Wed, Dec 14, 2022 4:33 PM

Exploring Blenheim’s backyard


Tessa Jaine

With its expansive fertile river plains, bustling Wairau River, and the craggy terrain that makes up the Inland Kaikouras, Marlborough is an outstanding playground for those who need a chance to escape the humdrum of life for some adventure or simply a change of scene, as Adrienne Matthews find out.

The regions landscape has encouraged many businesses to become established that meet the needs of both locals looking for a great day out and the many visitors who visit the region.

You don’t have to be a wine buff either because, despite its reputation as the largest wine growing region in New Zealand, there is so much more to see and taste besides what is produced on the forty plus local vineyards.

‘Explore Marlborough Wine Tours’, based at The Vines Village at Rapaura Road, might have “wine” in its title, but owner Andrew Wright says that people use the company’s services for a variety of reasons. “Bike hire is increasingly popular, particularly as we offer guided bike tours,” he says. “The region is beautiful. It is flat on the valley floor. With a choice of good quality Avanti cruiser bikes along with e-bikes, biking is easy and as long as you can stay upright on a bike, anyone can come and do it.”

“Most of our clients want a mixture of wine tasting, fresh air and a bit of exercise but others just want to get out and enjoy exploring the stop-banks, bicycle trails and back roads in the area. There are plenty of options for lunch these days too, with many vineyards offering excellent meals and platters.”

A lesser known but exciting place to visit is the Koru Native Wildlife Centre in Grovetown, run by the Tui Nature Reserve Wildlife Trust. The focus here is on breeding native wildlife such as kākāriki, geckos and wetas, with a major emphasis on conservation and education. The latest project on site is the planting of a micro-forest which will contain over twelve thousand trees, be rich in biodiversity and an important haven for wildlife. Groups can book a visit to the centre and tours can be customized to suit any age group.

New Zealand's native parakeet, the yellow-crowned kākāriki at Koru Native Wildlife Centre.

For those who don’t enjoy the crowds that Garden Marlborough brings, many of the gardens on display are able to be visited at other times throughout the year by pre-booking. Owner of Welton House and Eliza’s Garden Cottage, Wendy Palmer, is delighted to receive groups to the gardens she and her brother, world-renowned garden designer Ross Palmer, have nurtured.

With magnificent views of the Richmond Ranges and the Wither Hills, the historic Welton House gardens spread over almost three hectares and are a mixture of heritage trees, some of them on the list of protected Notable Trees of New Zealand, colourful borders, dry gardens, orchard, kitchen garden and meadows. The garden is full of special plant “treasures” and there are surprises everywhere.

Enjoy the historic Welton House gardens spread over almost three hectares.

Only five minutes-drive from central Blenheim, Welton House is one of many fine gardens in the region that are open by appointment. A day can easily be spent in different parts of Marlborough exploring the handiwork of some of the most inspirational gardeners in the country.

For families, as well as anyone who loves exploring the outdoors, the Wither Hills Farm Park, an 1100 hectare working sheep and cattle farm, is the perfect place to get away from it all and is very close to Blenheim. There are a number of access points but the main one is on Rifle Range Place, off Taylor Pass Road.

The view of Blenheim from one of Wither Hills Farm Park's tracks is impressive.

With over sixty kilometres of walking and cycling tracks, there are many options for those who want to get fit or just relish some quality time in the country. Visitors exploring the park can take a picnic and stop to enjoy the views which are spectacular with lookouts to Cloudy Bay and across the plains of the Wairau Valley.

For even more spectacular views of the region, a flight in a historic aircraft is the ultimate treat for those with a sense of adventure. Based at the Omaka airfield is Classic Wings Vintage Aeroplane Rides. The Boeing Stearman used for these flights is an open cockpit bi-plane. Built in the 1930s and 1940s, these planes were used as military training aircraft in the USA and Canada. They later became popular as crop-dusters, recreational aircraft, and are often to be found at air shows.

In addition, other vintage planes based at the airfield are operated by NZ Warbirds and are available for adventure flights, including a Yakovlev, or Yak-3 as it is most commonly known, which is a very fast Russian-built World War II fighter. An Avro Anson Mk.1 has been restored to how it looked when it was in front-line service from 1939 to 1941, complete with replica machine guns and anti-submarine bombs and this is also available for flights. It is essential to book any flights in advance.

See Marlborough from the sky with Omaka's Classic Wings Vintage Aeroplane Ride.

If you want to stay on the ground, what can be better than getting a group of friends together for a day of shopping, inspiration, and eating out. Cinnamon House in Queen Street is a popular destination for sources of ideas for those wanting to give their home environments a lift. Interior designer Simone Hill and husband Chris have created a rich and eclectic mix of styles and homewares to energize and encourage visitors to add some “pep” to their living spaces. “We are finding ourselves very popular for groups who come in with a coffee from one of the many lovely cafes around us and browse amongst the latest interior design ideas,” says Simone.

“We are fortunate to have other great stores such as Thomas’s and Cerise close by and it can make a great morning or afternoon outing for friends to come and visit us all. At the moment the big trend is decorating with botanicals and tropicals, bringing the outside in,” she says. “It’s a bit of a jungle vibe and seems to tie in with people appreciating the outdoors more. We also have our popular man-cave in store where men who aren’t interested in such things can be comfortable and allow their partners to browse without restraint.”

Interiors store, Cinnamon House is a popular shopping destination in town.

Another excellent shopping experience and a chance to see the breadth of arts and crafts produced in Marlborough is the “Return to Eden Gallery,” run by sisters Adele and Rachel Kenny. Opposite the St Clair Restaurant and Cellar Door in Rapaura, it is the place to go to see the work of over seventy artists and craftspeople from the region.

“With work recently finished on our gorgeous gardens,” says Adele, “we are encouraging groups of artists and members of craft groups to come out and paint and craft here.”

See work from over 70 artists and craftspeople from the region at Return to Eden Gallery.

For those who want to immerse themselves in the history of the region, the Marlborough Museum is a good place to start followed by Brayshaw Heritage Park which hosts many local heritage clubs with working exhibits. The Marlborough Vintage Machine Heritage Society has one of the most outstanding public collections of farm machinery in the southern hemisphere, including over two hundred tractors, and a pioneer cottage is a recent addition.

There really is no excuse for us not to get out and enjoy the diversity and experiences this terrific region has to offer.

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