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Nature, wildlife & conservation in Marlborough places to go

Wildlife encounters, places to go, attractions and things to do in Marlborough range from endangered kiwi and native birds to marine experiences with dolphins. Observe King Shag on predator free islands in the Marlborough Sounds and kayak among shorebirds in the Wairau Lagoon. For your bucket list wildlife encounters check out Marlborough Travel Guide for how to get around, tour operators and stay options.

Royal Spoonbill New Zealand bird resident Wairau Lagoon
Royal Spoonbill New Zealand bird resident Wairau Lagoon

ON THE WATER & ISLANDS

  • Endangered kiwi and various native birds including the King Shag thrive on predator-free islands in the Marlborough Sounds, as well as tuatara, gecko and native frogs. The winding waterways of the sounds are home to dolphins, stingrays, seals, and even orca and whales on their seasonal migration.

ON THE LAND

  • On land Marlborough’s wildlife is discovered kayaking the Wairau lagoon surrounded by birds
  • Spend twilight at Pelorus River Scenic Reserve and observe long tailed bats foraging
  • Discover more about the award-winning sustainability practices at Yealands Estate winery and its support of New Zealand’s avian predator, the falcon. Take a tour of through the vines and find exotic pigs, feathered friends chickens and places to picnic with friends and family
  • Molesworth Station tours where the high country wildlife, deer, falcons in flight and horses and, of course sheep are part and parcel of the alpine Marlborough landscape
Falcon Brancott Estate, New Zealand
Falcon Brancott Estate

NOTE

Horse treks…  High Country Horse Treks And Rescue. The tour operator offered guided horseback treks through river flats, and sheep and cattle high country. The website has a notification of permanent closure.

Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary, Marlborough, New Zealand @MarlboroughNZ
Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary @MarlboroughNZ

MOTUARA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

The Department of Conservation administered island provides an ideal setting to observe several rare bird species such as saddleback and yellow-crowned parakeets. The well known birds such as kereru, tui, grey warbler and bellbird will sing their hearts out as you quietly walk by. Enjoy the lookout track (1 km easy walk through bush and along the shoreline).

INTERESTING FACT

Motuara Island was the location where, in 1770, Captain Cook proclaimed British sovereignty over the South Island.

Getting there: Motuara Island lies in Queen Charlotte Sound opposite Ship Cove, approximately 32 km from Picton. You can get there with your own boat, by taking a scenic cruise or by sea kayak. There is a jetty available.

KAIPUPU WILDLIFE SANCTUARY  TRENDING

Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary is brilliant every day.

  • Easy walking tracks for all fitness levels
  • Easily accessible from Picton, a 10 minute boat trip across the Sounds
  • Supports local volunteers doing amazing things to restore wildlife
  • Part of the kiwi guardian programme (Department of Conservation)
  • Birds, wildlife and conservation projects engage visitors up close and personal with the native animals of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The community project is restoring 40 hectare ‘mainland island’ in Picton harbour (with the help of a massive predator proof fence. The area, for pre-European Maori a food resource hence the name ‘kai’ meaning food and‘pupu’ a type of shellfish.

Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary, New Zealand @TripAdvisor
Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary @TripAdvisor

The easy firm well maintained track of 2.7km is a loop trail passing regenerating native coastal bush, old growth forest and the restoration zone.  The bush clad hills are home to many of New Zealand’s unique native wildlife including tui, korimako (bellbird), piwakawaka (fantail), kereru (NZ woodpigeon), korora (little penguin), weta, raukawa gecko and waiharakeke grass skink.  New Zealand fur seals can often be found lazing on the jetty over autumn and winter.

Entry is free however donations are welcome.

Part of the Department of Conservation kiwi guardian programme. Check travel pack section for brochure.

Getting there: Water taxi / kayak from Picton

There are a number of water taxi / transport options to visit the Sanctuary.   All operators are located on the Picton Waterfront off London Quay.

Wairau Lagoon and Waverley Shipwreck, New Zealand @The Intrepid Life
Wairau Lagoon and Waverley Shipwreck @The Intrepid Life

WAIRAU LAGOONS TRENDING

Featuring as one of the top ten places to visit in Marlborough Wairau steeped in history, a place of beauty  with bronze an expansive wetland grasses are a superb photo location in the sunset with the rusting remains of Waverly shipwreck glinting oranges and red in the light. The walk is well signposted with information plaques describing the habitat, wildlife, birds, fish and history of human occupation.

INTERESTING FACT

The Waverley was towed from Wellington by the SS Wairau to the mouth of the Wairau River where she was to be sunk to form a breakwater. That didn’t happen as a storm surge swept the wreck up the channel and deposited the ship artistically in the Wairau Lagoons.

Department of Conservation, ‘The Wairau lagoons have formed over the last 6,500 years behind a 8 km-long boulder bank created from gravel and stones washed up the coast by sea currents. Water from the surrounding hills gathers behind the boulder bank and combines with the tide flushing in and out each day. Specialised plants and animals have colonised habitats between the high and low water marks, some of which are more ‘productive’ than the best pasture. There are plenty of birds to see here – a bird book and pair of binoculars would be a useful addition to your equipment.’ Wairau Lagoons Walkway: Blenheim area, Marlborough region

The estuarine conservation area is currently 1576 hectares. The lagoons are shallow with an average depth of 0.5 metres. The area is of national importance due to its ecological value and archaeological story of human habitation.

