Art, wine, local food, adventure and some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery: the lineup of amazing and varied things to see and do in New Zealand's 'Top of the South' Island is unrivalled.
And the good news is, from The Marlborough Lodge all of these things are just a short drive away, including the nearby city of Nelson in the beautiful Tasman Bay.
Photo: Nelson marina - sail-world.com
Known for its long-established art scene, great cafe culture and stunning natural beauty, Nelson is worth the 1.5 hour drive from the lodge just for the drive itself. Or take a heli flight to cut down the transfer time and take in the stunning views on the way over the Marlborough Sounds and Tasman Bay right out to Abel Tasman.
Following State Highway 6, the trip takes in Pelorus Bridge where you will find virgin native bush and a deep river gorge, popular with river swimmers in summer and known for the barrel scene in The Hobbit which was filmed here. On a hot day, nothing beats an ice cream at the little cafe. If you like to stretch your legs, there are many forest trail walks through the ancient beech trees – some just 10-15 minutes in length.
Photo: Pelorus Bridge - Marlboroughnz.com
On arrival in Nelson, an easy way to enjoy the city is to park at the iSite, which you’ll find at the city’s northern entrance, and take an easy stroll through the central shopping area where high street brands are interspersed with cafes, galleries, great coffee and boutique stores. If you enjoy art, a visit to Craig Potton gallery+store and The Suter Art Gallery are a must.
A must-see is Tahunanui Beach which is only a few minutes’ drive from the central city and a favourite with locals and visitors alike for its white expanse of sand, and beautiful views across sand and sea to rugged mountain ranges, which are snow-capped in winter and spring.
Halfway between city and beach you’ll notice the Boat Shed Cafe, which is set over tranquil harbour waters and overlooks the Boulder Bank and Haulashore Island, the perfect place to stop for morning tea or lunch. A small intimate restaurant with beautiful views - particularly when the sun sets behind the western ranges - the Boat Shed Cafe is a classic Nelson landmark that is very well documented in artworks and photographs.
Photo: Boat Shed Cafe Nelson
Further afield, about half an hour south of Nelson, why not visit the truly idyllic Upper Moutere, which has been called the “Provence of the South”. The green rolling hills, backed by mountain vistas, are home to a staggering array of artists and craftspeople, wineries and other produce including berries, mushrooms, even peonies - and in Moutere Village, you’ll find The Moutere Inn, New Zealand’s oldest pub - which has to be worth a quick pint.
Alternatively, take a break from driving and let local guide Noel Kennedy show you all the best spots on a Wine, Art & Wilderness tour. Noel specialises in luxury and private wine, eco and art tours in both Nelson and Marlborough: His informal, relaxed tours in the comfort of a Mercedes will ensure you see some of Nelson’s less-travelled routes and local attractions, complete with contemporary and historical background information.
Another option is to take the coastal road that winds around Tasman Bay’s secluded inlets to the village of Mapua and enjoy its cluster of art galleries, boutique shops and cafes overlooking the inlet. For something completely different, try Jester House Cafe in nearby Tasman where quirkiness is key and fresh, wholesome, artisan food is a given. Once you’ve enjoyed a meal, take a walk through the grounds which is filled with art of the most unexpected variety - including a giant boot used as a B&B.
Photo: Mapua wharf - mapuawharf.co.nz
All good things must come to an end, but the fact you have to head home should not mean missing out on a tasty afternoon tea. Just 30 minutes before reaching the Lodge you’ll pass through Havelock, New Zealand’s Greenshell Mussel capital. To enjoy a plate of the freshest mussels you’re ever likely to taste, sit down at one of Havelock’s cafes such as The Mussel Pot on the main road or the Slip Inn Cafe down at the marina. Best enjoyed with a glass of boutique Marlborough beer, or a Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
Photo: Greenshell mussels - newzealand.com
The Top of the South really does have it all, and more: You’ll probably be planning your next visit before the current one has finished.