Picton to Blenheim Road Trip


From the moment you disembark from the inter-island ferry in Picton after cruising through breathtaking Queen Charlotte Sound, there’s no doubt in any visitor’s mind that the South Island is very special. SH1 takes us south to Blenheim, NZ’s premier wine growing region, then follows a rocky, kelp-strewn shoreline to Kaikoura, where snowy mountains plunge dramatically into the sea. Amid this stunning coastal alpine scenery, a wealth of ecotourism oriented activities are on offer, from whale watching to seal snorkelling and much more! We take three days to travel from Picton to Christchurch. We sample the award-winning wines of the region, dine with our jolly kiwi-Italian hosts, join an awe-inspiring whale watch tour, relish the flavour of succulent Kaikoura crayfish, visit a lavender distillery and swim with dolphins that are so playful and friendly, Bob can’t believe that they’re wild!

The drive from the Ferry Terminal in Picton to the vineyards of Blenheim takes around twenty minutes – especially when a keen wine connoisseur, like Bob, is behind the wheel. “Stay on the LEFT!” I warn (as I always do) whenever we approach a new town. But to give credit where it’s due, Bob’s taken to right-hand drive like a duck to water!

In Blenheim we find there’s more than vineyard-hopping to keep us amused. We begin our exploration at the Millennium Public Art Gallery, then walk through The Forum, where a lively market atmosphere permeates, and relax in the sun over a reviving latté before taking a stroll through the immaculately groomed gardens of Seymour Square.

A short drive leads to the Marlborough Provincial Museum and Beavertown, a replica village of old Blenheim, and here we soak up local history. It is part of the Brayshaw Museum Park complex, which is also home to a vintage farm machinery museum displaying rows of faithfully restored tractors.

En route to Montana, we visit Prenzel Distillery and Tasting Room where we meet Chris Steadman, who presses a taster of butterscotch schnapps with a ‘lair’ of butterscotch cream into our eager hands. It’s delicious and there’s also a variety of brandies, schnapps, infused olive oils and chocolate liqueurs on offer.

Bob picks up a bottle of butterscotch schnapps while I depart with a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc Vinegar, wood-aged in oak in the traditional Orleans method.

“Perfect with blue cod,” I say to Bob as we drive through the striking entrance of Montana’s Brancott Winery. Many of Montana’s leading labels are produced at Brancott Estate including Deutz Marlborough Cuvee, the winery’s specialty, produced in partnership with the French House of Deutz.

Seated at Brancott’s café-restaurant we peruse the menu. It provides a variety of fresh, Marlborough-inspired dishes, each teamed with a matching wine. Bob enjoys a deliciously fresh salad while I (motivated by my earlier vinegar purchase) feast upon blue cod fillets. After lunch we take a guided tour, which departs from Montana’s visitor centre every hour from 10 am to 3 pm. It’s an ideal introduction to NZ’s premier viticulture region and concludes with a tasting in a private room.

Later, armed with a copy of the free local wine map, we drive to Renwick, the hub of Marlborough’s wine growing country where the region’s high sunshine hours, long cool nights and low summer rainfall provide near-perfect grape-growing conditions.

“It would take a week to see all the vineyards here,” says Bob, deciding in the end that we should visit Cloudy Bay, home of the legendary Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and Grove Mill where, as well as wine tastings, there’s a ‘vine library’ and an art gallery.

Our last port of call is the magnificent, Tuscan-inspired Highfield Estate on Brookby Road. Situated on a crest overlooking the vineyards of the Omaka and Wairau Valleys, the views from its tower are stunning and this, combined with its small but select range of fine wines, makes it one of Marlborough’s most popular wineries. In February wine-lovers gather near here for the annual BMW Wine Marlborough Festival which celebrates local wine.

All graped out – not for the first time on our circumnavigation of NZ – we retreat to our accommodation for a well-earned sleep.