Wairau Lagoon Boardwalk
Wairau Lagoon Boardwalk
Wairau Lagoons Royal Spoonbill, Marlborough, New Zealand @MarlboroughNZ
Wairau Lagoons Royal Spoonbill @MarlboroughNZ

WAIRAU BOULDER BANK

The boulder bank, a rock spit in Cloudy Bay, creates a sea barrier and  a natural separation for the lagoon. Within the boulder bank and its vicinity significant finds include East Polynesian tools, bones of extinct Moas, excinit water birds, middens, campsites and burial sites.  For visitors interested in the history of the area it is recommended you visit the Marlborough museum for an insight into the finds.

INTERESTING FACT

Human endeavour is evident with a number of pre-European Maori canals dug throughout the estuarine environment assisting water flow for the harvesting of food resources.

Allow up to 3 hours exploring Wairau lagoon and boulder bank.

WAIRAU LAGOON & BAR – DRIFTWOOD ECO-TOURS

The passionate locals who own and operate Driftwood Eco-tours offer unique one of a kind journeys. Join Driftwood Eco-tours for an insightful commentary into the history of Wairau River estuarine world. You might be in luck and spot the majestic Royal Spoonbill feeding in the lagoon while enjoying breakfast in the customised bird hide. Find out about the archeological digs and the recovered artifacts.

Wairau Bar, Marlborough, New Zealand @Keelan Walker
Wairau Bar @Keelan Walker
Oruawairua Walk, Blumine Island, Marlborough, New Zealand @MarlboroughNZ
Oruawairua Walk, Blumine Island @MarlboroughNZ

BLUMINE ISLAND/ORUAWAIRUA (PREDATOR FREE SANCTUARY)

Experience predator free Blumine Island/Oruawairua where native species flourish, WWII military ruins can be explored and stunning views await along the island tracks.

Getting there Blumine Island/Oruawairua lies in Queen Charlotte Sound opposite Endeavour Inlet, approximately 22km from Picton. You can get there with your own boat, by water taxi from Picton or sea kayak. There are no moorings or jetty so you will need to be prepared to anchor your boat and to get wet feet.

Administered by Department of Conservation.

PELORUS BRIDGE SCENIC RESERVE RARE BATS

A top ten place to visit in Marlborough for everyone. The reserve captures the essence of an outdoor holiday experience in New Zealand. It is a must-do for locals and international visitors with a picturesque river and gorgeous original forest and bush surrounding easy to navigate walks. There is an opportunity to enjoy camping in New Zealand in a Department of Conservation site with a cafe at your fingertips and to leisurely stroll to the river for a dip in the deep emerald river swimming holes. Kayaking enthusiasts do not miss out with guided tours of the river that are available on a daily basis in the summer season. For more information check out Pelorus River Scenic Reserve, things to do.

Long-tailed bat at Pelorus, Marlborough, New Zealand @Stuff
Long-tailed bat at Pelorus @Stuff
Dolphins Marlborough Sounds, Marlborough, New Zealand
Dolphins Marlborough Sounds

SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS –  TRENDING

Marine experiences swimming with dolphins, NZ fur seals and whale watching.

E-KO tours are a must. Book an Adventure for Your Soul. The Marlborough Sounds and Picton are one of the last undiscovered areas of New Zealand. E-Ko has been running the best tours in Picton and the Marlborough Sounds on and off the water here for over 15 years, with thousands of happy customers. Unique features of the area include over 1000 square kilometres of predator free islands – great for experiencing wild birds and animals in their natural environment.

INTERESTING FACT

Guarantee you will not get seasick and will provide a full refund if you become sick. The sheltered calm water of the Sounds is the reason why

YEALANDS ESTATE WINERY – FAMILY FUN IN THE VINES

Not your average vineyards. Sustainability is at the heart of Yealands Winery. Massive solar panels indicate a long term commitment to sustainable practices. For visitors discover THE WHITE ROAD. Cycle or walk an award-winning, self-guided tour along The White Road. The 40-minute tour begins at the cellar door and winds through the vineyard, up towards the amazing Lookout Point where on a clear day you can see the North Island. The road then takes you down towards our largest wetland area, Twin Lakes, where you can explore Butterfly Gully, picnic with the over-friendly chickens, listen to the classical music in the vines. Be sure to keep an eye out for our miniature Babydoll sheep and Kunekune pigs close to the winery. You are welcome to walk, cycle or drive the White Road; there are plenty of scenic spots to enjoy a picnic along the way.

Yealands WineryYealands Winery, Marlborough, New Zealand @Jim Tannock @jimtannock
Yealands WineryYealands Winery @Jim Tannock @jimtannock

Karearea | NZ Falcon | Marlborough Birds | Blenheim – trending

Absolutely world-class encounter for lovers of wildlife with an opportunity to taste local wines. Spend time with the falcon at Brancott Estate Heritage Centre.See the rare New Zealand falcon up close and in flight while enjoying a tutored tasting of Brancott Estate Living Land Series wine. Book your Living Land Falcon Encounter now.

The breeding programme run by the Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust is designed to mutually benefit both the Falcon and Marlborough vineyards.

Falcons hunt non-native pest birds and vineyards owners involved in the programme have experienced a notable decrease in the amount of pest birds and related crop damage.

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