Here’s a quick guide to getting the most out of 48 hours in New Zealand’s home of Sauvignon Blanc but let’s be honest, you’re probably going to want to stay longer…
Visiting Marlborough, at the northern tip of New Zealand South Island, is one of those rare trips where the journey is as beautiful as the destination, especially if you start in Wellington, which sits at the southern tip of the North Island.
While you can quickly jaunt across the gap with a direct flight, we highly recommend, no wait, we implore, you to grab a ticket aboard the Interislander Ferry and strap yourself in for unparalleled views across the Cook Strait and into the Marlborough Sounds.
This isn’t your usual rough and tumble climb-aboard and BE BORED for 3 hours kind of thing. Even if staggering ocean vistas aren’t your thing there’s a choice of 3 bars and restaurants, a children’s play area (for the kids, obviously), 2 cinemas, and even a Interisland Plus lounge for those looking for a little extra TLC (and complimentary snacks).
That is if you can tear yourself away from the window for a few minutes…
You arrive in Picton, which is a charming seaport town that sits at the entrance of Queen Charlotte Sound. From there it’s just a 25-minute drive to Blenheim, the largest town in Marlborough.
But don’t leave just yet. This is where you catch your ride to Punga Cove Resort…
Punga Cove Resort is a cluster of cabins, nestled discreetly into the dense Marlborough bush overlooking the crystal blue waters of the sounds.
It’s also completely remote to the point of ridiculousness, so those that revel in quiet time will love having the ability to switch off from technology (there is wi-fi available in the bar for when the itch gets too much) and get the best night’s sleep known to man.
We’re not overstating it when we say this place is silent at night and your only alarm clock is the chirp of Bellbirds in the morning. It’s impossible to not be floored as you sip your morning coffee and watch the sun warm the hills of the Endeavour Inlet, burning off the dense fog that enveloped your balcony overnight.
Punga Cove Resort is also conveniently located along the iconic Queen Charlotte Track, part of Te Araroa, which is a 3000km route stretching from Cape Reinga in the North of the country down to Bluff on the South, so it’s essentially hiking Nirvana.
But if you’d like a more entry level introduction to New Zealand’s most famous walk, sign up for a guided tour and transfer back, finishing your day with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the deck of Punga’s Boatshed Cafe & Bar.
A short drive from Picton is Blenheim, which is a busy rural town by trade but not by nature. Here there are countless restaurants, cafes and boutiques to sink your teeth into and all are just a few minutes from some of the best vineyards in New Zealand.
And if you’re looking for a lavish place to lay your head after a hard days touring then you have to book in at Chateau Marlborough. There’s no overstating it, the rooms here are some of the best appointed in the region, with full kitchen, spa baths and king-sized beds.
Not that you’ll be spending much time indoors but, hey, it’s nice to know they’re there.
What To Do
There aren’t many tours that double as a history lesson, whale watch AND a public service but the team at Beachcomber Cruises has come up with it.
The ‘Mailboat Cruise’ is one part joy-ride through the inlets and coves of the Marlborough Sounds, the other an actual postal service, delivering packages to the various creative (and no doubt slightly introverted) nature-lovers that call this far removed part of the world home. Not to mention plenty of up-close-and-personal time with the seals and dolphins that play in the wake of the boat as it coasts along.
This is one of those experiences you might have to convince the non-aviation buffs to visit but you’ll revel in the sweet satisfaction that comes from watching in live-action as someone’s mind is utterly blown.
You cannot and will not leave the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre without a humbled soul and profound appreciation for the brave souls of the men and women who gave their lives both in World War 1 but in the pioneering days of flight.
Much like everything in New Zealand, director Peter Jackson has sprinkled some of his theatrical magic on the entire museum, loaning much of his personal collection of planes and memorabilia, along with harnessing the talents of his Wingnut Productions and Weta Workshop to create life-like mannequins in arresting still-life scenes.
One of the most emotionally charged exhibitions not to miss is the Stalingrad Experience, which uses a blend of GCI, surround sound, laser projectors and detailed sets to transport you to a ruined factory under fire in 1943.
It’s so moving that you almost want to cry as you walk out, proving don’t have to be into wars to have your perspective shifted, you just have to be human.
On a slightly less dramatic note, Paper Rain Project in Picton is a perfect place to get inspired and enjoy the best of local creative talent from the Marlborough and Wellington region. Here you’ll find their own bespoke skateboards, made from 100% recycled Marlborough Pinot Noir wine barrels, as well as brands such as Fix & Fogg artisan peanut butter, copies of Haven Magazine, and Napoleon Leather wallets.
Yealand’s Family Wines are as multi-awarded for carbon zero rating as they are for their Sauvignon Blancs and a tasting here will more than acquaint you with their vibrant zesty flavours.
However, even if you’re not a wine connoisseur, a swift way to get your spirits lifted sans alcohol is to jumping back into your rental car and exploring the winery is the fastest way to appreciate how the region affects the delicate flavours of their wines.
The vines sit on a coastal peninsula, with a sheer drop down to a black sand beach, while their soil and leaves are lovingly tended by families of free-roaming miniature sheep. Glorious.
You might be in heard of New Zealand wine country but that doesn’t mean you’re far from a little French flavour. Grab a table outside along the Taylor River and feast on farm-to-table fare and watch the world go by.
If you like your breakfasts hearty and your table booths cosy this is the place to come. There’s even a community library on the wall where you can bring in a good read you’ve just finished and swap it for something new.
You need to make lunch at Wairau your final stop before you leave. Not that we want to dictate where you eat and drink but who doesn’t want to finish a weekend away sitting out on a sun-drenched courtyard, noshing on a hot smoked salmon salad and being guided glass by glass through their selection of estate and reserve range wines.
How To Get Home
Marlborough Airport is only about a 7-minute drive from Blenheim and operates flights back to Wellington aboard Air New Zealand approximately 5 times daily because even the airlines know that rushing back to reality is a bad idea.