Blenheim is an agricultural town 29km south of Picton on the pretty Wairau Plains between the Wither Hills and the Richmond Ranges. The last decade or so has seen town beautification projects, the maturation of the wine industry and the addition of a landmark museum significantly increase the town's appeal to visitors.
Half asleep in winter, but hyperactive in summer (with up to eight fully laden ferry arrivals per day), boaty Picton clusters around a deep gulch at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. It’s the main traveller port for the South Island, and the best base for tackling the Marlborough Sounds and Queen Charlotte Track.
Motueka (pronounced mott-oo-ecka, meaning ‘Island of Weka’) is a bustling agricultural hub, and a great base from which to explore the region. It has vital amenities, ample accommodation, cafes and roadside fruit stalls, all in a beautiful river and estuary setting. Stock up here if you're en route to Golden Bay or the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks.
Abel Tasman National Park
Coastal Abel Tasman National Park blankets the northern end of a range of marble and limestone hills that extend from Kahurangi National Park. Various tracks in the park include an inland route, although the Coast Track is what everyone is here for – it's NZ's most popular Great Walk.
Boasting NZ’s highest concentration of yoga pants, dreadlocks and bare feet in the high street, Takaka is a lovable little town and the last ‘big’ centre before the road west ends at Farewell Spit. You’ll find most things you need here, and a few things you don’t, but we all have an unworn tie-dyed tank top in our wardrobe, don’t we?
The Marlborough Sounds are a maze of peaks, bays, beaches and watery reaches, formed when the sea flooded deep river valleys after the last ice age. They are very convoluted: Pelorus Sound, for example, is 42km long but has 379km of shoreline. Many spectacular locations can be reached by car.
Kahurangi National Park
Kahurangi – ‘blue skies’ in one of several translations – is the second largest of NZ’s national parks, and also one of its most diverse. Its most eye-catching features are geological, ranging from windswept beaches and sea cliffs to earthquake-shattered slopes and moraine-dammed lakes, and the smooth, strange karst forms of the interior tableland.
Nelson Lakes National Park
Nelson Lakes National Park surrounds two lakes – Rotoiti and Rotoroa – fringed by sweet-smelling beech forest with a backdrop of greywacke mountains. Located at the northern end of the Southern Alps, and with a dramatic glacier-carved landscape, it’s an awe-inspiring place to get up on high.
Kenepuru & Pelorus Sounds
Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds, to the west of Queen Charlotte Sound, are less populous and therefore offer fewer traveller services, including transport. There's some cracking scenery, however, and those with time to spare will be well rewarded by their explorations.
Takaka Hill (791m) butts in between Tasman Bay and Golden Bay. It looks pretty bushy but closer inspection reveals a remarkable marble landscape formed by millions of years of erosion. It's smooth beauty is revealed on the one-hour drive over the hill road (SH60), a steep, winding route punctuated by spectacular lookout points and a smattering of other interesting stops.