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The Top Things to do in Marlborough

New Zealand's Marlborough region, found on the tip of the South Island, offers a wonderful combination of sightseeing and culinary delights. The things to do here are centred on great wineries, a stunning network of pristine Sounds, and one of the county's best hiking tracks. Those who love the outdoors will love Marlborough, with days here spent kayaking the Queen Charlotte Sound, cycling through grape vines and taking helicopter rides to cliff tops for an open-air lunch. If you're looking to get the best out of this region of New Zealand, simply book some of our things to do below. Your extraordinary Marlborough adventure is waiting for you.

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The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ

Lying on the northern end of New Zealand's South Island, the Marlborough region is provides travellers with an excellent blend of both aquatic scenery and culinary culture, while playing host to a number of unique individual attractions to boot.

Food and dining are the name of the game in Marlborough, with wine in particular playing a key role; as the physically largest wine producing region in all of NZ, Marlborough serves as home to 40 individual cellar doors and over 140 wineries. While each of these facilities has their own speciality, the region is renowned for producing some of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the southern hemisphere.

Famously fresh seafood is also one of the highlights on the food side of things, and when you couple both of the above with the stunning spectacle of Marlborough Sounds, you've got one of the most balanced non-alpine destinations in New Zealand at your fingertips.

If you're planning a visit to this indulgent region, here's our recommendations for the Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ.

The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Marlborough Sounds

1. Marlborough Sounds

For many the major drawcard to the Marlborough region - particularly for those who love nature are the Marlborough Sounds themselves.
The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Take a Winery Tour with Explore Marlborough

2. Take a Winery Tour with Explore Marlborough

Marlborough wouldn't quite be Marlborough without its wine, and the number of wineries and vineyards on offer all throughout the region is simply staggering; suffice it to say, if you're a fan of a drop of the good stuff, you'll be in your element here.
The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Queen Charlotte Track

3. Queen Charlotte Track

Featuring the likes of lush coastal forest intermingled with the azure blue of some truly historic bays and a range of skyline ridges that grant amazing views of both of the sounds, there's a spectacular photo opportunity waiting around every corner on the Queen Charlotte Track.
The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

4. Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

Location: 79 Aerodrome Rd, Omaka, Blenheim, Marlborough, NZ

Shifting from the sea to the air, the Omaka Aviation Centre is to the air what the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum is to the ocean. This popular attraction in Blenheim features numerous restored old aircraft and a cavalcade of other historic memorabilia from the pioneering ages of flight.

It's a fascinating place to experience that doesn't necessarily require any particular interest or fascination with aviation to enjoy, as the array of lovingly-recreated World War 1 era planes – the majority owned by Sir Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame – make for an impressive sight on their own.

The Omaka Aviation Heritage Center focuses on presenting the story of how aerial combat was conducted during the first World War, with many of the exhibits showing the aircraft in context to give you a sense of exactly how they were utilised, and the simulated “sets” they are contained within are of a universally world-class quality.

Jackson's influence is easy to see here, as the various dioramas on display are akin to the set of a movie in how real they seem and how well they capture the drama of the period. The center is very well curated too, and combine numerous plaques and information descriptions with a variety of informative documentary-style movies that have the potential to provide hours of entertainment if you're a huge history buff.

It's a fascinating place to experience that doesn't necessarily require any particular interest or fascination with aviation to enjoy, as the array of lovingly-recreated World War 1 era planes – the majority owned by Sir Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame – make for an impressive sight on their own.

Its current exhibit – dubbed “Knights of the Sky” - features planes from Germany to Britain, and even has a diorama depicting the final landing of the famous “Red Baron” Manfred von Richtofen along with some of the personal effects he actually owned, while also featuring a range of moving stories about the trials and tribulations of the pilots of WW1 from both the Axis and Allied perspective.

Guests are welcome to either explore themselves or pay an addition $5 for a guided tour which most feel is well worth it, as the information available around the facility is enough to be overwhelming; the guides, however are able to give you enough interesting insight without it being overwhelming.

Don't allow yourself to be put off and dismiss this spot by your preconceptions of it being a dusty old air museum; if you're in the Marlborough region it's truly worthy of a visit whether you're a fan of planes or not – and after visiting, it may just make you one.

