The largest town in the Marlborough region of the South Island, Blenheim is a mere 28 km from the Interisland Ferry port of Picton. The region is known for being the largest wine-growing area in New Zealand, as well as being a major producer of seafood.
1) The History of the Area
The Wairau Bar, off Blenheim, is considered to be the 'Birthplace of the Nation' by archaeologists, as remains found there have led them to believe this is one of the places the first Maori settled in Aotearoa in about 1280. When early European settlers came, the Maori were not always pleased to see them and in 1843, the bloodiest battle in the area, the Wairau Affray, took place at the location of an old Titoki tree at the side of the SH1, at a rest area just north of Blenheim. The only ship that bought British settlers to New Zealand that survives in the country today is the Edwin Fox, and she is being brought back from the brink of destruction. Launched in 1853, and built of Burmese Teak, she served time as a convict transport, troop carrier, and a general cargo ship before becoming, in 1873, an immigrant ship. After 4 voyages, she was converted into a refrigerated ship for shipping mutton. Eventually, she used as a coal hulk, then abandoned for years. Today, she is getting a new lease on life and is open for visitors to see this piece of history. Whaling in New Zealand finally finished in 1964 when the last whale was caught and processed through the last whaling station at Perano on Arapawa Island. Built in 1911, the wharf and remains of the rest of the complex are still visible to remind us of harder times before conservation of animals became important. Cob Cottage was built in the early 1800s and is a prime example of cob (a mixture of clay, grass and tussock).
2) The Marlborough Sounds
Accounting for 20% of New Zealand's coastline, the dramatic flooded valleys of the Marlborough Sounds are an adventure seeker's paradise. Photographers and nature lovers are well catered for with a number of small islands are predator-free sanctuaries and there is over 50 DOC (Department of Conservation) reserves in the Sounds. Most people are introduced to Queen Charlotte Sound as they travel on an Interisland Ferry, and the 70km track here is a favourite with walkers and cyclists. Fishing is a popular pastime, or try swimming with the mammals of the sea that everyone loves-Dolphins. It is possible to visit some of the Island Sanctuaries such as Motuara or Blumine Island, while others are closed to the public to protect the endangered species at home there.
3) The Seafood
Salmon and Mussels are both farmed in the Marlborough Sounds, and it is impossible to find fresher seafood than that. The green-lipped mussel is a New Zealand native, and it is believed to help people with asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Tours with cruises can be taken to the mussel farms and featuring local mussels, salmon and clams. Enquire about sampling local Crayfish and Paua as well. Take a trip down to Kaikoura, the Crayfish capital of New Zealand for a beautiful scenic drive as well as roadside crayfish sales. Kaikoura is also famous for its Whale Watching tours.
4) The Countryside
The tallest mountain outside the Southern Alps is in Marlborough. Named Mount Tapuaenuku, it is a challenge to the energetic, and a picturesque background to those who just admire it. Pelorus River, of The Hobbit fame, is surrounded by the remains of the river lowland forest that once coated much of this region, prior to European cultivation. Molesworth Station is the largest farm in New Zealand and is open for visitors and campers at certain times of the year. Another place well worth a visit is the Wairau Lagoons, home to birds like the Royal Spoonbills and Godwits.
5) The Wine
With 22,000 Ha of vines in the ground and over 500 growers, Marlborough is recognized as New Zealand's premier wine region. The main variety produced is Sauvignon Blanc, with 85% of the crop, and 6 % Pinot Noir. These wines combine well with the local seafood and many opportunities are provided for fine dining with local wine. Explore the cellar doors yourself or take a tour. As a break from wine, stop in at Makana Chocolate Factory, to try their handmade, tasty samples and watch the chocolatiers at work.
Bonus: The Omaka Aviation Centre.
Discover a history of aviation and aircraft that is supplemented by the addition of Sir Peter Jackson's personal collection of WW1 planes and the backgrounds and dioramas constructed by the Weta Workshops.
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