Marlborough: An introduction

Marlborough – New Zealand's biggest wine-producing region – has an extensive coastline, sheltered waters and forests to frame endless outdoor pursuits.

Marlborough's temperate climate and vast, unspoilt wilderness areas set the scene for indulgence and adventure. Visitors arrive by boat across the picturesque waters of Marlborough Sounds or fly in over rugged mountains and wide plains with endless rows of perfect vines.

Basking in year-round sunshine at the top of the South Island, Marlborough is New Zealand's largest wine-growing region and responsible for more than 77 percent of New Zealand’s wine production. Almost anything grows here, and the rich local harvest from land and sea makes it a top destination for connoisseurs of food and wine. 

The region’s breathtaking beauty and sun-kissed landscapes are also a magnet for nature-lovers, including hikers tackling New Zealand’s Great Walks and seafarers keen to explore Queen Charlotte Sound and the coastline's many secluded waterways.

Heritage

Māori inhabited the Marlborough region from the 12th century, and after centuries of contest by different iwi (tribal groups) there are eight tribes today who are tangata whenua or "people of the land".

The region's European history goes back to 1770, when British explorer Captain James Cook arrived. He proclaimed Briish sovereignty over the South Island from Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

 

Settlers, attracted by the rich coastline, arrived in the early 1800s to set up whaling stations. Farmers and miners followed after the discovery of the semi-metal antimony in Endeavour Inlet. 

The first grapes were planted in the southern valleys in 1873, but commercial planting began only in 1973. The 35th anniversary of the region's first Sauvignon Blanc vintage was in 2014.

Wine and food

Neat rows of thriving grape vines stretch as far as the eye can see through Marlborough’s fertile valleys and it’s the ideal combination of climate and terrain that makes this such perfect wine-growing territory.

With more than 120 different wineries producing award-winning wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc, wine tasting and touring is a popular pastime. Visitors on the vineyard trail can join a guided tour, a cycle tour or hire a bike, choosing from more than 30 cellar doors. They can pair wine with local produce in a leisurely lunch at a vineyard restaurant and meet the winemakers behind closed doors, sampling wine straight from the barrel.

Rich soil, plenty of sun and lots of water make perfect growing conditions and Marlborough is a gourmet paradise with creative chefs crafting locally sourced produce, wild game and fresh seafood to complement the region’s food-friendly wines.

The deep, clean waters of the Marlborough Sounds are also ideal for aquaculture and 75 percent of New Zealand’s exports of greenshell mussels, king salmon, Pacific oysters, paua (abalone), kingfish, and koura (crayfish) come from the region.

Adventure / outdoors

The pristine natural environment and sunny climate make Marlborough one of New Zealand’s most famous outdoor playgrounds – popular with Kiwi and international adventurers keen to explore the vast expanse of national parks and sheltered waters. 

Walking, cycling, sea kayaking and sailing are ideal ways to experience the breathtaking beauty of this environment. The Queen Charlotte track, between Queen Charlotte Sound and Kenepuru Sound, offers 70 kilometres (43 miles) of dramatic land- and seascapes, and a variety of native bush and wildlife. The track is also one of New Zealand's Great Rides, with water taxis available to transfer luggage to accommodation at each day's destination. 

Nature and wildlife

Marlborough Sounds has an abundance of bird and marine life. It is home to rare species such as the king shag, found nowhere else in the world. It’s common to spot the shags, dolphins, seals, whales and penguins playing in the natural environment of Queen Charlotte Sound. For a closer look, take a dolphin cruise and swim in the water with the mammals.

Island sanctuaries accessible by kayak or boat offer opportunities to learn about the conservation work being done to protect and celebrate the region's marine life. The islands, covered in native bush, are home to saddleback, kereru (New Zealand wood pigeon), bellbird, tui and rohe kiwi. 

Art and culture

Famous movie director Sir Peter Jackson has a rare collection of World War I memorabilia, including several aircraft on display at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim, Marlborough’s main town.

The museum has earned international acclaim, not only for notable exhibits like the black cross from the Red Baron’s famous triplane, but also because of the way the exhibits have been brought to life by Sir Peter’s creative team from Wingnut Films and Weta Workshop – the people who created Middle Earth on film.

A World War II exhibition takes visitors on an historical and geographical journey. Sir Peter's team brought to life the stories of aviation across battlegrounds, using a collection of original and replica flying machines.

And by the way...

  • Marlborough is home to New Zealand’s largest farm – 180,476 hectare (446,000 acre) Molesworth Station.
  • Marlborough Sounds has 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) of coastline, or 20 percent of New Zealand's coast.
  • Marlborough contributes more than 77 percent of New Zealand’s total wine production and has more than 120 wineries and 33 cellar doors.
  • Pelorus River was the location of the barrel scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of the Smaug movie, an adventure that visitors can replicate on the Hobbit Kayak Tour.
  • Marlborough has the country's only official postal delivery service by water; the Mail Boat cruise departs from Picton and Havelock.
  • The region has three world-class marinas, at Havelock, Picton and Waikawa.
  • Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku in the Awatere Valley (or "Tappy", as he called it), was Sir Edmund Hillary’s first major climb, a pathway that ultimately took him to Mount Everest.
  • More than 70 percent (65,000 tonnes per annum) of native greenshell mussels exported from New Zealand are farmed in their natural environment of Marlborough Sounds.
  • D’Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds is New Zealand’s third-largest island.
  • Marlborough has no traffic lights.