The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Edwin Fox Maritime Museum

5. Edwin Fox Maritime Museum

Location:

Based around what is currently the world's 9th oldest ship, the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum is a little gem of a museum that captures a slice of New Zealand history in one of the most authentic ways possible.

The physical body of the Edwin Fox – a teak and timber trade ship constructed in India back in 1853 – sits alongside the actual museum, and allows visitors the opportunity to walk through its carefully-maintained innards that provide an intimate look at what life would have been like for both paying customers and convicts alike, with no additional modern updates or embellishments added.

The ship had a colourful and eventful history during its time before being decommissioned in 1897 being involved in everything from war to trade to shipping convicts to Australia, and it's fully documented at the museum with placards at various points outlining their respective items in detail, and a fascinating DVD presentation documenting both the ship's history and its preservation.

There are also various artefacts from the period kept in the museum's upstairs area that, while small, does a good job of giving you a taste of the likes of anchors, shipping keys, ropes, types of timber and all other types of maritime-related historical goodies.

Based around what is currently the world's 9th oldest ship, this gem of a museum captures a slice of New Zealand history in one of the most authentic ways possible.

The actual hull of the ship is the undoubted highlight however, and walking inside will let you experience the likes of sleeping and eating accommodations that passengers had to deal with when crossing the ocean in the 1800's.

The dry dock underneath the ship is also interesting in its own way, and provides an additional perspective on its scale and structure. All of this is, of course, a credit to the fanatically enthusiastic volunteers who have put a ton of effort into the entire project, making for an exhibit that is a must for both Aussies and Kiwis to witness.

Featuring a low admission price ($10 for adults, $4 for kids, most of which goes towards the cost of continued maintenance of the vessel) and one of the most accessible and authentic relics of New Zealand's past – while also being just a short distance from the ferry in Picton's harbour – makes visiting the Edwin Fox for firsthand sampling of how our ancestors used to travel a no-brainer of a decision.

The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Marlborough Sounds Wildlife Centre

6. Marlborough Sounds Wildlife Centre

Location: Lochmara Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough. NZ

The Lochmara Lodge Marlborough Sounds Wildlife Recovery Centre is a regional champion of wildlife conservation and is just a 20-minute boat ride from Picton.

aiming to keep New Zealand's delicate fauna and flora thriving both now and into the future.

Hidden away in on the shoreline of the beautiful Lochmara Bay in Queen Charlotte Sound, the Lodge is an attraction in itself that offers a cafe, restaurant, bar and accommodation - however its wildlife centre is a true showcase of genuine wildlife care and protection in action.

The facility serves as a place for the likes of rare parrots, lizards, eels and various other New Zealand wildlife to both observe and interact with, and daily feeding sessions are held for guests to get up close with and feed the cute and colourful native Kakariki parrots (a New Zealand treasure) before they are released back into the wild.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Lodge offers plenty of other opportunities for escapist-oriented enjoyment; its isolated position (it's only accessible by boat) means that it's truly immersed in the midsts of New Zealand's nature, and with both inviting water on one side and vibrant bush on the other, it's entirely up to you how you wish to enjoy your time here.

Nature walks around the lodge are a popular pastime for visitors and there's plenty of signage available that will give you some insight as to the ecology and geology along the way.

Much more than just a luxury accommodation facility, Lochmara Lodge is a worthy attraction in and of itself that provides the ultimate getaway experience for those looking to truly “unplug” for their stay in the Marlborough region.

There's also an Art Centre that is more of a journey than a fixed exhibit, and showcases some outdoor sculptures, paintings from the locals and abroad, and periodic performances of live music and dance.

Visitors are also given complimentary use of kayaks and paddle boards to get out on the calm waters of the Bay and explore at their own pace, which allows for gaining a different perspective on the surrounding hills and mountainsides which encompass the bay.

Much more than just a luxury accommodation facility, Lochmara Lodge is a worthy attraction in and of itself that provides the ultimate getaway experience for those looking to truly “unplug” for their stay in the Marlborough region.

