Kia ora: Blenheim

Blenheim, named for a battle, is a peaceful oasis, writes Elisabeth Easther

A view from the air of some of the vineyards surrounding Blenheim.
A view from the air of some of the vineyards surrounding Blenheim.

Origin of name: Maori called it Waiharakeke for the water and flax, until European settlers renamed it for the Battle of Blenheim, waged in 1704.

Population: 30,500 (2012 estimate)

Where is it: On the Wairau plains in the Marlborough district, at the confluence of the Taylor and Opawa rivers. 28km from Picton.

The region's slogan: Love Marlborough.

Interesting: The Wairau Pa is thought to be the nation's earliest human settlement, evidence dates back as far as the 12th century.

Also cool: Unemployment in Marlborough is 3.9 per cent, much lower than the national average.

Fancy this: There are no traffic lights.

Most influential local: When Frank Yukich planted the first vines in 1973 he said the wines would make the region world famous. The New Zealand wine industry owes this man a debt of gratitude.

New Zealand All Black Leon MacDonald.
New Zealand All Black Leon MacDonald.

Famous locals: Leon Macdonald (rugby) Ivan Sutherland (rowing).

Best local website: lovemarlborough.co.nz - it's free to list, so it's comprehensive, unbiased and an excellent place to find deals.

Main industries: Viticulture, tourism and aquaculture, as in mussel and salmon farms, also aviation.

Source of pride: The terroir (a French wine word), which refers to the combination of climate, land and conditions - locals are proud of how many success stories are connected to the land, and say that what happens in Blenheim couldn't happen anywhere else. And it's really beautiful.

Town fiestas: The Grape Ride, the South Island's biggest and most popular road-racing event. The St Clair Vineyard Half Marathon runs through the vineyards during autumn when the colours are outlandish. The Marlborough Wine and Food Festival in February is massive and Garden Marlborough, a major garden tour, blows green-fingered people's minds.

Best place to take the kids: Pelorus River Scenic Reserve is 40 minutes' drive from Blenheim and there's a campground, swimming spots, loads of walks through low-lying beech forest, some as short as 30 minutes, and even a swing bridge. Or Lochmara Lodge, which is a wildlife recovery and arts centre in the Marlborough Sounds, takes 40 minutes to get there by car and boat, but well worth it.

Best place for a drink: There are 90 wineries in the region, three breweries and a distillery. If you can't find a drink in Blenheim you're really not trying. To single one out, Scotch Wine Bar is a very fine establishment.

Best food: You'll be spoiled for choice, and Raupo Riverside Cafe and Restaurant is excellent for kai all day.

Best flat white: CPR is reliably good quality.

Best bakery: De Brood - is a hole-in-the-wall establishment wedged between a fish and chip shop and a lawnmower shop in the Blenheim suburbs. Originally an artisan commercial baker, but its marvellous farmers' market stand was so popular they had to install a hatch for serving and selling.

A reproduction of the Red Baron's triplane at the Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim.
A reproduction of the Red Baron's triplane at the Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim.

Best museum: Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is phenomenal, even if you're not a plane brain - it boasts a fine collection of World War I aircraft.

Best art gallery: Either the Millennium Gallery, the town's public gallery or Riverlore, the gallery of artist Joanna Dudson Scott.

Best walk: Queen Charlotte Track is a four-day beauty, and you don't have to carry any gear because most of the places you'll stay are on the water's edge so boats will drop off your bags. You eat a hearty cooked breakfast, leave your bag, wander off and at your next stop, there's your bag and a bath and a bed. Wither Hills Farm Park on the southern edge of town also has a grand range of walking tracks. You can mountain bike the QC track, and Wither Hills, too. Wither Hills has separate tracks for biking and walking, whereas QC cyclists and walkers need to share with care.

Best view: Rob's Knob at Brancott Estate Heritage Centre. The autumn colours after vintage are amazing, different varieties of grape ripen and harvest at different times providing more shades of gold than you can imagine. Or take a scenic flight.

Best mountain biking: Queen Charlotte Track or Wither Hills.

Best place to pull over: The i-site on the outskirts of town is pretty flash and has all the information you'll ever need about the region.

Best park: Pollard Park has a playground, nice walks, a little river and rose gardens.

Best-kept secret: Saw Cut Gorge, lots of locals have never even been. It's huge and narrow with crystal waters, and a jaw-droppingly spectacular three-hour tramp.

Best swim: Aside from the town pool, there's Whites Bay, anywhere round the Sounds, Pelorus River.

Fabulous wildlife: Wairau Lagoon has rare, native and endemic birds. Lochmara's wildlife recovery centre is where injured birds go for rehab until they can be released into the wild. Lochmara also does breeding work with geckos and kakariki to help repopulate wild populations. Visitors can handfeed the kakariki, or see native eel.

Safety warnings: Don't sail, kayak or cycle under the influence of alcohol.

Locals say: You really can't appreciate how impressive the region is until you see it with your own eyes.

Visitors say: I had no idea there was so much to see and do here.

Thank you to Allanah Robinson for sharing her enthusiasm for the region.

- NZ Herald

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