A beautiful kayak tour down Marlborough’s Opawa River

Meet incredible birdlife amid stunning scenery on a gentle kayak down Marlborough’s Opawa River. Written by Sophie Preece of Marlborough.

Driftwood Eco-Tours runs personalised kayak and walking tours at the Wairau Lagoons, sharing their intimate knowledge of these beautiful waterways.

On a calm spring morning, owner and guide Will Parsons leads our tiny group down the Opawa River, within metres of majestic royal spoonbills in their “Hiawatha” mating plumage. The birds preen their newfound mates and work in teams to stir up the river bed with their aptly named bills, dining on the delicacies beneath.

Will points out gatherings of precious godwits, which spend spring and summer at the lagoons, fattening up for an incredible 12,000km migration to the Arctic Circle. These are just two of the 90 species of birds that live here, attracted by 2400 hectares of wetland and waterway at the heart of Marlborough.

We disembark at a sandy spit, to sit in a rustic mai-mai overlooking the Wairau Bar, eating delicious home baking, sipping hot tea and hearing about New Zealand’s first migration, which saw Maori land here around 700 years ago and of the men who hunted moa at the lagoons.

Centuries after that first settlement, boats plied the river, carting goods in and flax out of Blenheim. Reminders of that time – from the wreck of the Waverley to the remnants of an eel smoker, are revealed along the way.

Returning from our wonderful journey we are welcomed by Will’s wife Rose, who takes us to the gorgeous eco retreat at the edge of their own wetland. The two bedroom architecturally designed haven is the ultimate get away, and we end the day with a glass of Marlborough pinot noir, looking out over this spectacular slice of Marlborough.
For more information of Driftwood Eco-Tours, visit the website here.