The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Pollard Park

7. Pollard Park

Location: Mayfield, Blenheim, Marlborough, NZ

Located in the same town from which the River Queen Cruise above plies its trade, Blenheim, Pollard Park makes for a nice combination with the cruise and is one of the most visually pleasant botanical attractions in the Marlborough region.

Situated a few minutes walk from the town centre, Pollard Park is an immaculate example of a charming garden done right. Its got everything one could want for a relaxing day.

There's a lot packed into a relatively small space, including ducks to feed, a lovely stream running through its midst, well-equipped playground for the kids, barbecue facilities, tennis courts and a wonderful little botanic garden of which the Rose Garden is perpetual highlight with its myriad of colours and strong fragrances which can be smelled from afar.

The varied floral displays of Pollard Park continually change to match the season and feature a range of different species each contained within a variety of gardens showcasing a different theme, from the aforementioned roses to Camellias, Rhododendrons, Perennials and much more all bordered by large, mature trees.

The varied floral displays of Pollard Park continually change to match the season and feature a range of different species each contained within a variety of gardens showcasing a different theme, from the aforementioned roses to Camellias, Rhododendrons, Perennials and much more all bordered by large, mature trees.

Landscaping and contours of the park are designed to lead you along on a journey of discovery without revealing too much all at once, which requires a full tip of the cap to the skilled and careful gardeners who both design and maintain it.

The fact that Pollard Park is, quite frankly, an international-standard public garden area contained within the borders of a smallish town makes it all the more impressive.

Those wanting to get (slightly) more active can even indulge in a round of golf while here too, as the park sits alongside a 9 hole golf course that is almost as pleasant as the park itself.

There's a reason that this relatively unassuming park is a favourite spot for weddings throughout the Marlborough region; and all you'll have to do is pay a visit and take a stroll around before you'll soon see why.

The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Kayaking on Queen Charlotte Sound

8. Kayaking on Queen Charlotte Sound

Location: Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough, NZ

The Marlborough region's impressive waterways aren't only the domain of cruise ships. Visitors can also explore this gorgeous region by water with a guided kayaking tour.

With several kayaking destinations spread over the Marlborough region, this is one of the best ways to see the area from a wholly different perspective.

The Queen Charlotte Sounds and Pelorus River are two great kayaking destinations to choose from with visitors given the chance to explore by themselves or with an experienced guide.

Those who choose Pelorus River can join Pelorus Eco Adventures and will be given the chance to explore one of the most recognisable locations from the iconic film The Hobbit.

Led by a friendly and experienced guide you will be led on an aquatic journey to explore some of these famous movie locations. You will be following the same route as some of your favourite characters did in The Desolation of Smaug, stand on the same rocks as Bilbo Baggins did and pass by some wonderful waterfalls.

This is one of the best tour options for avid Lord of the Rings fans, however those who aren’t interested in the films will also enjoy this option. Pelorus River is one of the most picturesque in New Zealand and well worth the trip, especially via kayak.

While Marlborough's famously beautiful to explore from the water, many scenic offerings are also available via road; the region is home to a range of impressive drives that do a good job of showcasing some of its best features by car.

Everything is included in the price, all you’re asked to bring is your open mind and exciting (and swimmers, suitable footwear, towel, water bottle, change of warm clothes and camera).

If kayaking the Queen Charlotte Sound is on your to-do list, local operator Wilderness Guides can also help you the whole way.

The friendly team will provide you with everything you need to safely explore the area including a map, directions, safety equipment and of course, kayaks. You could spend hours paddling around the large Sounds, finding hidden bays along the way.

If you’d rather see the area with the safety of an experienced guide, you can choose a guided session.

The guides don’t follow a set plan, giving them the ability to, quite literally, go with the wind.

The tour will take you around the area and hopefully get you up close to a range of wildlife including sting rays, little blue penguins, seals, starfish and maybe even some dolphins.

Wilderness Guides offers customers kayak rentals for self-guided paddles around the sounds as well as guided half-day and full-day tours.

The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - Scuba Diving

9. Scuba Diving

Location: 66 Wellington St, Picton, Marlborough,NZ

Water plays a key part in what makes Marlborough a beautiful part of New Zealand, and there are few better ways to get a close-up than by taking a scuba dive.

