Heritage, Culture & Arts
Marlborough’s rich history runs wide and deep, from the earliest Polynesian settlers on Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau, Bar to the European pioneers who built towns and planted our first grapevines.
These people, the way they lived, and how they dealt with history’s major events has shaped Marlborough into what it is today.
Those stories are all here, waiting to be discovered all over again in the places where they happened or in our galleries, museums, art and theatre productions.
Marlborough has been at the centre of important historical aviation events on many occasions, on both a national and international scale. That legacy continues strongly today, with the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre at its heart.
Much of Marlborough’s history has been preserved, or restored, exactly where events happened. From Meretoto/Ship Cove, the site of Captain James Cook’s frequent Marlborough visits and first encounters between Māori and Europeans, to the remains of the Perano Whaling Station, the wooden immigrant ship Edwin Fox and the ancient fortified pā of Te Rae o Karaka/Karaka Point, you can learn more about, and visit, these historic sites.
With almost 4,000km² of coastline in the Marlborough Sounds alone, our region has played an integral role in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s maritime history. From the earliest known Māori settlers to arrive on our shores to a thriving whaling industry, and the many ships that wrecked along our rugged coastline, there are countless tales from the sea.
Long before Marlborough’s world famous wine industry took hold, the land provided for its people in many ways. Read how early Māori thrived around the plentiful riches of the Wairau Lagoons, how flax was turned into money and how Te Waiharakeke/Blenheim received its first nickname, Beavertown.
Did you know the man who split the nuclear atom was schooled in Motuweka/Havelock? Woven throughout our history are many intriguing stories of those who lived in times gone by and created Marlborough as we know it today.
Underpinning our nation’s early beginnings are the ancient stories, legends and myths passed down through generations of Māori. Here is a selection of the legends that describe how Marlborough came to be.
From Rai Valley to Ward, each Marlborough settlement had its own fascinating and unique beginnings. Learn about the heritage of our villages and towns.
Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku, New Zealand's largest peak outside the Southern Alps, is the sacred mountain of local Marlborough Maori iwi and a visible symbol of the rich tapestry of Marlborough's culture. The annual Marlborough Book Festival forms one of these vibrant threads.
Discover Marlborough's culture
Marlborough is home to a host of artisans, public art, galleries, musicians and theatre performances. Join the Marlborough Arts and Crafts Trail, check out the Artisan Market on Saturdays, and watch local performances.
Marlborough's Arts guide
- Classic Fighters Airshow
- Marlborough Airport Heritage
- Omaka Aerodrome Heritage
- Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
- Picton Airport Heritage
- Arapaoa Island
- Te Aumiti/French Pass Heritage
- Te Pākeka/Maud Island Heritage
- Te Pokohiwi/Wairau Bar Heritage
- Te Rae o Karaka/Karaka Point Heritage
- Kākāpō Bay Cemetery Heritage
- Horahora Kākahu Island Heritage
- Molesworth Station Heritage
- Te Hoiere/Pelorus Heritage
- Mt Taupae-o-Uenuku
- Perano Whaling Station
- Meretoto/Ship Cove Heritage
- Wairau Affray Heritage
- Wairau and Waikārapi/Vernon Lagoons Heritage
- The Edwin Fox
- Te Karaka/Cape Campbell Heritage
- Te Taonui-o-Kupe/Cape Jackson Heritage
- Raukawa/Cook Strait Ferries Heritage
- Mikhail Lermentov Heritage
- Ōpaoa River Heritage
- Pelorus Jack Heritage
- Wine Heritage
- Antimony Mining Heritage
- Farming Heritage
- Gold Mining Heritage
- Arthur Clouston
- Sir Edward Chaytor
- Captain Cook
- Sir Edmund Hillary
- Elizabeth Lissaman
- Lord Ernest Rutherford
- James Sinclair
- Awarua/Spring Creek Heritage
- Te Waiharakeke/Blenheim Heritage
- Motuweka/Havelock Heritage
- Waitohi/Picton Heritage
- Rai Valley Heritage
- Renwick Heritage
- Seddon Heritage
- Ward Heritage
Beryl Bowers Events Coordinator
"I am so lucky to live here with the mountains and the bush clad hills reaching the sea. The beauty of this region is amazing and nowhere else in the world have I seen such stunning scenery."My insider guide to Marlborough
On the northern side of Tory Channel/Kura Te Au, the eastern entrance to the Marlborough Sounds used by the Cook Strait ferries, is Arapaoa Island. At 75km2, and a mix of private and public land, it is the second-largest island in the Marlborough Sounds.
Arapaoa Island is significant to local iwi Te Atiawa, whose tūpuna (ancestors) settled there before moving to Waitohi/Picton or Waikawa. According to Māori legend, Arapaoa Island was the scene of the violent battle between Polynesian navigator Kupe and Te Wheke-o-Muturangi, a giant octopus which Kupe pursued from Hawaiiki and killed. As they fought in Raukawa/Cook Strait, Wheke tried to anchor himself to the earth and gouged out the Marlborough Sounds.
Arapaoa translates to downward blow, referring to the blow Kupe used to kill Te Wheke o Maturangi, and ending the fight. The legend is depicted on a carved pouwhenua at Karaka Point, near Picton.
Just offshore from Arapaoa Island, the Brothers Islands/Ngāwhatu-kai-ponu (eyes that witnessed), refers to the eyeballs from the octopus.
Arapaoa has its own feral sheep and rare goat population, the origins and exact breed of which remain in question. Both are thought to have arrived either in the times of Captain Cook in the 1770s or around a century later by whalers.
The island was also a major base during Marlborough’s whaling years. In 1827, John Guard built a shore station at Te Awaiti and from 1911 to 1964 the Perano whaling station at Whekenui Bay was the base for hunting humpback whales.
More recently, Marlborough’s former whalers returned to the island to count migrating whales as part of an annual conservation survey. Today, the Perano Whaling Station is an historic site and visitors can stay on Arapaoa Island in some of its historic buildings, and see a paua farm.
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