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
A regular ferry service has been crossing Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton since 1875.
A regular ferry service has been crossing Raukawa/Cook Strait from Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington to Waitohi/Picton since 1875.
It was run by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, using the identical 462 ton ships Hawea and Taupo. The company’s last ship on the crossing was the 400-passenger Tamahine, which was famous for her permanent list and unsettling corkscrew motion in heavy seas. Despite this, the ferry operated from 1925 to 1962.
By this point, the 350km passenger rail service from Waitohi/Picton and Ōtautahi/Christchurch had been in place for seven years and the Government decided the ferry service should be taken over by the Railways Department. It introduced the country’s first roll-on roll-off rail and vehicle ferry, the Aramoana. Cargo that had taken a day to load now took an hour: This caused a veritable transport revolution and by 1974, coastal shipping had disappeared.
During the 1970s, the Government added three more ships: The Aranui, Arahanga and Aratika. The Arahura, introduced in 1983, sailed until 2015. The ferries’ trademark dolphin logo was introduced in the 1980s and depicts famous Marlborough Sounds dolphin Pelorus Jack, which for 25 years escorted Raukawa/Cook Strait ships.
New Zealand railways were privatised in 1993 and bought by Americans. The railways were rebranded as Tranz Rail, and the ships were marketed as “Interislander” ferries. In the mid 1990s, attempts were made to shorten the 3-hour plus journey across the strait with fast catamarans. The privately-owned Top Cat proved unreliable and the Interislander’s own attempt, The Lynx, had a huge wake that tore up the Marlborough Sounds coastline. In 2005, after a public campaign to remove the fast ferries, the last one was withdrawn.
In 2006 Raukawa/Cook Strait freight shipping company Strait Shipping started its own passenger ferry service, the Bluebridge. Today both the Interislander and Bluebridge ferries make daily crossings both ways across the Raukawa/Cook Strait.