Marlborough’s history is layered with rich stories, significant for all of New Zealand and fascinating in the global context.
The country’s first known Polynesian settlement site was at the Wairau Boulder Bank in the late 1200s AD, about which more is being gleaned through ongoing archeological research.
Captain Cook’s favourite anchorage at Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds was an important site for the meeting of two cultures, and the sounds were later to become home to some of the first European settlers, who set out in small boats to chase enormous whales.
Meanwhile on land, hardy farmers, foresters and gold miners sought to make a living from the natural resources of the hills and valleys.
Explore these and other stories of our heritage at the Marlborough Museum, Havelock Museum, and at the National Whale Centre in Picton, or visit sites like Ship Cove and the Perano Whaling Station in the Marlborough Sounds.
Farming landscapes like Cape Campbell and Molesworth Station in the Awatere Valley are home to valuable remnants of their earliest settlers, while the sacred Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku, rich in Maori legend, stands sentry on the landscape.
The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is another icon of Marlborough heritage, with its world class display of World War One aircraft.
It’s a province full of inspiring stories, says Steve Austin, the chief executive of Marlborough Museum. “Heritage is a thread that runs through every aspect of our landscape and community.”
Explore the unique experience of the Edwin Fox, built in 1853.
The ship is on permanent display in Picton, where you can learn about its round the world adventures, including as a troop carrier and a convict transporter. The hull of the ship, as well as replica cabins, are displayed next to a museum of artifacts, and their context.
This ship’s international significance and family friendly fun make it a must-see attraction.
Step inside this beautifully restored church to experience the story of the Havelock area's rich resources, its geographical challenges, and how these have shaped the character of the community. Exhibitions include the history of the timber industry.
The Marlborough Museum is in Brayshaw Park, where vintage cars and machinery are near to Beavertown, a replica street scene from around 1900. The museum has a number of fascinating exhibitions, including Te Pokohiwi - The Wairau Bar 1250, The Wine Exhibition, an excellent introduction to wine in Marlborough, and European Settler History.
National Whale Centre
The stories of whales in Marlborough begin with their significance to the Maori culture, and grow to include whaling in Kaikoura and the Marlborough Sounds, and from there to whale conservation, and research into the wider marine environment. All these stories are on display at the National Whale Centre’s information hub in Picton, a bright and modern space devoted to the past and future of this amazing creature.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is world renowned for its ability to bring war stories to life, with scenes recreating actual incidents, and a collection of planes and paraphenalia like no other. Some of the displays, like the Fokker Triplanes, are still wheeled out for flight, ensuring the museum is one of living history.
The Picton Museum has a collection of some 2000 items of Maori, Whaling, Maritime, Heritage and Textile displays. The Museum is built on the site of the original Waitohi Pa and local iwi are supportive of the Museum being on this important site. It is affiliated with "Museums of Aotearoa" and has good contacts with other regional and national museums.
Ship Cove/Meretoto is recognised as Captain James Cook’s favourite New Zealand base.
In all, his expeditions spent 170 days at the anchorage between his first visit in January 1770 and final departure during his last voyage in February 1777. It was during these visits that some of the earliest sustained contact between Maori and European took place.
As well as gleaning fascinating information at the site, it’s possible to imagine yourself there 240 years ago, surrounded by sea, native bush and birdsong.
An area at Tua Marina commemorates The Wairau Affray of June 17, 1843, a significant part of New Zealand history.
This first armed battle between Māori and the British settlers took place after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. A total of 22 Europeans and four to six Māori were killed. The actions of the New Zealand Company were found to be illegal, and without ethics basis, in the inquiry immediately following the tragedy.
The site has recently been part of the settlement with Ngati Toa, in recognition of the injustice behind the unfortunate events.
Perano Whaling Station
The Perano family began whaling in the Marlborough Sounds more than a century ago, and in 1924 Joe Perano senior established the Perano Whaling Station on Arapawa Island in the outer reaches of the Queen Charlotte Sound. When it closed in 1964 it was the last shore whaling station in New Zealand.
Now, thanks to the Department of Conservation, it has been restored as a piece of Marlborough’s history. Travel out by boat to glean some idea of the hardships of life at the whaling station.
Some of our favourite things to do in and around Marlborough.