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Top of South Island, New Zealand

In New Zealand, jaw-dropping beauty sits around every corner. Remote beaches and far-flung lands are commonplace, and yet exceptional. It’s a place where people who live here today still feel tied to ancestors who arrived over 800 years ago. That said, the locals eagerly share their unique culture with anyone arriving with an open mind and heart. It’s truly a destination known as a place of belonging. See why the top of south island of New Zealand is a place to love.

Behind the Scenes from the Top of the South Island!

Want to learn more about what happened behind the scenes on this episode? Check out my Facebook Live session I did all about this New Zealand episode.



Top Of South Island, New Zealand - Samantha Brown

The wine that put New Zealand on the map

One of the first ways I learned about New Zealand came in a glass. Specifically, a wine glass. The Marlborough region is known for its signature wine—sauvignon blanc. This refreshing, briny drink put New Zealand on the map, so to speak. But tasting it on its own terroir? That’s really something special. I visited Brancott Vineyward, the first place to grow this famous grape regionally, with chief winemaker Jamie MarfellNot only will a trip here include excellent wine, but you’ll enjoy sweeping views of Marlborough.


Explore the vineyard by bicycle! Your tour winds through the vineyard, led by an informative and experienced guide. This is a unique opportunity to learn about the viticulture process behind the making of Brancott Estate wines, followed by a premium tasting.

Learn more

Brancott Vineyard
180 Brancott Road
Marlborough, New Zealand

Top Of South Island, New Zealand - Samantha Brown

Wine with a history

Talk about roots: winemaker Haysley MacDonald’s family arrived on this piece of land 800 years ago. For almost a millennia, they’ve worked the land, growing crops and raising sheep and beef. However, in 2003 that Haysley planted the property’s first grape vines. In 2011, te Pā Wines launched to critical acclaim. I have to say, the taste of the wine is just as spectacular as the surroundings. The vineyard stretches down to Cloudy Bay, making it a unique confluence of bounty and beauty. Enjoy some of their bright, briny wine with local seafood, plucked right from the nearby water.

If you go

The indigenous Māori people made the Wairau Bar their home around 1350, becoming the earliest known settlement in New Zealand. The MacDonald family, descendants of the original tribe who arrived in 1350, still call the Wairau Bar home.


te Pā Wines
515 Wairau Bar Road
R.D.3 Blenheim
South Island, New Zealand

Top Of South Island, New Zealand - Samantha Brown

You’ve Got Mail

I’ve always thought being a mail carrier would be a great job—you get fresh air, exercise and don’t have to take your work home with you. But in New Zealand, this job gets even cooler—Fern Ritchie delivers mail via boat, and I got to join her. I hopped aboard the Pelorus Mail Boat, a real working mail boat that cruises the breathtaking Marlborough Sounds. This boat has been delivering mail, groceries and crucial supplies to isolated homesteads nestled in the quiet, secluded bays of the Pelorus Sounds. Along the way, we explored hidden bays and coves, learned the fascinating history of the characters who live tucked away from the world, getting up close and personal with local wildlife along the way.


Yes, you too can ride in this glorious mail boat. It runs year-round, delivering mail and supplies three days a week in the winter, and six days a week in the summer. All cruises depart from Havelock (30 minutes from Blenheim, one hour from Nelson).


Pelorus Mail Boat
Pier B
Havelock Marina
Havelock, Marlborough

Top Of South Island, New Zealand - Samantha Brown

Mills Bay Mussels

As a born and bred New Englander, I love my seafood. But I’d never seen anything quite like the greenshell mussels of New Zealand. The best place to enjoy them? At Mills Bay Mussels, mere steps from the waters where they were harvested. Big, briny, and fresh from the sea, these Marlborough delicacies are hand graded, packed, and prepared by the family that grows them in the sound. Visit their tasting room & eatery in the Havelock Marina, right at the front of their packhouse. Try them raw, smoked, steamed, grilled, beer battered—any which way you like!


Get the tasting platter and try the mussels in all sorts of preparations.

More info

Mills Bay Mussels
23a Inglis St
Havelock 7100
Phone: 03 574 2575

Clothing as art

For most of us, clothes are simply things we put on every day. But for Dame Suzie Moncreiff, clothing is an art form. She’s the creator of the World of WearableArt, a museum showcasing a stunning selection of more than 50 wearable art garments. These intricate, imaginative creations come from the World of WearableArt Exhibition, an annual contest celebrating designers from around the globe. While there’s certainly something special about seeing these wearable pieces on a human body, visiting the exhibition allows you to get up close and see these incredible works of art in detail.


The World of WearableArt shares a space with a museum showcasing 140 vintage cars. The Classic Car Collection displays a stunning range of cars dating from 1908, all in immaculate condition.


World of WearableArt Museum
1 Cadillac Way
Nelson, New Zealand
For more information visit

Top Of South Island, New Zealand - Samantha Brown

Taking Back the Beach

New Zealanders are known for their dedication to environmental conservation. That said, in 2016 two Kiwis took things a bit farther when they started a crowdfunding campaign to buy a stretch of Awaroa beach, fearing it could be purchased by developers or owners who would deny locals access to the beach. In a major triumph for people power, the New Zealand public donated over two million dollars, purchased the beach and ceded it into Abel Tasman National Park. Part of the beach’s charm lies in its isolation – you have to make an effort to enjoy the splendour. A one-way boat trip to Awaroa from Kaiteriteri, or Marahau costs about $40, or $25 for the short boat ride from Totaranui at the northern end of the park.


The beach is a bit remote, so consider spending a night or two at the Awaroa Lodge, located a short walk inland from the main beach front.


Awaroa Bay – Abel Tasman National Park
7183, New Zealand

Top Of South Island, New Zealand - Samantha Brown

A Hollywood ending to an epic trip

When it comes to riding in a helicopter, experience is key. That’s just one of the reasons I loved flying with Toby Reid, a third generation helicopter pilot with over 13 years’ experience. (Fun fact: Bill Reid, Toby’s father, was Sir Peter Jackson’s personal helicopter pilot during the location scouting of Lord of the Rings and discovered the Mt. Olympus location himself!) Toby took me to both Awaroa Beach, as well as a site fit for Hollywood– Mt. Olympus– featured in the first Lord of the Rings movie. There truly is something otherworldly about this place. It’s quiet, aside from chirping kiwi birds and the sound of distant waterfalls, with craggy-topped mountains rambling down to lush green pastures. No trip here would be complete without visiting the rock formation, Hand of God. It’ll leave you feeling like maybe you really are in Middle Earth.

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Helicopters Nelson offers a variety of excursions, to full-on Lord of the Rings tours to more nature and outdoor adventure-driven trips. You can even opt for a heli-bike or heli-yoga trip, which delivers you to epic, hard-to-get-to spots to enjoy your favorite activity.


Helicopters Nelson
256 Eighty Eight Valley Road
Nelson, New Zealand
+64 (03) 541 9530

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