Nelson and Marlborough, South Island

After crossing Cook Strait, we picked up a rental car in Picton. We planned five nights to loop around through Nelson and Blenheim, and back to Picton before heading south to our housesit in Christchurch.

From Picton, we drove to Nelson along the beautiful winding Queen Charlotte Drive. We stopped at a few viewpoints as we climbed and wound around the bays, arms, and sounds.

Our first of two full days in Nelson we poked around the town. We were most intrigued by Christ Church Cathedral, a 19th century cathedral perched atop a hill with a view of the town and nestled among beautiful gardens in a park-like setting.

We then drove a little outside of the town to Cable Bay where we enjoyed a picnic lunch, and then walked up a steep hill for views of the picturesque bay.

Our AirBnB (high recommendation!) was outside of Nelson in Richmond, the home of Pic’s peanut butter. We learned at our first house sit that Pic’s is a big deal in peanut butter here. We bought it, tried it, and we were fans, so had to stop by the factory. It had a cool outside, a little shop to buy peanut butter and swag, and a cafe, but tours for the day were booked up (you can book online).

The next day, though we hadn’t reserved ahead, we drove up to Kaiteriteri to see if we could book a boat trip and hike in Abel Tasman National Park. (We had a plan B at the ready to drive farther up the park and walk into Wainui Falls.) We were able to make a booking for 10:30 a.m., which gave us enough time to enjoy a coffee and load our packs. The tour company offered several combinations for seeing the coast of Abel Tasman, from boating the whole thing to walking the whole thing to seeing different sections by walking in combination with a boat trip or kayak paddle. We booked to be dropped off at Tonga Quarry, hike two hours back to Medlands Beach, and then boat back to Kaiteriteri at 4:15 pm.

Next up was Blenheim, the center of the Marlborough wine industry. On the evening we arrived, we were able to meet up with two other Canadian nomads. They were heading north as we were heading south so we had lots to talk about over pizza.

We had only one full day in the Marlborough area, but didn’t want to start wine tasting first thing in the morning. So, following the advice of our AirBnB host, we drove up a coast road for a great view of the Marlborough valley and vineyards after stopping off at a tiny cove called Whites Bay. Our host told us that this location, about 30 minutes north of Blenheim, was about the only swimming area nearby because of the surf and currents elsewhere.

Back in Blenheim, we went for lunch and a wine tasting at St. Clair Family Estate, followed by tastings at Framingham Wine Company and Brancott Estate. There are about 30 wineries with cellar doors (tasting rooms) within a rough rectangle around Blenheim. If you’re a serious taster, there are plenty of tours that offer pickup so you can taste without driving. This region produces about 75 per cent of New Zealand’s wine production and 85 per cent of its exports, and is known for its Sauvignon Blancs.

On our last morning, we took a quick walk around Grovetown Lagoon (a public path under development and recommended by our AirBnB host) before driving north to Picton.

Back in Picton, we had a little extra time before we needed to return our rental car and hop on a bus, so we took a short drive to Waikawa Bay and Karaka Point for one last look at the sounds.

Since we were heading to a two-week house sit where we would have the use of the homeowner’s vehicle, we took a bus from Picton to Christchurch. One place we had wanted to see but hadn’t had time for was Kaikoura, and that happened to be where the bus stopped for a short dinner break. Though it is common to take boat trips from Kaikoura to look at the seals and whales, we saw plenty of seals lounging on the rocks on the trip down.


  • Wilsons Seals & Beach #3 trip: $154 NZD for both of us ($135 CAD).
  • Bus from Picton to Christchurch: Intercity, 6 hours, booked online two weeks ahead, $74 NZD ($64 CAD) for two adults.

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