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Nature & Wildlife

Port Underwood, an itinerary between Blenheim to Picton

  • 6 minutes

A slow road trip

Discover Heritage trail ghosts and summer hot spots, beaches and walks. The winding Port Underwood road offers phenomenal views of the Sounds and coastal New Zealand capturing a glimpse of how the countryside looked in the 1950’s. Look for Port Underwood’s vanished past with very little physical evidence of pre-European Maori settlement and the massive disruption of the whaling trade. Today marine mussel farms, small farms and lifestyle land blocks dot the area. And in summer locals flock to their holiday baches, the beaches and the wharf to relax and revive in the quiet corner of the Marlborough Sounds.

BEST TIME TO GO

October to March

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Heritage trail Maori cultivators and villages, whalers and settlers
  • Uncrowded beaches and coves
  • Off the beaten track scenic remote winding road
  • Department of Conservation camping grounds

Route map

Picton to Blenheim the slow journey via Port Underwood.

Picton to Karaka Lookout, Whatamango Bay, Port Underwood (Guard Bay)  Ocean Bay, Robin Hood Bay, Whites Bay and Rarangi join the main highway at Tuamarina and arrive in Blenheim

WHICH IS THE BETTER ROAD TO EXPLORE BACKCOUNTRY MARLBOROUGH?

FRENCH PASS OR PORT UNDERWOOD?

  • French Pass for scenery, extraordinary tidal formations
  • Port Underwood is a connecting route and worthwhile if you have the time as a way to connect your journey between Picton and Blenheim

PICTON

Port Underwood is a side road from Picton to Blenheim (or reverse) along narrow winding roads (over 25 km of unsealed gravel surface) following the original coastal route for pre-European Maori and early settlers. There are marine mussel farms and small farms in Oyster bay. For ideas what to do in Picton check out Marlborough guide, things to do. Unlike the French Pass day trip Port Underwood Picton to Blenheim is not a no exit road where your return involves looping around on the same road.

Port Underwood, Marlborough, New Zealand @grumpylumixuser
Port Underwood @grumpylumixuser
Karaka Point Walk, Picton, Marlborough, New Zealand @axel_vice_
Karaka Point Walk @axel_vice_

KARAKA POINT LOOKOUT

Victoria Domain and Karaka Lookout points are the first indications of a road where bush, the sea and remoteness define the trip. There is a popular Department of Conservation camping ground after the one-lane bridge. The Whatamango DOC campsite is approximately 6.5 km from Picton. The picturesque campground is beachside with glorious sunset photo opportunities.

TIP

Booked on an interisland ferry to cross the Cooks Strait, consider a night or two farwelling the South Island, New Zealand with a stay at DOC’s Whatamango Bay, then Picton is just an easy 15- minute drive.

Whatamango Bay conservation campsite: Queen Charlotte Sound area, Marlborough region

Standard campsites have a more limited range of facilities and services than Serviced campsites. These campsites have toilets, a water supply that could be treated or untreated tap water, or from a stream or lake, and vehicle or boat access. Bring your own soap for washing hands. Untreated water should be boiled before use to ensure it’s safe.

Facilities

  • Water is from a stream – you may wish to boil, treat or filter before use.
  • No rubbish facilities are provided – take all rubbish with you when you leave.
Whatamango Bay Campsite, Marlborough, New Zealand @Doc
Whatamango Bay Campsite @Doc

PORT UNDERWOOD – KAKAPO BAY OR GUARD BAY

  • Whaling past – over 7 pubs and the bays were stacked with decaying whales and oil
  • John Guard, Australian convict, Port Underwood whaler was one of the original European settlers with the distinction being the father of the first documented European child born in the South Island in the 1830’s
John Guard, Marlborough, New Zealand @New Zealand Geographic, Alexander Turnbull library
John Guard @New Zealand Geographic, Alexander Turnbull library
  • His house witnessed the signing of Tiritiri o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi on June 17, 1840. Nine chiefs’ signatures were collected in Te Whanganui/Port Underwood, including chiefs of Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Rārua. Rangitāne chief Ihaia Kaikōura, who was the only signatory from the Kurahaupo tribes, which included Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō and Ngāti Kuia, also signed the treaty. After it was signed, Major Thomas Bunbury sailed to Horahora Kākahu Island and raised the British flag to a 21 gun salute, proclaiming the South Island on behalf of British sovereignty.
  • Guard died in 1857 and is buried in the Port Underwood Kakapo Bay cemetery, as are many other members of his family.

OCEAN OHIENGA BAY

  • The road runs along the beach edge and gets a pounding in the winter easterly winds. There is a woolshed, farmhouses and a quietly rusting whale pot in the bay.
  • TOM CANES BAY Beach access with a reserve, picnic tables and toilet. There is a collection of holiday baches each surrounded by bush.
Tom Canes Bay Port Underwood Marlborough Sounds South Island New Zealand @Ballet Queen2013
Tom Canes Bay @Ballet Queen2013
Robin Hood Bay Campground, Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand @MarlboroughNZ
Robin Hood Bay Campground @MarlboroughNZ

ROBIN HOOD BAY

  • Cobb cottage, wattle and daub (1854) originally constructed for whaling captain and his new wife. It is one of the oldest buildings in Marlborough. Visitors cannot enter the cottage. There is signage outside describing the cottage’s past.
  • The largest sandy bay on the Port Underwood route. There is a Department of Conservation camping ground with public toilets. There are low tidal rock pools for kids to explore.
  • The beach is relatively exposed and is popular with surfers. There is a vehicle access right to the beach.

INTERESTING FACT

An airplane disaster. In August 1948 a Dakota plane – DC-3 crashed in the hills above Ngakuta Bay

PUKATEA WHITES BAY

  • Lookout point over Cloudy Bay, Cooks Strait and North Island is glimpsed as a smudge on the horizon. There are distinct changes in the sea colour with lines of surf indicating the convergence of water from Port Underwood harbour, warmer Cloudy Bay and the Cooks Strait. Whites Bay, approximately 6 km from Rarangi is where the sealed road from Blenheim finishes.
  • Whites Bay beach is very popular. Surrounded by native bush, the sandy beach has life guards during the peak season.
  • Cable Station historic site. The former cable station was the southern link in the initial Cook Strait communications cable. The cable was active from 1866 to 1945. The simple copper telegraph cable, laid across the Cook Strait seabed from Lyall Bay in Wellington to Pukatea/Whites Bay enabled quick communication between the North and South Islands. Pukatea/Whites Bay was chosen as the ideal site because of its sheltered position, calm waters and sandy beach, making it less likely for the cable to be damaged. Whites Bay is named after an American known as Black Jack White who, in 1828, deserted his whaling ship and took up residence with local Maori.
  • There are a number of walking tracks, check travel pack section, brochure Walks in Marlborough for details.
Whites Bay beach, Marlborough, New Zealand @becca_anderson_
Whites Bay beach @becca_anderson_

INTERESTING FACT

Cutters Bay adjacent to Ocean Bay is the birthplace of Ellen Dougherty who became the first registered nurse in the world

Rarangi Beach, Marlborough, New Zealand @Mapio.net
Rarangi Beach @Mapio.net

RARANGI BEACH

The site of the Department of Conservation camping ground adjacent to the small single beach. Rarangi Campsite – Blenheim there is a short walk to Monkey beach and Daddy Watson’s cave to explore. Check the travel pack section for the brochure Walks in Marlborough. From Rarangi it is a short distance to rejoin state highway 1 and then onto Blenheim.

TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION

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