Marlborough, on the South Island of New Zealand, is famous for its wine, but there’s plenty of nature to enjoy here too, including the waterways of Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Track for hikers. From boutique B&Bs in Blenheim to a foodie’s paradise in Picton, here are the best places to stay.
Cruising past this secluded bay in the heart of Queen Charlotte Sound, you might miss the five-star luxury resort that hides among the bush. Getting here is half the adventure: a water taxi is necessary, dolphin spotting optional. Days are spent on private beaches, kayaking or paddleboarding across the pristine waters. Alternatively, simply sink into the cedarwood hot tub by the pool. Pan-fried snapper and manuka hot-smoked salmon are on the menu, sustainable and locally-sourced. This place is deliciously exclusive but never pretentious. You’ll arrive as a guest and leave as family.
Prepare to be spoilt rotten by your hosts, Heidi and Werner, at this humble homestead-turned-guesthouse in beautiful Blenheim. Check-in takes place on the airy veranda, with a glass of Peppertree chardonnay from Werner’s vineyard (mere metres from the house) and tapenade made from olives that have come straight from the grove. There are just five suites, each with its own charm – a white muslin-draped bed here, a private west-facing garden there – and veranda or balcony. It doesn’t get more idyllic than this.
Marlborough green-lipped mussels and beer-battered blue cod – and not to mention the to-die-for garlic-butter loaf – are just a few of chef Juliearna Kavanagh’s locally inspired creations at this waterfront hotel and restaurant in Picton, renowned throughout the region. Enjoy high tea with tempting tartlets, mouth-watering macaroons and dainty finger sandwiches, or go on a tailored tour of the Marlborough vineyards. The suites are just as tasteful – think curated antiques, freestanding french tubs and Princess-and-the-Pea-style beds.
There’s no shortage of things to do around Marlborough, so why not book an apartment at Chateau Marlborough to make the most of your extended stay? Only steps away, you’ll find the boutique eateries of Blenheim. Alternatively, drive 20 minutes up the coast, and you’re at the gateway to Marlborough Sounds. Head back to the hotel for happy hour every Friday to taste a Blenheim sauvignon blanc by the pool, and tuck into award-winning slow-cooked New Zealand lamb fillet or local Cloudy Bay clam soup.
What more romantic a setting than carpets of vineyards that roll out towards distant mountains? Perhaps an al-fresco soak in a claw-foot bathtub on your private patio, under a starry sky? You’ll find all this and more at the Vintners Hotel, where suites feature king-size bed, kitchenette and minibar stocked with local produce and the finest wine from the region. If you can tear yourself away from this slice of heaven, a dozen of Marlborough’s wineries are within a 2km (1.2mi) radius.
There’s not a dud room at this Blenheim hotel, where each sleek suite is kitted out with mood lighting and media hubs, coffee corners and Kiwi-made down bedding. Hire a hotel bike, and head into town to check out Marlborough’s weekend markets for locally grown food and handicraft treasures, or explore the nearby vineyards at your own pace. The hotel has some excellent environmental initiatives, including a solar-heated pool and sustainable-suppliers programme, so you can rest easy, knowing your carbon footprint is reduced without you lifting a finger.
A waterfront oasis in the secluded Queen Charlotte Sound, Tirimoana House takes full advantage of its front-row location, with glass doors and private decks in every room. Guided sea kayaking and wine tours can be arranged – your hosts will even pack a picnic lunch for your day out – or the Queen Charlotte Track can be picked up just outside the hotel. Although, with a pool, Jacuzzi and such captivating views from your own room, you may not want to leave at all.
A gleaming white facade pokes out behind palms as the native bush tumbles down to meet the gardens of Sennen House. Three apartments, each featuring shared or private balconies and basic kitchen facilities, are spread across this 19th-century colonial villa in Picton. Breakfast is a sunny affair, served either on the balconies, amongst the abundant greenery or in the privacy of your own apartment. It’s an hour’s hike across to sheltered Bob’s Bay for quiet afternoon dips or a boat ride to the intricate waterways of Marlborough Sounds.
South Island experts Ian and Janet can point you towards the best local spots and day trips around Marlborough, and their budget-friendly bed and breakfast is the best base for it. Walk 5 minutes, and you’re in the centre of Picton, with its cafes, wine bars and seafood restaurants. An hour by boat takes you to Motuara Island, an offshore sanctuary for native birds – look out for the little Oamaru blue penguins or the elusive kiwi bird.
Book a budget-friendly room right on the harbour at the Beachcomber Inn in Picton, handy if you’re catching an early morning ferry to Wellington or a boat tour into Marlborough Sounds. Seafood dishes down at the Whalers Restaurant are also easy on the wallet but by no means lacking in flavour – saffron-and-garlic mussels and a hearty seafood chowder really pack a punch. Watch the boats come and go across the bay from your bed, or sink back into an enormous spa bathtub.