New ZealandSouth PacificTravel



New Zealand, Part 4: Marlborough Sounds & Kaikoura (South Island)

From Queenstown, I flew to Blenheim, in the heart of New Zealand’s premier wine region of Marlborough. After a 30-minute drive to the town of Picton and a short boat ride, I arrived at Bay of Many Coves Lodge, a Signature partner resort and a member of SLH and Luxury Lodges of New Zealand.


Where to stay? Bay of Many Coves is in the heart of Marlborough Sounds, a maze of peninsulas, bays and islands on uppermost part of the South Island. The property has no road access, so guests arrive either by boat from the pier at Picton (about 25 minutes away), or via helicopter, landing on the lodge’s private helipad. The vibe is relaxed and informal.  This area has some of the best weather in New Zealand, which is why Marlborough Sounds was the favorite anchorage of Captain Cook, who visited five times during his journeys in the 18th century.


Bay of Many Coves overlooks a tranquil bay and occupies only a small portion of the estate, which covers over 150 acres. While on property, you can walk along the resort’s many paths, swim in the pool or the sound, or enjoy a treatment in the lodge’s spa. The setting is very special, as you feel a million miles from civilization, yet you’re only a short boat ride from the mainland. Service and dining are outstanding, with a staff to guest ratio of 1:1. There are two restaurants to choose from — a more informal all-day dining on a terrace overlooking the sound, and a fine dining restaurant for dinner at a higher level. 

Accommodations: the resort has 11 spacious apartments offering 1/2/3 bedrooms with terraces, as well as a large Kereru Suite. All rooms are built on the slope of a hill, and offer privacy as well as beautiful views of the sound.

Activities: The resort’s management can arrange sailing and kayaking on the sounds. You can also visit the many vineyards in the Marlborough region, New Zealand’s premier wine country, where more than 60% of the country’s wine is produced. Marlborough wines are known the world over, especially the sauvignon blancs like Cloudy Bay and Dog Point. Over 35 wineries are open to the public, some less than an hour’s travel time from Bay of Many Coves.


My two favorite activities while staying at this resort were hiking on the Queen Charlotte Track (a short water taxi away), and kayaking at sunrise from the property’s pier.

Motuara Island

Don’t miss visiting Motuara Island, a protected, predator-free environment with some of New Zealand’s rare birds, including the blue penguin.

Motuara Island beach

My next stop was Kaikoura, on the northeast coast of the South Island. Kaikoura suffered greatly during a powerful earthquake in November of 2016. The road along the coast was destroyed in several sections, and a result access to Kaikoura was difficult for quite some time. Roads to Kaikoura have now re-opened, and the region is thriving once again.


Kaikoura is worth visiting for several reasons: first, the setting is magnificent, as the town is located on the Pacific, with a series of green valleys flanked by the snow-capped Kaikoura range in the distance. Secondly, this is one of the best places in New Zealand to taste fresh seafood – especially crayfish. Finally, Kaikoura is ‘Grand Central Terminal’ for the sheer abundance of marine and bird wildlife, with some of the highest concentrations of whales, dolphins and seals, as well as albatrosses and petrels. 

Where to stay? Hapuku Lodge and Treehouses, a Signature partner resort and member of Luxury Lodges of New Zealand, is THE place to stay in this part of the world. The property opened in 2013 and is a 10-minute drive from central Kaikoura. Originally, Hapuku started out as a deer farm. Today, the lodge consists of 4 spacious rooms in the main building, as well as 5 free standing tree houses, built 30 feet from the ground.  Two of the treehouses offer two bedrooms (one above, and the other below). Hapuku also offers its two-story Olive House for families or friends traveling together, accommodating up to 6 guests in 3-bedroom configuration. The lodge has an outdoor pool, and a new spa will open in September of 2019. Guests have bicycles to use during their stay. The property is known for the quality of its dining, most of it sourced locally.

Hapuku Lodge and Treehouses
Hapuku Lodge and Treehouses

Activities: Enjoy whale watching (from a boat or from the air), swimming with seals, fishing, kayaking, or hiking along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. Kaikoura also offers a wide range of heli-adventures, including heli-hiking, visiting a sheep station in the high country, as well as heli picnics at remote settings. My favorite activity in Kaikoura? Swimming with a pod of dusky dolphins in the open ocean – simply exhilarating. (The company that organizes these trips has a 90% + success ratio.)


Rail Option: The Coastal Pacific, one of New Zealand’s most scenic train rides, is back in business. Trains run from late September until April, between Christchurch and Picton, stopping at Kaikoura. You have the option to ride the entire length of the journey (7+ hours), or start/end at Kaikoura and take only a segment of the trip.  

rail options

Courtesy of Ignacio Maza from Signature Travel Network

Next: Rotorua & Taupo, North Island

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