region and district in the north of New Zealand's South Island
Oceania > New Zealand > South Island > Marlborough (New Zealand)

Marlborough is a region at the north-eastern end of the South Island of New Zealand, chock full of great food to eat and intriguing sights to see. It is renowned for its high sunshine hours, New Zealand's largest wine-growing area, whale and fur seal watching off the Kaikoura Coast and the sunken valleys of the Marlborough Sounds, where most of the world's green-lipped mussels are harvested.

Our visitor region of Marlborough is a relatively natural amalgam of the whole area of the unitary local authority of Marlborough District Council together with the adjacent area of Kaikoura District Council (formally part of the Canterbury Regional Council area) to the south.


Havelock marina
  • 1 Blenheim – the largest town and transport hub for this region
  • 2 Havelock – the green-lipped mussel capital of the world and jumping-off point for the Pelorus Sounds
  • 3 Kaikoura – boat trips, fixed wing and helicopter flights to get up close to humpback whales
  • 4 Picton – the car ferry gateway from Wellington to the whole South Island and the Marlborough Sounds
  • 5 Rai Valley – a rural settlement and link to the western Marlborough Sounds – great bacon!
  • 6 Renwick – a satellite town to Blenheim
  • 7 Seddon – a small town south of the Awatere river
  • 8 Ward – a small town in the heart of the Flaxbourne District

Other destinations






Marlborough-Kaikoura is on the east coast of the South Island. The long Wairau Valley divides Marlborough. To the north are the Richmond Ranges and beyond that the drowned valleys of the Marlborough Sounds. To the south is Kaikoura Flat and then the Kaikoura Ranges and coast. As the prevailing wind is westerly, Marlborough-Kaikoura's climate is hot and dry in summer and generally rather dry all year round.



Marlborough-Kaikoura has been settled by Māori for a millennium. Like all parts of Aotearoa (New Zealand), Marlborough-Kaikoura was contested amongst various iwi (tribes). Of those tribes recognized as being in existence today, Marlborough-Kaikoura was a Rangitane, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kuia and Ngai Tahu stronghold up until the musket wars of 1806-1845 when invading iwi from Taranaki (Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Kōata and Te Atiawa) used the musket against the defenders armed only with spears and clubs. While Rangitane, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kuia and Ngai Tahu were to a greater or lesser extent routed, it is argued that conquest is only part of the customary land acquisition process and accordingly the defending iwi retained rights to the land. Even the nature of the customary relationships between tribes in boundary areas is disputed with one view being that fixed and determined boundary lines were a Pakeha construct unknown to Māori.

Today all the iwi named above are recognized as having influence in Te Tau Ihu (the top of the South Island). Ngai Tahu is recognized as having a sphere of influence emanating from Kaikoura and points south. Rangitane are recognized as having influence in the Wairau Valley. Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Rarua have shared influence over all of Marlborough-Kaikoura but especially concentrated on Port Underwood. Te Atiawa are recognized as having influence in Queen Charlotte Sound. Ngāti Apa retained influence in Port Gore and towards the West Coast. Ngāti Koata had influence on Rangitoto (D'Urville Is). Ngāti Kuia has influence in the inner Pelorus Sound, with Ngāti Tama having influence closer to Nelson.

The Crown went about purchasing and taking land which they wanted for settlers in the 1850s. Settlement continued apace. The first major industry of the region was flax and remnants of the flax milling industry can be seen on the road between Spring Creek and Rarangi. Until the grape boom in the late 1980s, Marlborough sheep and beef farmers struggled with drought on stony country. The change to the historic province of Marlborough brought by grapes has been substantial.

In 1770, Captain Cook discovered the Kaikoura peninsula, believing it to be an island at first. Early European settlers used Kaikoura as a whaling station and the remains of pots used to render the whale blubber can be seen on the town foreshore.

