With its sunny climate, stunning scenery and huge variety of things to see, do and taste, Marlborough is the perfect winter destination for any type of holiday.
Whether your idea of fun is a four-day hike through coastal splendour, a relaxing cruise, an adrenaline-filled scenic flight or a sumptuous seaside lodge with nothing but views and great food and wine ahead, there’s something for everyone. Begin your Marlborough experience in the region’s north, on the stunning 72km Queen Charlotte Track. From ancient native forests to hidden coves, beautiful beaches and epic skyline views, each day of this diverse track offers something new. And because it’s at low altitude, with no chance of snow, the Queen Charlotte Track is safe to walk throughout winter, best enjoyed under the region’s famous sunshine while staying at beautiful lodges along the way.
If a four-day hike is not your thing, or you’re low on time, you can walk or mountain bike a short section instead. Water transfer company Beachcomber Cruises offers daily cruises from Picton’s Town Wharf to several points along the track, for a day walk culminating in a lodge restaurant or café lunch. A great way to experience the very best of the Sounds in a shorter time-frame, you can enjoy your scenic morning cruise through the calm waters of Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui, passing hidden bays and inlets, and be dropped off at your choice of Furneaux Lodge, Punga Cove, or The Portage Hotel for a delicious lunch, snack or beverage. Or, join the Beachcomber Cruises historic Mail Boat, which runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday through winter from Picton. The mail has been delivered by boat in Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui for 150 years, making this a unique and interesting experience that takes you well off the beaten tourist track.
There’s plenty of history in this part of the country: See it with Beachcomber Cruises on their cruise to Ship Cove/Meretoto where Captain James Cook anchored his ship The Endeavour in 1770 and met local Māori for the first time. To learn more about the long and fascinating past of Picton and the Sounds, head for the Edwin Fox Museum, which houses the world’s only surviving Australian convict ship and the last remaining wooden New Zealand immigrant ship.
This piece of world heritage, built in 1853, was almost left to disappear into the mud of Picton Harbour, but salvaged before she completely disappeared. In 2000 the former Historic Places Trust gave the Edwin Fox Ship a Category I registration, and today she is looked after by the Marlborough Heritage Trust. Open to the public, you can enter the vast hull to learn more about the stories the ship holds, and experience what it was like to travel in an immigrant ship.
The Marlborough Heritage Trust also operates the Picton Heritage and Whaling Museum on the town’s foreshore, which is open daily, and the perfect winter activity. Built on the original Waitohi Pa, artefacts, letters and photographs bring to life the stories of early Māori, in particular those of local iwi Te Ātiawa, as well as the area’s rich maritime history and wildlife. The museum’s whaling display, including tools, photos and equipment, also gives a true insight into the harsh, tough job of the whalers once based in the Marlborough Sounds and Cook Strait.
With so much to see in Picton and the Sounds, it’s worthwhile staying a while, and there’s plenty of accommodation to choose from including motels, apartments, backpackers and camping grounds. The Picton Top 10 Holiday Park is located in a quiet area of Picton, yet convenient to the town centre and ferry terminals. A short stroll takes you to the marina to board a Marlborough Sounds cruise, or the main street with its many cafés, restaurants and gift shops.
With a hot spa pool – perfect for those chilly winter evenings – and children’s playground, there’s plenty to keep the whole family happy, and a range of accommodation to choose from including motels, an off-site villa, cabins and of course sites for hardy winter campers (or warm campervans).
When you’re ready to leave Picton and the beautiful Sounds, there’s plenty more to see and do just 25km down State Highway 1 in Blenheim. As you approach, so do the vineyard rows, welcoming you to New Zealand’s largest wine industry and all it has to offer. Book a wine tour or explore independently – be sure to check the website of your winery of choice first to see their winter opening times and book a delicious vineyard lunch as well.
A great way to see more of the vast wine country is from above – particularly in Marlborough’s famously clear blue winter skies, when spring and summer winds take a break. The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre offers exhilarating rides in a Yak-3 and an Anson, or if you prefer to fly on less adrenaline, enjoy the scenery from a vintage Stearman over the Marlborough landscape in the calm winter weather.
PMH Aviation offers ‘Vintage Over the Vintage’ scenic flights over Marlborough in a De Havilland DH83C Fox Moth – Foxy! This aircraft was purchased new by Marlborough Aero Club in 1947 so is historically significant to the Marlborough region.
Back on the ground, the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre itself has a magnificent collection of wartime aeroplanes and some of the world’s rarest historic aviation memorabilia including personal belongings belonging to the Red Baron.
This treasure-trove of historic aircraft and artefacts come from both World Wars, dramatically displayed using the incredible storytelling talents of Wingnut Films and Wētā Workshop. Of course, winter isn’t complete without seeing some snow, and for Marlburians, their local is Rainbow Ski Area. Located in beautiful Nelson Lakes National Park, this friendly, fun field is approximately 1.5 hours’ drive from Blenheim.
Rent some gear or bring your own and play with toboggans on the lower reaches, learn to ski or board on the beginner or intermediate slopes, or take the t-bar to the top for incredible views over Lake Rotoiti, before an exhilarating ride back down for a well deserved hot drink or lunch in the café.
Back in warmer climes, there’s another area of the vast Marlborough Sounds to be discovered – the largest sound, Pelorus/Te Hoiere and neighbouring Kenepuru. Base yourself in the seaside settlement of Havelock – the Greenshell Mussel capital of the world – and take a scenic or seafood cruise to explore, and taste, this quieter but naturally stunning area of Marlborough.
And with so much more to see and do, from the beautiful wild Pacific coast to the emerald rivers and plenty of fun events to come – it’s probably best you start planning your spring visit to Marlborough before you leave.