OUR TRAVELS ~ MARLBOROUGH NEW ZEALAND
If you’ve travelled to New Zealand with your tribe in tow, chances you’ve had a ball in adventure capital Queenstown, marvelled at the Milford Sounds and hiked in the Abel Tasman National Park. While the Marlborough region is world-famous for its sauvignon blanc, it is also a wonderful family travel destination that is often overlooked by families. We were lucky enough to spend a month here recently and relished time spent swimming in crystal clear rivers, exploring, fishing, picking fruit, hiking, eating seafood, swimming and enjoying this beautiful part of the South Island as a family. Here are a few of our favourite things to do in this region.
A collection of ancient sunken river valleys at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds is made up of three main waterways – the Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds – and accounts for around 20 per cent of New Zealand’s coastline.
It’s a largely untouched wilderness except for an abundance of native marine and bird life. In short, it’s a nature lover’s paradise.
For some, the only glimpse of the Sounds is from the Cook Strait ferry from Wellington to the port town of Picton at the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound however do not leave town without exploring further.
There are lodges and resorts such as and Punga Cove, Furneaux Lodge and Lochmara Lodge, which offer watersports, nature trails and is a wildlife recovery centre for Blue Penguins, Green Geckos and other native species.
While the better-known Milford Sound on the North Island is hugely popular with tourists, the Marlborough Sounds is equally magical – without the crowds.
Queen Charlotte Track
With the kids in tow, chances you are not going to complete the whole four to five day 71km walk however you can certainly do part of it.
We started at Punga Cove and walked to Furneaux Lodge, which was around 12.7kms. My husband carried Ziggy in a hiking pack and our six-year-old Sunny walked alongside us. You can stop to fill up your drink bottle in the clear springs, have a picnic or a swim in the pristine, protected bays.
After our day’s walk we were starving so we got a water taxi back to The Boat Shed Café at Punga Cove where we ate lunch and enjoyed a cold tap beer on bean bags in the sun while the kids played in the water. Furneaux also has an iconic bar and on-site restaurant to indulge after a day’s hiking.
We were staying at a private property behind Punga Cove but you can also do day trips with return ferries back to Picton if you just want to spend a day exploring the Sounds.
You can also kayak part of the Queen Charlotte – yes, kids too – with Sea Kayak Adventures, a family-owned business run by passionate locals Aaron and Nat. Look out for bird and marine life such as dolphins, starfish and orcas.
Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions with more than 140 wineries to choose from. Deadly, much?
While dragging the kids around for tastings isn’t ideal, there are a few cellar doors that really cater to kids and the kids menus at most wineries we visited were relatively healthy and delicious – no nuggets and chips over there!
The prettiest, Cloudy Bay, has a sprawling grassy lawn with bocci and pod swings and plenty of space for the kids to run while you sample poke and oysters from the raw bar. Allan Scott also offers really good kids platters with vegetables, olives and meats and with a desert, a drink and colouring in, while one of our favourites Wairau River has alfresco picnic tables and a plenty of grass for the kids to play on.
Don’t forget to swing by Vines Village for lunch. Home to a handful of artisan stores, a café and cellar door, this lakeside gem is a hit with the bebes and adults alike. The Vines Village Café has great food – made from ethically and locally sourced produce - and drinks, live music on weekends, chickens and an outdoor lawn with bean bags to lounge on and an impressive kids playground.
There’s also a sweets and gelato store – hello, sugar high! - and the award-winning Whitehaven Wines Cellar Door onsite.
It’s easy to see why famed director Peter Jackson chose the Pelorus River as a location for ‘Forest River’ in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Located halfway between Blenheim and Nelson and surrounded by lush, native forest, the Pelorus River Scenic Reserve is an idyllic place for a riverside picnic or a swim and kayak in the crystal clear waters.
We were booked in for a Hobbit Kayak Tour with Pelorus Eco Adventures – they take kids four and above - however torrential rain days before meant the river was a little too fast flowing for a leisurely paddle.
However there are a bunch of easy walking tracks – including one that leads to rock pools and a waterfall - and a swing bride over a spectacular gorge so the kids were in their element.
If you can’t tear yourselves away from this scenic spot, you can camp at Pelorus Bridge DOC Campground and there’s a café - with decent coffee - run by the camp managers.
Pick your Own Farms
Aside from the scenery and the wine, the seafood and fresh produce is one of the drawcards of this region.
Between the town of Blenheim and Renwick, there are a few pick your own orchards which is not only a fun family activity but also educational for the kids to learn about the origins of their food.
Our favourites are Jones Berry Fruit [pick boysenberries, raspberries, cherries and strawberries] on Old Renwick Road, and Stoneyfield Orchard on Jacksons Road or Cherryland for cherries. Grab a bucket, and pick away!
The gateway to the Marlborough Sounds and the arrival and departure point for the Interislander Ferry, this pretty little port town is also a lovely family destination in its own right.
We hired a house here for a couple of days over New Year’s and had a ball playing with the kids on the foreshore, strolling the buzzing streets and enjoying fish and ships on the grassy lawns overlooking the water.
There’s a huge timber pirate ship, playground and water play area with cannons and spouts, which provided hours of free entertainment for the kids.
The boys were obsessed with the old-school rides like the 50-year-old miniature train – it costs a mere 20 cents a go - swing ride and a sail boat pond.
The foreshore is also home to a mini golf course, the boutique Picton Cinema and EcoWorld Aquarium, which is a rehabilitation shelter for native animals like tuatara reptiles and blue penguins.
Technically not in Marlborough but only a few hours drive away in the Nelson Tasman district, you will find the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge Adventure and Heritage Park.
We were blown away by the beauty of the mighty Buller River, which flows from Lake Rotoiti through the Buller Gorge and into the Tasman Sea, and had to jump on the tourist bandwagon and check out this pristine river aboard the Buller Canyon Jet.
Sadly for our little three-year-old Ziggy – and my husband - kids have to be five and above to jet boat but he bravely joined us on the 100m long, 18-metre high, swing bridge, New Zealand’s longest and one of the longest in the world, which you have to cross to access the river and walking tracks.
You can’t pick up little ones on the bridge for obvious safety reasons so it was a little panic-enducing as it swayed back and forth as my little man clutched the sides for dear life but we made it safely to the other side.
With Simon and Zig watching on from the white sandy beach, Sunny and I enjoyed every second of our first jet boating experience, which has been hailed as New Zealand’s best.
Friendly skipper Mark Allen was gave us some interesting facts about the river and region and its gold mining history as well as reaching speeds of up to 85 kilometres per hour through the granite canyons, past waterfalls and rapids with plenty of 360s thrown in. It was so much fun and the highlight of Sunny’s time in New Zealand.
This day trip is an absolute must!
How to get there: We flew from the Gold Coast Airport to Auckland Airport with Jetstar. From Auckland, we took a smaller Air New Zealand flight to Marlborough Airport. We definitely recommend hiring a car during your time in Marlborough.
* We travelled to New Zealand at our own expense and the opinions are completely our own.