THE MARLBOROUGH REGION
Long peninsulas snaking out into the waters of the Marlborough Sounds are the dominant feature in this extraordinary landscape. These ridgelines were once the highest points in a series of mountain ranges and river valleys that originally formed the northern tip of the South Island. They were flooded at the end of the last ice age when the sea level rose, creating the magnificent Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds, long winding tracts of water that are bordered by narrow slivers of land stretching from the mainland out into the Cook Strait. The sheltered inner reaches of the Sounds are popular places for a range of recreational activities including swimming, boating, diving, fishing and kayaking. Many of these small inlets and tranquil bays can only be reached by boat and although the scenic roads leading along the ridges provide a long slow journey, they also provide magnificent views across the Sounds.
South lies the town of Blenheim, the main centre in a renowned wine growing area that hosts the annual Marlborough Food and Wine Festival. From Blenheim the Wairau Valley stretches deep inland westwards towards the Nelson Lakes. The beauty of this wilderness area touched early explorers like Julius von Haast, who commented in 1859, 'I am sure that the time is not far distant when this spot will become the favourite abode of those whose means and leisure will permit them to admire picturesque scenery.' Today the Nelson Lakes National Park remains a wilderness area with a network of tracks and walking trails leading deep into the mountains and forests that border the huge glacial lakes after which the park was named.
South from Blenheim lie the parallel mountain chains of the Inland and Seaward Kaikoura Ranges which have been pushed up from beneath the sea. Just offshore lies a deep underwater canyon, rich in marine life providing some of the main tourist attractions in the region. Kaikoura has always been linked to the sea. Centuries ago coastal settlements of Maori relished the crayfish that are still a rich harvest of these waters. A European whaling station was established in the 1840s and operated for 80 years. Whales still abound off the coast, feeding on the giant squid that lurk in the undersea canyon close offshore, but today the boatloads of tourists who put to sea to seek these huge mammals are respectfully armed only with cameras. Further south are the broad alluvial plains of Canterbury and the South Islands largest city, Christchurch, out on the coast.