At the north-eastern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, Marlborough is a striking patchwork of vineyards, sheep-dotted pastures and mountains reaching for the long white clouds.
It’s not the easiest place to travel to, even from Australia’s eastern coast. To get here, you must first fly to Wellington then take a ferry to the seaside community of Picton, followed by a drive to the small town of Blenheim – the perfect base from which to explore the region.
Marlborough rewards the tenacious traveller with more experiences than you can pack into a single weekend. To its north lies a maze of mountains and sounds. To its south is the Kaikoura Peninsula, one of the most beautiful places in the world for spotting whales, dolphins, fur seals and penguins, while to the west are the pristine Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes national parks.
And then there are the wines. With 20,000 hectares of vineyards, Marlborough is the country’s largest wine region, responsible for more than 75 per cent of the total national yield. Sauvignon blanc is, of course, the star of the show, while LVMH-owned Cloudy Bay is the George Clooney of wineries.
Look beyond the blockbuster attractions and you’ll discover hidden gems such as No. 1 Family Estate, where a 12th-generation champagne-maker handcrafts only one type of wine, méthode traditionnelle sparkling, and Framingham, which produces a dazzling array of rieslings. A couple of days is definitely not enough time in Marlborough but these vineyards make a fine start.
Where to eat
For breakfast: The Vines Villages Café
Sardines on toast, açaí bowls and buttermilk pancakes are just some of the delicious hunger-busting options at this lakeside café. The manicured lawns and big playground will keep the kids entertained, while adults will love kicking back in the sheltered outdoor dining area with a good cup of coffee (or glass of wine).
193 Rapaura Road, Blenheim
For lunch: Harvest Restaurant
Despite its sprawling area, Marlborough gets busy come lunchtime. Escape the crowds by booking a window table at Harvest Restaurant at The Marlborough Lodge. Overlooking the property’s gardens, it’s a serene spot where you can soak up the region’s laid-back charms. Chef Damian Oehlrich is at the helm, with a regional menu featuring dishes such as garlic-laced Wakanui beef tartare.
776 Rapaura Road, Rapaura
For dinner: Arbour
New Zealand restaurateurs Liz Buttimore and Bradley Hornby spent six years running fine-dining establishments in Melbourne, Margaret River and on Lizard Island, collecting a number of hats during their Australian tenure. Now they’re back on home turf at this upmarket eatery where tables book out regularly (even on weeknights) and the menu changes almost every day. Opt for the six-course Eat Local menu or make a night of it with The Many, a procession of nine dishes. Both options can be paired with local wines.
36 Godfrey Road, Blenheim
For taking home: Manaka Confections
This boutique chocolate factory and confectioner is a beloved institution in Marlborough. If you’re in town carrying a Makana Confections paper bag, locals will stop you to ask, “Did you try the macadamia butter toffee crunch?” But while these nutty chocolate-coated slabs seem to be the favourite, there’s so much more to try and buy: champagne truffles, citrus jelly squares, zesty fruit bark… even sugar-free chocolate snaps.
Corner of Rapaura and O’Dwyers roads, Blenheim
Where to stay
The Marlborough Lodge
Spread over 6.5 hectares, The Marlborough Lodge is a peaceful haven of gardens and orchards, lawns and grapevines, vegetable patches and flowerbeds. At the heart of the sprawling property is a two-storey Victorian convent, converted into a luxury stay, with stained-glass windows, original domed ceilings and a regal staircase. Check in to one of the 10 suites, enjoy a swim in the heated pool or go for a massage at the onsite spa. Just don’t miss out on a wander around the grounds. Look for the stream and the log of a fallen 600-year-old tōtara tree that now serves as a footbridge –it’s like a fairytale.
776 Rapaura Road, Rapaura
Marlborough Vintners Hotel
Located in the heart of the region, with 360-degree vineyard views, this low-rise property is a great option for families, couples and small groups of friends looking for a more wallet-friendly choice. There are 16 self-contained suites on site, all featuring large bathrooms, spacious living areas, user-friendly kitchenettes and private patios.
190 Rapaura Road, Blenheim
If you don’t want to drive: Highlight Wine Tours
Want to explore the scenic landscape in a 1967 Mustang convertible or 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air? Book an excursion with Highlight Wine Tours that offers private, customised half- and full-day itineraries in classic vehicles. If your group is bigger than three, you could opt for a 1975 VW Kombi.
Andrew Hedley’s dry and sweet F-Series rieslings hit the mark. Beautifully set up with outdoor areas, this cellar door is a must-visit for riesling fans.
Drink now: F-Series Old Vine Riesling
Cellar: F-Series Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese
An intelligence-gathering facility may be located near this Waihopai Valley winery but the wines’ quality is no secret.
Drink now: Handpicked Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé
Cellar: Envoy Outpost Vineyard Pinot Noir
Wine pioneer Sir George Fistonich’s headquarters are a hive of vinous activity where top sauvignons vie with chardonnay and pinot noir.
Drink now: Sauvignon Gris
Cellar: Taylors Pass Vineyard Pinot Noir
Dr John Forrest knows how to make low-alcohol wine. With his GP wife, Brigid, he produces The Doctors’ reduced-alcohol range of riesling, sauvignon blanc, rosé and pinot noir.
Drink now: The Doctors’ Riesling
Cellar: Forrest Botrytised Riesling
Ivan Sutherland and James Healy were key players at Cloudy Bay before launching Dog Point. Their drops are top-class, as is the charming cellar door.
Drink now: Chardonnay
Cellar: Pinot Noir