Marlborough has a well deserved reputation as a great destination, with its fine wine, mild climate, and the beauty of the Marlborough Sounds, however tourist guides can miss some hidden treasures. Tourist guide books tend to be aimed at paying visitors, but sometimes roughing it can provide opportunities to discover places of amazing beauty that relatively few people visit.
Usually over the summer holiday period I leave Marlborough and head off to explore other parts of New Zealand, however with a summer of unsettled weather, I spent more time close to home than usual, and as a result discovered some wonderful local gems.
First up, on New Year's day I headed up the Waihopai Valley and then off into the Avon Valley for a mountain bike ride and tramp to Lake Alexander. Access is via private farm land which possibly explains why the area is not so well known, although it is popular with hunters. The area is very rugged, and frequent stream crossings are not optional, but in spite of wet feet, and a narrow, steep track, the walk through lush native forest to arrive at a tranquil alpine lake was worth the effort.
At the other end of the scale, the Marlborough Sounds are an area that are easy to take for granted, as they are such a defining feature of Marlborough, yet they cover such an extensive area that you almost need to be a local to be able to explore them properly. A boat is definitely helpful, but whether you explore by boat or by road, the Marlborough Sounds require months, not days to explore if you want to gain more than a superficial overview.
White's Bay is popular as the closest swimming beach to Blenheim, however most people drive. I took the opportunity to leave the car at Rarangi, and walked. The views are spectacular, and although part of the track follows the road, you can stop to admire the view in a way that would be impossible in a car.
On the hottest day of the year to date, hitting 34ºC I wanted to go to the beach to cool off, but thought White's Bay was a bit too ordinary. Instead of the south eastern end of the Sounds I decided to head in the opposite direction and ended up at Okiwi Bay. This spot probably is on a few tourist maps, as there is a holiday park and numerous holiday homes that are availble for rent. What stood out for me was the fact that last time I visited Okiwi Bay, I was a young child, yet it's not as though I had little contact with the Marlborough Sounds in the intervening years, just that it's easy to have favourite spots and with such a large area, it's easy to forget great parts of Marlborough that are a bit further afield.
2011 brings with it continuing concerns about the global economy, and the perennial low wages in Marlborough might be cause to feel depressed. On the other hand, if you ignore all the advertising for new must-have gadgets and home appliances and get together with family or friends and get out amongst the diversity that is Marlborough, you'll find it's possible to have fun and be inspired without needing to spend a fortune.