Mention Blenheim, in New Zealand, in general conversation and whilst some people might look blankly, others will register keen interest. The reason? Blenheim, located almost at the top of the South Island, is one of the major centres in the Marlborough region, which happens to be one of the great wine making regions in New Zealand. I could also be controversial and add Australia to that list, because over the last few years one of the top selling Sauvignon Blancs in Oz has come from this very region.
Wineries aren’t the only reason for visiting Blenheim, however, as there is much more on offer. It’s unfortunate that Blenheim is sometimes only seen from the motorhome window as travellers drive past, going to-and-from the Picton dock of the Cook Strait ferry. So allow an extra day or two and let me tell you what can be found in and around this bustling town.
Bicycles, Trains and Aeroplanes...
Blenheim is a large regional centre that offers just about every service and facility a traveller might desire, including several very good caravan parks. One I favoured is the Top 10 Holiday Park, which has a picturesque river frontage and is conveniently close to town.
For those who like their exercise, an excellent walking and cycling track has been established along the Taylor River, which runs right through the town. Further afield, the general area around the wineries is fairly flat, making it great for exploring by bicycle. A good bike shop in town not only offers parts and repairs but also a hire service for those who can’t bring their own with them.
In addition, the narrow gauge (2 ft/600 mm) Riverside Railway runs along by river and can be seen in action carrying passengers on running days, which happen on the first and third Sundays of the month, as well more frequently during school holiday time.
One of the railway stations is located at Brayshaw Park and anyone with an interest in early colonial NZ history should make their way there, even if not on the railway. Apart from a selection of reconstructed shops and other buildings; motor and tractor museums and the provincial museum and archives centre, there is an enormous collection of old farm machinery for the dedicated enthusiast. Even for the non-enthusiast, it’s interesting to look at agricultural machinery from a bygone era (you wild thing, Malcolm - Ed).
Air history buffs should certainly head for the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, which has some fascinating and realistic dioramas created, in part, by none other than Sir Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit fame. Even for those not quite so interested in aviation history, Omaka is still worth a visit: the dioramas so lifelike it’s hard to resist the temptation to reach out and touch them, although a network of light-beam alarms discourages this sort of activity! In addition to the dioramas there are plenty of historical exhibits on display and by checking dates, a flying day is certainly a possibility.
Classic Cars and More
Of interest to motor buffs is Omaka Classic Cars, right next door. All the exhibits would have been seen on NZ roads during the second half of last century (some cynics might suggest even later) and all are in running order, not to mention beautifully maintained. It’s a fun place to look at cars we once owned that are now more than thirty years old and see how they compare to modern vehicles!
I should mention that not only are there plenty of wineries around Blenheim, but in amongst the vineyards is something I’m sure many of you will have no interest in; not much, that is! The Boutique Chocolate factory is where it’s possible not only to see chocolates being made but to taste them before purchase, which is every visitors obligation and duty. I did!
Further afield and familiar to many a traveller in the Marlborough region is the ferry-terminal town of Picton. If not actually embarking on the ferry it’s interesting to go to the lookout above the port and watch all the loading and unloading activity, which often includes a long line of motorhomes. A bit further along the road from the port lookout, another stop gives a good viewpoint over the loading dock for the logging industry: something that is quite prolific, away from the winery areas.
A little attraction in this area is a boat trip on the Queen Charlotte Sound. Apart from viewing the shoreline and watching out for marine and bird life, dolphins and seals, it’s also possible to indulge in fish feeding in one of the marine reserves.
Undoubtedly one of the major attractions north of Blenheim are the stunning Marlborough Sounds. Quite a few NZ residents have a bache – that’s “beche” to non Kiwis – aka a holiday house, in this area. It’s not hard to see why, if you like drop-dead water views, fishing, swimming or simply enjoying some peace and quiet. Many travellers head to Te Anau, in the Fiordlands to the south, to see the glowworms there, but a couple of locals in the Marlborough Sounds showed us their very own glowworm colony. If time permits do spend a day or two exploring this area, but if nothing else then enjoy a brief trip along Charlotte Drive, the road between Picton and Havelock.
Finally, I suggest touring around the wineries in your motorhome, picking up a few bottles of your favourite tastings and heading off to a campsite for the night. Then kicking back, popping a cork (or two) and enjoying some of the finest wines and scenery the world has to offer. Marlborough Country never looked so good...
Blenheim Top 10 Holiday Park
For the full article download Issue 17 of iMotorhome eMagazine by clicking on the link below.