The spectacular Marlborough region of New Zealand – and a fabulous recipe for Peperonata Couscous!

When my husband and I moved to New Zealand from the UK we looked forward to the time when family and friends would head Down Under to visit. It took some years before my husband’s sister and brother-in-law were able to come out. That made it all the more exciting – and challenging for us! We thought long and hard about where we would take them and which parts of the country they would most enjoy.

We were quite certain that there had to be a trip to the South Island. Although an obvious first choice is Queenstown and that area, we settled instead on Nelson and the Marlborough region. It’s a fabulous part of the country and Nelson is so perfectly situated, granting the town a climate to envy and an entryway to the stunning Abel Tasman.

We were fortunate to have a brilliantly clear day for our flight down to Nelson. Try if you can to get a window seat. The views as you cross Cook Strait and fly over the Marlborough Sounds are nothing short of spectacular.

For our first full day in sunny Marlborough we decided to drive to Picton and take a cruise on the Queen Charlotte Sound. If you’ve never driven the scenic route from Nelson to Picton before it is well worth navigating the twists and turns as Queen Charlotte Drive winds through the Marlborough Sounds. And if you’re feeling peckish, make a stop in the small town of Havelock and pop into The Mussel Pot Café where you can enjoy the very delicious Green Lip mussels the region is famous for.

As we neared Picton I began to track carefully the brooding clouds that were moving in. When we got to Picton and stepped out of the car it was actually quite cool, with a light shower falling. “But this is February!” I cried with frustration. You must understand that the pressure of delivering stellar weather is doubled when your guests are English. They’re used to holidaying in the likes of Spain and the Greek Islands where the weather is all but guaranteed. New Zealand may have many things going for it but guaranteed weather is not one of them. As we started to put on jackets and cardigans I had a horrible sinking feeling. This is going to be a disaster!

But the most incredible thing happened. By the time our ferry was cruising out into the Queen Charlotte Sound the clouds vanished, the sun shone, the water sparkled and we got to see the sound in all its shimmering glory. Of course it would be beautiful clouds or not but I do think it’s particularly perfect on a cloudless day.

Day 1 – success!

Day 2 and how to compete with the Queen Charlotte Sound? We took a drive to Kaiterteri, the home of one of the country’s most famous beaches. My husband and I had been kayaking some years before in the Abel Tasman and we thought it was an experience not to be missed.

You need never have kayaked before. Just head down to the beach and look for the line up of kayaks. They’ll take great care of you and give you plenty of help and instruction before you head out.

We were lucky to have a perfect day and the sea was relatively calm. Our kayaks sliced through the serene blue waters as we paddled up to beaches that were stunning by anyone’s standards. The stretches of golden sand had the most incredible backdrop courtesy of the native bush that surrounded them. Often the beaches would be empty – barely a soul on them. It was so peaceful. We felt a million miles away from all the hustle and bustle of normal life.

When we returned my sister-in-law was keen to get in some beach time to work on her tan – and what a beach! Kaiteriteri really is quite spectacular as beaches go. When the photographs of the day hit Facebook that evening they were in stark contrast to posts going up from our friends and family in the UK. We were sunning ourselves on golden beaches while they were wrapped up to ward off a cold English winter.

Kaiteriteri 4

Day 2 – success!

Day 3 and something different. Although the Marlborough region is undoubtedly known for its stunning scenery and beaches, it is also famous for its vineyards and wineries. We thought a trip to Marlborough wasn’t complete without a visit to a local winery. We chose Seifried Estate, one of the oldest family wineries in the South Island.

Nelson delivered another stunning day for our visit. We started with a spot of wine tasting (and purchasing!) at the cellar door and then were shown outside to a glorious area where we could lunch al fresco among the vines. Beautiful food; beautiful wine; beautiful day. It was kind of perfect actually.

Day 3 – success!

Day 4 and it was time to go home. Sigh. But what an amazing few days we had and what a fabulous introduction to the South Island for our family.

