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Ma­jes­tic Marl­bor­ough more than lives up to its rep­u­ta­tion.


Abun­dance has blessed Marl­bor­ough. This ruggedly beau­ti­ful north­east tip of New Zealand’s South Is­land boasts wall-to-wall vine­yards and the largest plan­ta­tion of sauvi­gnon blanc vines on the planet (praise be!). Its net­work of water­ways known as the Marl­bor­ough Sounds is the source of some of the world’s best abalone div­ing, the turquoise wa­ters also rich with cray­fish, salmon, mus­sels, sea urchin and the fa­mous Cloudy Bay clam. Vis­i­tors will also find aro­matic fields of gar­lic and amaz­ing corn; even the hops and re­sult­ing beers are great. It’s hard to imag­ine what more a food lover in the wild could want. It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary stuff, and the scenery con­stantly astounds; at ev­ery turn there’s a breath­tak­ing view. There are more than 50 na­ture re­serves and sev­eral wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies in the re­gion. On the Sounds, you’ll mo­tor past dra­matic moun­tain­ous ter­rain dot­ted with sure-footed goats. As you glide through pris­tine wa­ter speck­led with pale pink jel­ly­fish, dol­phins will play­fully race you (likely one of the world’s small­est va­ri­eties, the en­dan­gered Hec­tor’s dol­phin). Look to shore to spot rock for­ma­tions lean­ing into the land like enor­mous an­cient gate­ways to the un­der­world. It’s all very Lord of the Rings and rather oth­er­worldly. With so much on of­fer, where to start?


Marl­bor­ough is New Zealand’s largest wine-grow­ing re­gion, and a wine trail stretches from Blen­heim to Pic­ton (a pretty port town a short flight or ferry ride from Welling­ton with a pop­u­la­tion of about 4500). There are more than 30 cel­lar doors, and over 140 winer­ies, in­clud­ing the fa­mous Cloudy Bay, and driv­ing around the re­gion of­fers such plea­sur­able sights as lambs play­ing among the vines and bee­hives sit­ting be­side the road, all sur­rounded by ram­pant fronds of wild fen­nel.

As well as the big­ger houses, there are also some ex­cit­ing bou­tique winer­ies, such as Te Whare Ra (which means ‘house of the sun’ in Maori), owned and run by Ja­son and Anna Flow­er­day since

2003. It’s an or­ganic and bio­dy­namic pi­o­neer, us­ing “magic cow poo nat­u­ral fer­tiliser, fed in the ground with egg shells and basalt dust for three months so you are feed­ing the soil rather than the vines”, ex­plains Ja­son. Te Whare Ra is cred­ited in lo­cal cir­cles as hav­ing the best ries­ling in New Zealand, a wine Anna be­lieves is Marl­bor­ough’s un­sung hero. The re­gion’s dis­tinc­tive slate and rocky soil is ideal for sav blanc, but “there are some re­ally in­cred­i­ble ries­lings be­ing pro­duced here, even though it took us a while to get it right”, she ex­plains.

The Flow­er­days are part of a col­lec­tive of or­ganic and bio­dy­namic vine­yards (Marl­bor­ough Nat­u­ral Wine­grow­ers) that is bring­ing to­gether the best of ar­ti­sanal wine-grow­ing and eco science to cre­ate wines that are true to the earth. As of 2015, 12 per cent of all NZ grape grow­ers had a cer­ti­fied or­ganic vine­yard, in­clud­ing many in the Marl­bor­ough re­gion. While there are myr­iad Marl­bor­ough vine­yards to ex­plore, the good news is the re­gion is com­pact: many winer­ies are just a short cy­cle apart and within a 15- to 20-minute drive of Blen­heim.


Named by Cap­tain Cook for its, well, clouds, Cloudy Bay it­self is a stark beach, dot­ted with large grey peb­bles and drift­wood, and what looks like the rem­nants of bon­fires, al­though it’s still a sought-af­ter hol­i­day house spot. The bay faces Cook Strait over a dis­tance of 30 kilo­me­tres, from the Marl­bor­ough

Sounds (Port Un­der­wood) in the north to White Bluffs in the south. It’s a 15-minute drive from Blen­heim. Ev­i­dence of Maori in­hab­i­tance dates back to the 1200s and it’s one of the old­est and best re­searched sites of early Poly­ne­sian set­tle­ment in New Zealand. It’s the pro­duce you will find on land and off that most de­fines it.