Marlborough Sounds (which, as you'll see, feature prominently on this list) offer over 3000 kilometres of diveable cost to choose from, and is home to a range of high-quality dive sites offering generally good visibility levels that you can visit with operator Go Dive Marlborough.

From calm waters featuring a number of intriguing shipwrecks to more open-water adventures to explore reefs and sea caves, there are a range of dives available in the Marlborough Sounds to suit all interests and ability levels.

Perhaps the most famous of these is the wreck of the Mikhail Lermontov, a large Soviet ocean liner which sunk in the sounds back in 1986 and which is still surprisingly intact.

It's now classed as an official reef and serves as a haven for various forms of invertebrate life and schools of fish.

It's also one of the easier and more accessible dive sites in Marlborough and is thus ideal as a starting point for those wanting a fairly stress-free diving experience.

Other popular wrecks include the Rangitoto (a 1873-era steam ship that makes for an interesting and easy dive), the Koi (a Scottish-built passenger ferry 30m in length) and the Lastingham (an 1884 cargo vessel), all of which offer their own unique take on the wreck-diving experience.

From calm waters featuring a number of intriguing shipwrecks to more open-water adventures to explore reefs and sea caves, there are a range of dives available in the Marlborough Sounds to suit all interests and ability levels.

Looking towards the open-water offerings, Wellington Bay is a great choice as it combines good visibility with the chance to take in some different marine species such as Mullet and Mackeral while other creatures like Octopus and Arrow Squid round out the offerings.

Kumototo Point is likewise a popular spot to explore due to its cute local inhabitants – the New Zealand Fur Seal – which can often be found in its waters at various times throughout the year.

Regardless of your choice of destinations, operators such as Go Dive Marlborough depart from Picton and aim to get you out as swiftly into the waters as possible to help maximise your underwater exploration time.

If it's a more natural and organic marine life experience you're looking for, then scuba diving in the Marlborough region is sure to make for a satisfying adventure.

The Top 10 Things to do in Marlborough, NZ - EcoWorld Picton Aquarium

10. EcoWorld Picton Aquarium

Location: 1 Picton Wharf, Picton Foreshore, Picton, Marlborough

Picton is a charming port town that serves as the gateway connecting New Zealand's south island to the north, and while it's full of plenty of its own highlights if it's wildlife viewing to keep the kids entertained that you're after, then you'll want to head to EcoWorld Picton Aquarium.

This attraction aims to showcase the most famous of New Zealand's wildlife from the Marlborough Sounds and beyond, and is home to many of the region's most recognisable water-dwellers such as Little Blue Penguins, Turtles, Seahorses and more as well as more conventional aquarium fare such as fish.

While the aquarium is fairly small, it offers a rare and intimate chance to get up close to the various kinds of sea life, and its staff are highly knowledgeable and always willing to share detailed information on each of the creatures, their habitats and their diets.

This is particularly emphasised during the regular feeding sessions, as the animals become more active and the staff accompany the process with stories about the animals being fed that leads to a great combined entertainment-and-education experience.

This attraction showcases the most famous New Zealand's wildlife from the Marlborough Sounds and beyond, and is home to Little Blue Penguins, Turtles, Seahorses and more.

There are also several displays that allow you to get “hands-on” with the wildlife, including a touch pool as well as the chance to pat a rare Tuatara lizard.

EcoWorld Picton Aquarium also provides a number of video/theatrical displays that go into greater detail about each of the creatures and why they need saving that provides further insight into the fragility of the region's ecosystem.

All of the displays here are highly accessible and well-labelled, while the aquarium is well-laid-out for younger children and educates them well on some of the animals who are there as a result of injuries – many of which will soon be rehabilitated enough to be released back into the wild.

Feeding times occur twice daily at 11:00am and 2:00pm, so if you can coincide your visit with either of these times you're likely to get more bang for your buck.

The aquarium is located right near the Picton Interislander Ferry as well, which makes it the ideal way to pass the time if you're stuck with a long wait between ferry trips heading for the north island.