The curse of a travel editor is having to spill the beans on some best-kept secrets so that everyone can have a crack at them. I think Marlborough is one such secret.
1. The wine
New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc is world famous and most of it comes from Marlborough, a relatively new district in grape-growing terms. The first vines were only planted in the early 1970s after a Montana scout looking for new wine territory worked out that with its maximum sun and minimum rain, this part of the world could do very nicely. And so it has. Now the flat land surrounding Blenheim heaves with grapes and cellar doors beckon at every turn. Actually, they don’t usually beckon me as a non-sauvignon drinker, but my latest trip changed all that.
2. The wine-tasting
Who knew cycling and wine-tasting was such a good combination? Obviously, Karen and Andy, who run Explore Marlborough guided wine tours. Our day began with picking up our bikes at The Vines Village in Rapaura Road and heading off with the lovely Kia to six different wineries – Framingham, Nautilus, Bladen, Huia and No. 1, with a sensational lunch at Wairau River in the middle. The cycling- to-sipping ratio was perfect (i.e., not too much of the former) and all the cellar door staff were friendly, knowledgeable and exceedingly proud of their product and their district. I loved our day out among the vines – and I’m not just saying that because there were no hills. A sensational, social sightseeing experience.
3. The post-wine tasting
The Marlborough Scenic Hotel across the road from pretty Seymour Square in Blenheim might be wearing an ’80s outfit, but inside she’s all modern-day sleek and stylish class. Great staff, big airy rooms, fantastically comfortable beds, modern bathrooms, an outdoor pool and an indoor sauna – I’m so there! Mondrians restaurant does a spiffing breakfast omelette and my post-wine-tasting dinner, complete with a glass of Seresin chardonnay, was top notch. Let’s not forget there’s a lot of very nice chardonnay and pinot noir being made in Marlborough. And I fell hard for the Bladen rosé. Yum!
4. Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
So you want to do some serious wine-tasting, but hubby and the kids aren’t so keen? Or even allowed? Blow their tiny minds by taking them to Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. This precious collection of World War I aircraft provided by Sir Peter Jackson is not only impressive to look at, but the personal stories attached to the pilots, plus an astonishing range of memorabilia, will pique the interest of any passing human. The WWII exhibition Dangerous Skies, which recently opened, works more historic magic with original and replica flying machines, and don’t miss the immersive bombing experience. This place is a destination all on its own.
5. The Sounds
Lucy, our guide from the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, herded us on to a Cougar Line water taxi at Picton and delivered us to Ship Cove, where Captain Cook landed in 1770. As Lucy filled us in on local history, we walked a 14km chunk of the gorgeous Queen Charlotte Track, stopping to listen to the birds and take in the view of the Queen Charlotte Sound. Lucy even whipped up a cup of tea! Better still, we ended up at Furneaux Lodge, a seaside collection of chalets, suites and more importantly, a bar. What better way to end a fantastic day in great company than with a glass of wine looking out over the water, waiting for a scenic ride home? Sorry, Marlborough, your secret’s out. I’m hooked!