The Cloudy Bay vine­yards need no in­tro­duc­tion, but it’s the world- class

Cloudy Bay Clams op­er­a­tion that feeds a lot of lo­cal menus and also ex­ports around the globe. Boats head out year round from Port Un­der­wood to fish for surf clams mere me­tres from shore.

Cloudy Bay Clams, run by the Piper fam­ily, is con­sid­ered a world leader in sus­tain­able fish­ing. The com­pany’s unique rake and dredge method blasts high-pres­sure wa­ter through fine jets ahead of the rakes, safely loos­en­ing the clams and caus­ing them to close for col­lec­tion, re­sult­ing in a near zero mor­tal­ity rate. (Be­lieve it or not, clams are haemophil­i­acs, and any dam­age to their sen­si­tive ‘tongue’ – ac­tu­ally their foot – re­sults in their death.)

The four types of clam (Di­a­mond Shell, Tua Tua, Storm Clam and Moon Shell) are found on menus across the Marl­bor­ough re­gion, as well as Aus­tralia and as far afield as Hong Kong and Eu­rope. Each has a dis­tinct flavour, but what­ever you choose, there’s noth­ing like the sweet, creamy flesh eaten raw straight from the sea.


Arapaoa (for­merly Ara­pawa) is home to the paua (abalone) farm run by Mike and An­to­nia Radon of Ara­pawa Homestead. It’s an un­touched par­adise of an­cient hills that roll down to the glim­mer­ing wa­ters of the Pa­cific Ocean, with a labyrinth of in­lets and bays. In one cove in the Tory Chan­nel rests the haunt­ing skele­tal re­mains of the long-aban­doned Per­ano Whal­ing Sta­tion – NZ’s last op­er­a­tional sta­tion. The short chop­per ride or one-hour wa­ter taxi trip af­fords in­cred­i­ble views. The Radons farm blue pearls from the

paua from over 200 tanks, and al­though the cou­ple’s fo­cus was ini­tially on the abalone meat, it has shifted to the pearls, which they sup­ply to the main­land. They also rent out dif­fer­ent ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions on the is­land – choose from unique home­steads, cot­tages and huts (ara­pawa­home­stead.co.nz).

In­cred­i­ble pro­duce abounds on the main­land, too. De­vel­oped by Dion Brown (for­merly of Cloudy Bay Clams), Ori­gin

South Food’s sin­gle-ori­gin, grass-fed lo­cal lamb is from Mount Peel. The flavour de­vel­ops from the live­stock graz­ing on grass open to coastal winds, and is a favourite of chefs in the area. Then there are the fra­grant fields be­long­ing to

Marl­bor­ough Gar­lic, sit­ting in­con­gru­ously be­tween vine­yards and scented like a loaf of gar­lic bread. CEO John Mur­phy is fa­mous for the in­roads he is mak­ing with black gar­lic, or ‘Gar­lic Noir’; the bulbs are fer­mented for a month to a black­ish paste to de­velop the umami flavour that is win­ning fans around the world.

A per­fect storm of na­ture and cli­mate has also re­sulted in world- class honey pro­duc­tion (with hives placed on farms around the re­gion to help pol­li­na­tion), or you can cruise the lo­cal mus­sel or salmon farms to ex­pe­ri­ence the tech­niques first­hand then dine on the catch. The Te Araroa Trail (New Zealand’s Trail) is a 3000-kilo­me­tre bucket list walk, and the South Is­land sec­tion starts at the his­toric Ship Cove in the Sounds (fa­mous for shel­ter­ing Cap­tain Cook dur­ing his voy­ages to New Zealand). It winds through the ridges and bays of the Queen Char­lotte Track, with rea­son­ably easy walk­ing where the views keep on com­ing. There’s also the New Zealand Cy­cle Trail, which sim­i­larly fol­lows the Queen Char­lotte track from Ship Cove to Anakiwa. It’s a 70-kilo­me­tre ride, tak­ing be­tween two and three days, boast­ing lush coastal for­est and sky­line ridges. You can ride the en­tire track or just sec­tions, us­ing boat trans­port from Pic­ton.

The Marl­bor­ough Sounds ac­counts for one-fifth of New Zealand’s en­tire coast­line, so while the views are re­ally some­thing, it’s also renowned for the div­ing, par­tic­u­larly off Port Gore and Mo­tu­ara Is­land.

How’s that for a view? The Marl­bor­ough Sounds.

Ac­com­mo­da­tion amid Arapaoa’s rolling hills in­cludes home­steads, cot­tages and huts.

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