Enjoy a peaceful retreat along the serene waterways of New Zealand’s South Island
The Sounds of Silence – Enjoy a peaceful retreat along the serene waterways of New Zealand’s South Island
Marlborough is renowned for its winding waterways (sea-flooded valleys known as “sounds”), rugged wilderness and fine wines. Situated on the northeastern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, this sunny region only landed on modern tourist maps in the 1980s after the international success of its zesty sauvignon blanc – a wine revered for its intense flavors and robust character. Awash with expansive vineyards, rolling hills and sleepy towns, it is a region of unparalleled beauty and a relaxing escape for business travelers in New Zealand.
Visitors can take a short 30-minute flight from Wellington, on a small plane the locals affectionately call “white knuckle airlines” for its hair-raising maneuvers across the straits. For those who choose to travel by water through the magnificent Queen Charlotte Sound, there are regular ferry services connecting the North and South Island.
I flew in for a relaxing three-day break from the commercial hub and international gateway of Auckland. The national carrier, Air New Zealand, offers daily services to Marlborough’s main township of Blenheim, which is where my memorable adventure began. What follows is a taste of the many delights the region has to offer, from treks in the native forests to the sheltered bays of the sounds and tours of world-famous wine cellars.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
A few minutes drive from Marlborough Airport Blenheim is the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, showcasing one of the world’s largest private collections of WWI aircraft and artifacts. On long-term loan from Kiwi film director Peter Jackson (the man behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy and its prequel The Hobbit trilogy) the collection includes original and full replica WWI aircraft – both static and flyable, such as the Curtiss MF Flying Boat and the single-seat German fighter Halberstadt D.IV model.
The 32,000-square-foot exhibit also features a display depicting the death of Manfred von Richthofen, aka the Red Baron, who was mortally wounded in April 1918. The museum gained international recognition when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the center during their royal tour of the country last year.
After learning about the exhibit, you may wish to experience the thrill of opencockpit flying for yourself. At the nearby Omaka Airfield, joyrides are available in a vintage three-seat Boeing Stearman, with helmet and goggles provided. The price for a 20-minute flight is NZ$345 ($235) for a single passenger or NZ$390 ($265) for two passengers.
A short scenic drive from Blenheim is the quaint seafront town of Picton, the base for ferry services between the South and North Islands. It’s also the gateway to the intricate waters of the Marlborough Sounds – a collection of ancient sunken river valleys filled with the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The sounds make up a fifth of the country’s coastline and include three main bodies of water: Kenepuru, Pelorus and Queen Charlotte. The latter is names after England's Queen Charlotte by Captain James Cook, who famously spent 170 days sheltering in the area. According to Maori myth, the waterways and headlands were formed during a battle between a great Maori warrior and a giant octopus.
Small-scale resorts dot the sounds’ many coves, as well as remote houses and communities that can only be accessed by boat. Beachcomber Cruises, the only licensed operator in the Queen Charlotte Sound to deliver mail and groceries to the people who live here, allow guests on board during their delivery runs.
The half-day cruise, which departs on Monday and Thursday beginning at 1:30 PM, stops at local residences in Kumutoto Bay, Blackwood Bay, and Ruakaka Bay before swinging past the King Salmon farm. Here you can see seals lolling
The sounds make up a fifth of the country’s coastline and include three main bodies of water