Marlborough’s rich history runs wide and deep, from the earliest Polynesian settlers of the Wairau Bar to the first European pioneers who built our towns and planted our first grapevines.
These people, the way they lived their lives 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.
Marlborough has a wealth of arts and culture, from art galleries to museums through to concerts and theatre productions.
Follow the Marlborough Arts and Crafts Trail, enjoy a glass of wine while listening to live music at a vineyard or on stage at Marlborough's new ASB Theatre.
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 it happened. Think Ship Cove, the site of Captain James Cook’s frequent Marlborough visits; the remains of the Perano Whaling Station; the ancient fortified pa of Karaka Point; the wooden immigrant ship Edwin Fox. Learn more about these historic sites.
With almost 4,000km² of coastline in the Marlborough Sounds alone, our region has played an integral role in New Zealand’s maritime history. From a thriving whaling industry to the many ships that wrecked along our rugged shores, 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 Blenheim/Te Waiharakeke received its first nickname, Beavertown.
Did you know the man who split the nuclear atom was schooled in 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
- Marlborough Airport Heritage
- Omaka Aerodrome Heritage
- Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
- Picton Airport Heritage
- Maud Island Heritage
- Wairau Bar Heritage
- Pelorus Heritage
- Karaka Point Heritage
- Kakapo Bay Cemetary Heritage
- Horahora Kakahu Island Heritage
- Molesworth Station Heritage
- Mt Taupae-o-Uenuku
- Perano Whaling Station
- Ship Cove/Meretoto Heritage
- Wairau Affray Heritage
- Wairau Lagoons Heritage
- Cape Campbell Heritage
- Cape Jackson Heritage
- Cook Strait Ferries Heritage
- Mikhail Lermentov Heritage
- Opaoa 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
- Blenheim Heritage
- Havelock Heritage
- Picton Heritage
- Rai Valley Heritage
- Renwick Heritage
- Seddon Heritage
- Ward Heritage
Nick Gerritsen National Whale Centre chair
“Marlborough has a really unique story to tell”.My insider guide to Marlborough
Scotsman James Sinclair has been credited with being the most important of the founding fathers of Blenheim.
He didn’t just build the first house in town, but ended up owning a significant portion of it, earning the nickname “King of the Beaver”.
In those days, Blenheim was often called The Beaver, Beaverton or Beaver Town because of its tendency to flood.
Sinclair, born in 1817, travelled to New Zealand in 1852 and arrived in Marlborough via Wellington and Nelson. He first ran the Beaver Inn and then the Victoria Hotel on the convergence of the Omaka (Taylor) and Opawa Rivers.
He became the land agent in charge of marketing, trading 15-acre blocks, and opened a store where he acted as both banker and merchant to pastoral runholders.
He reportedly gained the confidence of both settlers and Māori through honesty and firmness. This was especially important after the tragedy of the Wairau Affray in 1848.
Sinclair’s land holdings eventually included a wharf, wharf shed, stock yards, his own house, the hotel, the first courthouse and police station, Marlborough Provincial Council Office and a hall for hire.
These were all, unsurprisingly, located on Sinclair St.
Sinclair was also known for his instrumental role in separating Marlborough Province from Nelson, and in establishing Blenheim as Marlborough’s capital. Coincidentally he was born on 1 November - the same day as Marlborough's Anniversary Day public holiday.