – wineries, water and endless wows!
I am a very fortunate soul. My amazing travels to the land of the long white cloud have led me to some spectacular places, incredible experiences and personal encounters with some of the friendliest and hospitable people on the planet.
My latest adventure took me to the very top of the South Island, to Blenheim, gateway to the magical Marlborough Sounds. We left Rotorua very early in the morning and flew via Wellington on a small prop plane with its tail fin kitted out in all its black silver-fern finery. With barely enough time to buckle the seat belt before we landed in Blenheim 15 minutes later, we were privileged to witness Wellington’s magnificent landscape and myriad fault-lines from the air.
The weather was glorious when we arrived, a perfectly clear blue sky sunny day and a comfortable temperature of around 16 degrees. We were lucky enough to enjoy the last vestiges of the amazing Autumn the Kiwis had recently experienced. Even in May (late Autumn) this is a wonderful time to visit.
On arrival at the airport we were whisked away by our wonderful guide, Chris, from the Marlborough Tour Company, on a whirlwind tour of the region which included a visit to the Marlborough Lodge, an historic and elegant country estate undergoing extensive renovation in typically authentic and elegant Kiwi style.
The Lodge and its charming chapel occupies a perfect setting in 16 acres of peaceful parkland. In all my trips to New Zealand I have never heard as much wonderful birdsong as I did here and the beautiful grounds are truly idyllic.
The Marlborough region, renowned by all those wine connoisseurs out there, is the home of some of New Zealand’s finest wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc. 77% of the country’s wine production happens here and there is some equally superb locally sourced food to accompany any winery visit. We had a delicious outdoor lunch at Highfield Winery preceded by a wine tasting so we could select our preferred tipple of choice – incredibly the local Riesling won out over the Sav. Highfield is in a beautiful hillside setting, reminiscent of glorious Tuscan vineyards and offers a range of hand-crafted food friendly wines.
The Sounds themselves are essentially drowned valleys, a mountainous region that sank due to geological activity and allowed the sea to flood the valleys. Today we were able to enjoy this intricate network of beautiful waterways, forested steep ridges and magnificent sheltered coves. Our preferred mode of transport from Picton– a very comfortable water taxi. Travelling this way often involves sightings of dolphins en route.
Our home for the next two nights was the 5* Bay of Many Coves luxury resort, set in an exquisite and sheltered corner of the Sounds.
This is a place that has so many wows it literally takes your breath away. From arrival at the small jetty to immersion in incredible food and wine and awesome views this is a place you will simply not want to leave – a 3 night stay should be the bare minimum. Our hosts Murray and Elaine were an absolute delight and the food spectacular.
Wine tasting with Murray was a revelation all of its own and makes you completely re-evaluate your wine preferences.
The Resort, nestled in a pristine natural setting on 59 hectares of privately owned bush-clad hills, is Eco friendly, with each cabin very well designed and with all modern amenities, views over the Sounds are stunning and the early morning sunrise absolutely breathtaking. There is a hot tub (great for soaking sore muscles after a walk on the Queen Charlotte Track) and a swimming pool (freezing cold – but then we were there in May). There is even a heli-pad for those visitors preferring a more dramatic arrival.
As a British visitor this whole area is a fascinating step back in history to the intrepid travels of Captain James Cook. In 1770 Cook landed on Motuara Island and declared British sovereignty over the South Island. Today Motuara Island is a bird lovers’ paradise, home to some of New Zealand’s most endangered birds; a predator free wildlife sanctuary (apart from the occasional stoat that dares to swim across from a neighbouring island). On our morning visit we were lucky enough to hear and see saddlebacks, South Island robins and Bellbirds. The highlight of the day though went to the three pairs of Little Blue Penguins nestling shyly in their nesting boxes. The steep climb up to the lookout tower was worth it for the incredible 360 degree views of the surrounding islands.
From Motuara we pushed onward to the Queen Charlotte Track, to hike part of this magnificent coastal walkway. Most visitors with more time on their hands choose to do the 4 day walking option. Strategically placed throughout the 71km length of track is a range of accommodation options to suit all tastes and the “lodge to lodge homestay” experience provides a unique walking holiday.
The Track passes through undisturbed stands of beech and rimu, around coves and inlets and along skyline ridges, with glimpses through the tree canopy of stunning views down into Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. Thanks to the region’s climate walking conditions are good here all year round.
The walk is quite challenging in parts with some fairly steep climbs at the start and rough track – so good walking shoes are a must. We encountered quite a few fallen trees on the track thanks to high winds the day before although these were easy to navigate our way around.
We enjoyed our packed lunch at a picture perfect viewpoint and were rewarded by the appearance of a very inquisitive and friendly Weka who was more than happy to mop up any crumbs. Thanks to Jill, our expert guide, and the Cougar Line team we had the perfect day!
There are many places in New Zealand that defy the written word. My expectations of what I would find at the top of the South Island were easily surpassed. Here the choices are endless, from indulgence in wine and gastronomic delights, hiking the Queen Charlotte Track, visiting protected wildlife sanctuaries, sailing or cruising or merely relaxing and admiring the view. As you can probably gather I’m a fan!