So if you are heading to the South Island the Marlborough region is definitely worth a visit. No matter your interests there is something for everyone. And for those of you living abroad who hear stories of New Zealand’s outstanding beauty, the Marlborough region is a perfect example. Yes, my country really is that beautiful.

Do it now – put New Zealand on your list of must-see places!


Okay, recipe time. This week I have a recipe that I am particularly eager to share because it will make life in the kitchen that little bit easier, especially on a busy mid-week evening.

For years I have been making peperonata, that delicious stew with onions, peppers and tomatoes. I absolutely adore peppers (or capsicums as they are known in New Zealand) and it makes a sensational side dish. One day I decided to take it a step further and made a version with couscous. I had some fresh salmon fillets and thought they would go nicely. The result was the most delicious dinner and has become one of my husband’s all-time favourites.

The reasons that this recipe will make your life easier in the kitchen are threefold. It is quick and easy, is made in one pot and goes with absolutely everything. Yes, everything! Whether you’re cooking chicken, lamb, fish, seafood, this will compliment it perfectly. It is beautiful to the eye and full of goodness with the peppers, the tomatoes and the spinach. In short, it hits every note for a delicious, well-balanced and nutritious meal.

You’ll see below I’ve noted you can use a tin of tomatoes in place of fresh tomatoes. During the winter months when tomatoes are an exorbitant price and not at their best I would actually recommend that you use a tin of tomatoes. But at the height of summer when they’re delicious and cheap as chips, fresh tomatoes are lovely to use here. But over to you.

As for the spinach, don’t take too much notice of the weight I’ve specified. You can add as much or as little spinach as you like (although remember that it reduces greatly once cooked). I happen to love spinach and it’s a fantastic way to get a hit of green goodness into the dish.

Please, please try it. You won’t look back and will return to the recipe time and again.


Peperonata Couscous with Pan-seared Salmon

Serves 4


2 tbsp olive oil

1 x onion, sliced thinly

1 x red pepper (capsicum), sliced

1 x yellow pepper (capsicum), sliced

1 tsp turmeric

Pinch of chilli flakes

4 x good-sized tomatoes, diced (or 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes)

Salt and pepper, to taste

120g couscous

120ml boiling water

80g baby spinach leaves


4 x salmon fillets


Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pan and add the sliced onion. Sauté the onions until they’re soft and translucent and then add the sliced peppers. Stir through the onions and cook until they’ve softened slightly – this should only take a few minutes.

Add the turmeric and chill flakes and stir through, cooking off the spices for a minute or so before adding the tomatoes. Stir well, then lower the heat and simmer the sauce for 20-30 minutes until the peppers are tender and the tomatoes have reduced and thickened.

While the peperonata is simmering, bring the kettle to the boil. Measure the couscous into a bowl and add the boiling water. Now cover with cling film (or a plate that fits firmly) and leave for a good five minutes. The water should be completely absorbed and the couscous will have swelled. Stir through with a fork to separate the tiny grains.

Once the peperonata is ready, season with salt and pepper and taste to check you’re happy. Now add the couscous and stir it through. Finally, add the spinach leaves and stir through until just wilted.

Now you’re ready to serve. You’ll see below I’ve pan-seared a beautiful ocean salmon fillet to go with, which takes nothing more than a pan over a medium heat, a touch of seasoning, a dash of olive oil and cooking on each side until it’s done to your liking (keep the skin on while cooking – you can remove it later). You can be doing this while the peperonata is cooking.

But as I’ve said above, this couscous would also be fantastic with lovely lamb loins, a griddled chicken breast, some juicy prawns – or keep it meat-free and griddle some deliciously salty haloumi to go with. Versatility is the name of the game here!

One small tip that I thought I’d like to share as I was cooking my salmon – when you are pan-searing fish or meat, always oil the meat, not the pan. It minimises that ghastly spitting that means tedious cleaning of the hob later.

Time to eat!



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