Following the 1989 local government reforms, the Marlborough District and Kaikoura District fell under the Nelson-Marlborough Regional Council. However three years later the regional council broke up and its functions were delegated to the district councils, becoming unitary authorities. The Kaikoura district however was too small to survive as a unitary authority and was transferred to the Canterbury Region.

The claim brought by Ngai Tahu against the historical actions of the Crown was settled in the late 1990s. The Te Tau Ihu claim was settled in the 2010s.

Get in

Map of Marlborough (New Zealand)

By ferry

A Cook Strait ferry navigates Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds
Main article: Cook Strait ferries

Regular passenger and vehicle ferry services link Wellington in the North Island with Picton. The journey takes around 3.5 hours, with the southern portion of the route travelling through Tory Channel and the upper Queen Charlotte Sound.

By bus


InterCity[dead link] coaches and smaller shuttle buses run PictonChristchurch and Picton–BlenheimNelson. Nelson Lakes Shuttles specialise in providing transport for trampers, hikers, climbers, mountain bikers and skiers. They run on-demand and scheduled services to St Arnaud, Nelson Lakes National Park, Kahurangi National Park, the Richmond Ranges and tramping destinations further afield.

By train


The Coastal Pacific (formerly TranzCoastal) stops in Blenheim, Picton, Seddon and Kaikoura (where the station is on Whaleway Station Road, presumably named because Whale Watch Kaikoura operate out of the station). A fantastic way to see the Kaikoura coast and Marlborough.

By plane

  • 3 Woodbourne Airport (Marlborough Airport). at Woodbourne, 10 minutes from Blenheim and 4min from Renwick on State Highway 6. Blenheim Airport is serviced by Air New Zealand with flights to Auckland and Wellington. Sounds Air, mainly based out of Picton Airport, flies to Wellington, Kapiti Coast (at Paraparaumu, just north of Wellington), Napier and Christchurch from Woodbourne.    
  • 4 Kaikoura Aerodrome. is one of New Zealand's smaller airports. It's not an airstrip, as the runway is sealed for a smoother landing. Don't expect to join crowds of other passengers filing aboard a wide bodied jet, or even a narrow bodied one. You'll fly in a plane the size of a compact car, where every seat has a window, or two, and a door as well. You might even get to sit alongside the pilot, so don't play with the controls! Oh, and you will have to carry your own bags, so pack well and don't have too much luggage; excess baggage doesn't fly.    
  • 5 Picton Aerodrome. located 5min south of Picton and 15min north of Blenheim off State Highway 1 (SH1), is the base for Sounds Air. This commuter airline flies to Wellington as well as offering scenic flights around the Marlborough Sounds. Picton is also used by Skydive the Sounds.    

By car


State Highway 1 runs north-south through Marlborough, linking Picton, Blenheim, Seddon and Kaikoura south to Christchurch. State Highway 6 from Nelson runs east from Nelson via Havelock to meet SH 1 at Blenheim. State Highway 63 runs from State Highway 6 at Kawatiri via St Arnaud to SH 6 at Renwick (10 km west of Blenheim), providing a direct route from the West Coast to Marlborough avoiding Nelson.

Get around


Public transport is limited. The main routes through the region are serviced by buses and trains (see above). Blenheim, Picton and Kaikoura have a taxi and shuttle service. Water taxis and scheduled water transport are available from Picton for Queen Charlotte Sound, and Havelock for Pelorus Sound.

Panorama of the Seaward Kaikoura Range from the town of Kaikoura
  • The Marlborough Sounds, an aquatic playground with bird and dolphin watching, kayaking, sailing and walking.
  • Vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see in the Wairau and Awatere Valleys.
  • Lake Grassmere - where seawater is turned into huge piles of salt by the sun and evaporation as well as being a birdwatcher's paradise. Between Seddon and Ward on State Highway 1.
  • Sperm whales
  • Dolphins
  • New Zealand fur seals
  • Wandering albatross
  • The Kaikoura Webcam

Depending on the season you may also see migrating humpback whales, pilot whales, blue whales and southern right whales. Kaikoura often hosts the world's largest dolphin, the orca or killer whale, and is home to the Hector's dolphin, the world's smallest and rarest dolphin. Kaikoura also attracts the largest concentration and variety of seabirds on mainland New Zealand, including 13 species of albatrosses, 14 varieties of petrels and 7 types of shearwaters.

