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

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, the drowned valleys of the Marlborough Sounds. To the south is Lake Rotorua (not to be confused with the much larger Lake Rotoiti in the neighbouring Nelson Lakes National Park), 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 today, the 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 controversially settled in the late 1990s. The Te Tau Ihu claim is being settled at present.

Get in

By ferry

A Cook Strait ferry navigates Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds

Ferries that link the North and South Islands travel between Wellington and Picton. The ferry journey takes 3-3.5h with either BlueBridge or Interislander, the southern portion of which is through the Marlborough Sounds. The ferries take both vehicles and passengers.

By bus

InterCity coaches and smaller shuttle buses (Atomic Travel, Southern Link) 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

By car

SH1 runs from Picton south to Blenheim (20min), Seddon (40min from Picton), Kaikoura (2h) and Christchurch (4.5h). Travel to Nelson is either via SH6 from Blenheim (1.5h) or from Picton via the scenic and winding Queen Charlotte Drive. Travel to the West Coast is from Renwick via St Arnaud (1.3h).

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 township of Kaikoura

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 world's smallest and rarest dolphin: Hector's. Kaikoura also attracts the largest concentration and variety of seabirds on mainland New Zealand including 13 species of Albatross, 14 varieties of Petrels and 7 types of Shearwater.


NASA image showing the Space Shuttle over the Marlborough Sounds




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 and Pinot Noir.


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

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