Marlborough – Guide for Backpackers

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Wine, Wildlife and Wonderous Landscapes

Is wine and sun your favourite combination? Then you must make sure to spend some time in Marlborough while backpacking around New Zealand. The region gives you a taste of the South Island after taking the ferry from the North Island. “Taste” is the operative word, as tasting the internationally recognised wine is a must-do here! As NZ’s largest wine region, it produces 77% of the country’s wine.

Soak up the sun, as Marlborough gets an annual average of 2,457 sunshine hours, that’s 6.73 hours a day. These are the perfect weather conditions for getting onto the water and spotting a few dolphins on the Marlborough Sounds. You may even want to treat yourself to trip to the tranquil Okiwi Bay and d’Urville Island with the super scenic French Pass road lying in between.

Working holidaymakers, time your visit with the picking season to refuel your bank account!

Things You Can’t Miss in Marlborough

  • Get close wildlife encounters on the waters of Marlborough Sounds
  • Take in the best of the sounds’ landscape by sea kayaking
  • Deliver mail by boat
  • Work on a vineyard
  • Do a wine trail and taste New Zealand’s best sauvignon blanc
  • Hop over to d’Urville Island for some fishing.©


When taking one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world from the North Island to the South Island, Picton is your arrival port. Small but stunning, Picton is the gateway to the Queen Charlotte Sound.

Populated by bottlenose dolphins, rarer dusky dolphins, and the rarest Hector’s dolphins, this would be a good place to get on the water.

Kayak with or without a guide to discover the vast network of creeks that make up a whopping 1/5 of New Zealand’s coastline! Keep an eye out for whales (best time is June/July), seals, stingrays and seabirds too. Alternatively, take one of the many cruises taking people out on the Queen Charlotte Sound daily. Most WWOOF hosts will have kayaks for you to use in your spare time, so if you are planning on doing WWOOFing in the South Island, why not start here?

Walks in Picton

On dry land, take on the hugely popular Queen Charlotte Track. The 70km (43 miles) trail takes three days, overlooking the sound and taking you to hidden bays. Either hike or bike the full length of the track or just do a day hike by taking a water taxi (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Other walks include:

  • Shelly Beach to dip yourself in the turquoise waters of the sound.
  • Bob’s Beach is another safe swimming spot.
  • Kaipupu Point is a wildlife sanctuary offering the best walking track in the Picton area, the Kaipupu Sanctuary track. Consider volunteering in the sanctuary to keep it pest free and give back to beautiful New Zealand.

For more information on walks in Picton, check out the 12 Awesome Hikes in Picton.

Because there is so much to do in Picton, be sure to check out Picton – Guide for Backpackers and 10 Picton Must-Dos.©


The “Greenshell Mussel Capital of New Zealand” is an obvious must on any backpacker’s bucket list, right?! Make sure you grab yourself some greenshell mussels or hop on a greenshell mussel cruise into the Pelorus Sounds to see what all the fuss is about. Find out more about the cruise on Viator and Tripadvisor.

A mussel festival is held in March every year.

Aside from tasting greenshell mussels, you can explore the Pelorus, Mahau and Kenepuru Sound from Havelock on a mail boat cruise, water taxi or by kayak.

Surprisingly, the best way to see a good chunk of the sounds is by delivering some mail! The mail boat leaves three times a week to deliver supplies to isolated homes. Hop on the mail boat for a cruise particularly around Pelorus Sound. Following the mailman has never been so exciting!

Inland, more adventures await particularly on the Pelorus River, which was a Hobbit filming location. Kayak down the river with Pelorus Eco Adventures (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or take on some hiking tracks in the Pelorus Bridge Reserve. Some to try out include:

Elvy Waterfalls Track (2 Hours Return)

Take the Tawa Walk starting from the cafe car park in the Pelorus Bridge Reserve. The track branches off the Tawa Walk to see a couple of beautiful waterfalls and walk along streams feeding into the Pelorus River.

Trig K Track (4 Hours Return)

An extension of the Elvy Waterfalls Track, the Trig K Track branches off to climb Trig K revealing stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

See more activities in the 9 Fun Things to Do in Havelock.©


It’s all about the wine in Blenheim. For a backpacker, you must like wine or want to take advantage of the vineyard jobs to make the most of your stay here. Vineyards need workers for pruning and harvesting, see more in Picking Seasons in New Zealand. Ask your hostel about what vineyard jobs are available, as they will be in touch with most of the vineyards.

As for Blenheim city, it is scattered with beautiful gardens. Pollard Park is romantic with its rose garden amongst a collection of native trees. Just as pretty is Seymour Square, spotted by its 15m (49ft) tower and magnificent water feature. To relax by the river, go to Onamalutu Reserve.

For hiking and biking, check out Blenheim’s Wither Hills Farm Park for some stunning views across the Cook Strait all the way to Wellington.

Only 15 minutes drive from Blenheim is Rarangi Beach, perfect for surfing, camping and just plain old relaxing.

Find out more things to do in the 10 Blenheim Must-Dos and 10 Amazing Things to Do in Blenheim.©

Marlborough Wine Trail

Doing a vineyard trail is just a more sophisticated bar crawl, right? Marlborough is the top wine region in New Zealand, creating international award-winning sauvignon blanc.

On a sunny day, doing the Marlborough Wine Trail by bike is a lot of fun. The vineyards and wineries are close together giving you an excuse to stop often on your bike trail. Better yet, many wineries have delicious food and free wine tastings at Brancott, Hunters, No1 Family Estate, Villa Maria and more. Check out more wineries in the 10 Best Wineries in Marlborough.

Download the interactive Marlborough Wine Trail Map on your phone, or pick up a paper map, and follow the triangle trail from Blenheim to Renwick to Spring Creek and back to Blenheim.

Hire bikes or enjoy a guided bike tour with Explore Marlborough. Find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor.©

Okiwi Bay, French Pass & D’Urville Island

To really get off the beaten track in Marlborough take the stunning drive from State Highway 6 onto Opouri Drive towards Okiwi Bay. Explore the coastline of Okiwi Bay by kayak, hike the Goat Hill Track, and take a trip to French Pass.

French Pass is said to be one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand but little travel this far off the beaten track to discover it. Travel on this gravel road on top of farm hills surrounded by coastal scenery.

Either drive yourself or join the Sounds Magic Eco Tours mail run to make the most of the road. Be sure to check out the French Pass Whirlpools Lookout along the way.

From French Pass, you can take a water taxi to D’Urville Island. Water taxi options include catching dinner along the way and having it cooked up for you at the D’Urville Island Wilderness Resort. The resort also has camping and flashpacker accommodation. Walk to waterfalls, hike the Ridgeline Circuit Track and more on D’Urville Island.

Find out more in French Pass and D’Urville Island – Guide for Backpackers.

If You Have More Time in Marlborough…

  • Reach the towering Sawcut Gorges on a 1-2 day hike
  • Take in the vineyard scenery with a horse trek
  • Discover what lies beneath the water by snorkelling and scuba diving in the sounds. Including the wreck dive The Mikhail Lermontov one of the top scuba spot in New Zealand
  • Make some tactical friends who are locals so you can go sailing together
  • Find all of the 10 Awesome Walks in Marlborough
  • Drive along State Highway 63 to see the Wairau Valley and its meandering river.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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