NASA image showing the Space Shuttle over the Marlborough Sounds
  • The Marlborough Wine Festival is held in February each year. Experience over 200 wines from around 40 wineries and gourmet food[1]. It is NZ's longest running wine and food festival.
  • Garden Marlborough, an annual event running in the last week of October/first week of November showcasesMarlborough's finest gardens.
  • Marlborough-Kaikoura is an outdoors paradise. It can be used as a base for tramping (trekking or rambling) in the Nelson Lakes National Park, the Marlborough Sounds, the Richmond Ranges, the Kaikoura Ranges. One of Marlborough-Kaikoura's secrets is the Sawcut Gorge.
  • Ski Rainbow. 1.3h to the bottom of the access road, Rainbow Skifield is the northern most skifield in the South Island, close to the village of St Arnaud.
  • Driftwood Eco-tours, +64 3 577-7651. Bird watching and eco-tours. Leisurely Kayak on the Wairau lagoons to get close to rare New Zealand wading birds. High country exploration. Walking guide.
  • Whale watching.
  • Surf - reef breaks and point breaks. Two surf shops in Kaikoura plus local surfboard manufacturer Surge Surfboards.
  • Take a fishing trip.
  • Kaikoura Kayaks. Kayak with seals and dolphins.
  • Swim With Dolphins.
  • Swim With Seals.
  • Kaikoura Wilderness Walks, PO Box 177, Kaikoura, +64 3 319-6966. 2 & 3 day all-inclusive guided hikes through the privately owned Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve near Kaikoura. Upmarket lodge accommodation, untamed wilderness, dramatic alpine terrain, expert local guides
  • South Pacific Safaris, Glencree Station, RD2, Kaikoura, +64 3 319-5189. Experienced, professional hunting guides offering deer hunting trips and other trophy hunts amongst New Zealand’s magnificent mountains near Kaikoura plus luxury hunting lodge accommodation.
  • Riverlore Art Gallery, 1494 State Highway 6 (Between Renwick and Havelock south of the Wairau River bridge), +64 3 572-8755. M-F 12:00–16:00, weekends by appointment; May-Aug: please phone.
  • Most of New Zealand's native greenshell mussels are farmed in the Marlborough Sounds. These mussels with Sauvignon Blanc would be a Marlborough signature match.
  • Fresh crayfish (rock lobster) are on sale at Waipapa Bay Lobsters, 32 km north of Kaikoura. Crays here are always fresh, never frozen. There are outdoor tables where you can eat, or you can have them packed on ice should you want to eat them later in the day. In Maori, kai means "eat" and koura is "crayfish", so Kaikoura is the place to eat crayfish!
  • Blenheim, Picton and Kaikoura have a good range of eateries.



Marlborough-Kaikoura is New Zealand's largest grape growing region, with the Wairau plains near Blenheim being the home of a number of major wineries. Vineyard tours are a significant attraction. The main varieties of grape grown are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rieslings, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. With the cool climate, constant sunshine and rich soil the region produces world-class Sauvignon Blanc that is sought all over the world. Demand is high and only a limited amount is for export.



Blenheim, Picton, Kaikoura and Havelock all have a good range of places to sleep.

Go next

  • Canterbury to the south. From Kaikoura, the inland route through to Hanmer Springs is off the usual tourist trail (the coastal route) and rewards the traveller with mountain views and a soak in the hot springs.
  • Nelson Bays district to the west.
This region travel guide to Marlborough is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.