Drop by: Marlborough
THE birthplace of the worldwide sauvignon blanc boom, Marlborough is in the north-east corner of New Zealand's South Island, due west of Wellington. The region centres on the small town of Blenheim, and includes hamlets such as Picton and Havelock.
Marlborough was virtually unheard of 35 years ago, when the little-known sauvignon blanc grape was planted at what is now the Brancott Estate. Today, labels such as Cloudy Bay, Dog Point, Wither Hills and Brancott Estate are at the forefront when it comes to world-class savvy blanc.
Blenheim and the Wairau River valley have become popular tourist destinations and vine plantings have extended south to the rugged and remote Awatere Valley, near the town of Seddon.
The Marlborough Sounds are popular with water sports enthusiasts and offer bird and dolphin watching, walking, kayaking and sailing centred in attractive Picton, at the southern end of Queen Charlotte Sound.
How to get there
Qantas and Air New Zealand fly from Australian mainland capital cities to Wellington and Auckland, from where Air New Zealand flies to Marlborough Airport, a short drive from Blenheim and Renwick. Car-hire companies have desks at the airport. Hiring a car is advisable as public transport is very limited.
Best cellar doors
Brancott Estate Heritage Centre is on the site where it all began. Opened in September, the impressive facility overlooks the very vines that in 1975 were the first plantings of sauvignon blanc in Marlborough. The views are dramatic and on a clear day you can glimpse the North Island.
One of the prettiest tasting facilities is at Clos Henri, the Marlborough vineyard of Loire Valley vigneron Henri Bourgeois. Enjoy wines in a beautiful old church where lunchtime tasting platters are available - one featuring imported French cheeses, the other charcuterie, terrines and rillettes.
Te Whare Ra is a great stop for wine buffs. Run by Jason Flowerday and his Australian wife, Anna, it produces outstanding aromatic whites, particularly rieslings and gewurztraminers. There is a daily tour at 10am during summer.
Renovated and expanded a few years ago, the Cloudy Bay cellar door is light and contemporary, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views into the working barrel cellar and out across the lawn to the Richmond Ranges, which feature on the Cloudy Bay wine bottle label.
Mount Riley is a family-owned and run operation with a cellar door that looks onto Mount Riley, one of the highest peaks in the Richmond Range. It's a friendly spot where visitors are invited to enjoy a picnic.
Also try Framingham, Allan Scott, Wither Hills, Nautilus Estate, Fromm, Seresin Estate, Spy Valley, Saint Clair, Wairau River, TerraVin, Yealands Estate and Drylands.
Where to eat
Wither Hills is a funky and laid-back tasting facility with a revamped restaurant offering light lunch options such as a classic French onion tartlet, or more substantial dishes such as wild venison pie. There's also an outstanding dessert selection.
Wairau River Wines recently opened a new cellar door-restaurant featuring the likes of Marlborough mussel chowder with toasted herb bread and Thai-style beef fillet salad with peanuts, glass noodles and nam jim dressing. There is a kids' menu as well as free wi-fi.
Brancott Estate Heritage Centre is a family friendly place and offers tasting plates of locally sourced seasonal produce as well as a menu featuring dishes such as Cloudy Bay clams steamed in sauvignon gris with chilli flakes, or even grilled lamb cutlets.
The brasserie of the art deco Hotel d'Urville is a popular hangout for winemakers and serves lamb rack with pea and shallot tortellini, eggplant caviar and tamarind and port jus or West Coast dry-aged rib-eye. A great choice.
Hans Herzog Wines has two restaurants at its cellar door - a bistro as well as a fine-dining restaurant, which is in a gorgeous setting overlooking the vines and the gardens.
There is a European ambience and degustation dinners are popular here.
Also try Twelve Trees vineyard restaurant, La Veranda, Highfield Estate winery and restaurant, Hunter's Cafe and Raupo Cafe.
What to drink
What else but sauvignon blanc, the grape variety that made Marlborough famous? (Try the Savee sparkling sav at Mount Riley.) But there are also some outstanding traditional bubblies; think Pelorus from Cloudy Bay, Lindauer, Deutz and Daniel Le Brun.
Chardonnay and pinot noir do very well across the region but also check out the many styles of riesling at Framingham and the gewurztraminer at Te Whare Ra, as well as the unusual sauvignon gris at Brancott Estate, plus a range of alternative varieties available at Hans Herzog.
Where to stay
Hotel D'Urville is perfect for those who want to stay downtown, close to the cafes and bars of Blenheim. A stylish, boutique art deco hotel, it has 11 suites, an outdoor terrace and excellent restaurant. From $NZ195 ($150) a night.
Marlborough Vintners Hotel offers 16 spacious luxury suites overlooking vineyards that are perfect for couples and it has an on-site restaurant. It is close to the airport and several wineries on Marlborough's "golden mile". Priced from $NZ225.
Chateau Marlborough is next to Seymour Square gardens and is a two-minute walk to downtown Blenheim. It has 45 suites and apartments, which have been refurbished recently - and an on-site pool. Weekend packages from $NZ300 a night.
BEC Luxury Lodge is a chic private lodge with five suites, available for exclusive use only. It comes with its own chef, swimming pool and spa and is perfect for groups of up to 10 people. Priced from $NZ1000 to $NZ1500 a night, depending on the season.
Vintners Retreat, with 14 well-equipped two- and three-bedroom villas overlooking the vineyards, is ideal for family groups and has a pool, tennis and petanque courts. It is 15 minutes out of Blenheim and is within walking distance of several cellar doors. Priced from $NZ395 in high season.
Also try The Rise Bed and Breakfast, French Fields, Maison Grange, Brydan on Rose Motel, Fernview Cottage, Bay of Many Coves Resort, Old St Mary's Convent, Mercure Picton.
The Marlborough Wine Festival is held each February and is New Zealand's longest-running wine and food festival. Blues, Brews and BBQs is a casual festival, also held each February, while the Marlborough Wine Weekend, at the end of October, showcases local wines and gourmet cuisine to a limited number of attendees.
The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is home to one of the world's largest collections of World War I aircraft and artefacts and the Omaka Aerodromenf is the venue for the biennial Classic Fighters air show.
Cruising the Marlborough Sounds (if you are lucky, you will spot dolphins) and walking the Queen Charlotte Track are also popular activities.
The two-hour drive south to Kaikoura is beautiful and when you arrive you can take your pick between dining on superb local seafood or whale watching from the water or air.
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