Clifford bay is located at the eastern entrance to Cook Strait and is the location of some of Marlborough's rarest plants. To the north are White Cliffs which separate it from Coudy Bay while to the east the bay curves around to Cape Campbell. Near White Cliffs the Awatere river flows into the sea depositing volcanic rocks and gravels which catch in the nwestward drifting current and are deposited along the eastern end of Cloudy Bay. Most of the beaches are unstable and sandy but towards the east the sand gives way to rocky shore line hosting a more diverse range of species. Although not richly endowed with sea life Clifford Bay is a regular stop over for a range species including migating whales and three species of dolphins. Thoughout most of the bay kahawai, flat fish and dogfish are fairly common but towards the east where a more stable shore line supports denser kelp beds and a greater range of shellfish, tarakihi, red cod, hapuku, groper and jack mackerel are also found.
What Clifford Bay may lack in sea species is by far made up for on the land. In pre historic times the area supported a diverse array of birds including the now exinct adze bill and giant eagle. Today, even though almost all of the forest has been cleared, and all the forest birds are long gone, there still remain patches of original scrub containing the rare native broom, chordospartium muritai and senecio hauwai. The sand dune environment is one of the most pristine in Marlborough with extensive patches Pingao Desmoshoenus spiralis, Spinifex hirsutusand other salt tolerant species. Nearly 50 species of birds have been sighted in the area and several species of lizards can be found on the cliffs.
Behind the dunes New Zealand's only solar salt production area refines salt from the extensively modified Lake Grassmere.
At various points in time proposals have arisen to move the interisland ferry terminal from Picton to Clifford Bay to reduce the travelling time across Cook Strait, and rail travel time to Christchurch. The most recent study was undertaken by the National Government under Transport Minister, Gerry Brownlee, with a feasibility study commissioned to investigate building a port begun in 2011. In late 2013 the report was released and concluded that the port was not economically viable as the costs to build were much higher than initially estimated.
On August 16 2013 the area was hit by a severe magnitude 6.6 earthquake and a large number of aftershocks, with the strongest tremor occuring on land, but many of the aftershocks occuring at sea.