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
Molesworth Station, in South Marlborough’s high country, is New Zealand’s largest farm. Each summer, many visitors travel through the 180,787 hectare station to enjoy its magnificent surrounds, but also to learn of its fascinating history.
The route across the Molesworth Station is one that was historically travelled by Ngāi Tahu Māori for food gathering, usually in the summer months, or on their way to the West Coast to source greenstone (pounamu), camping along the way. There were no permanent Māori settlements on the route, but in 1850 an old whare (house) was found near the junction of the Acheron and Clarence Rivers.
Māori who taught early European settlers of the high country route, and farmers began taking their stock over the high passes. From the 1850s, the Molesworth became part of the main inland connection between Nelson Marlborough and North Canterbury, called the Canterbury Track. The Molesworth farm itself was created after the Crown amalgamated of three extensive pastoral leases: St Helens (including the Dillon Run), Tarndale and Molesworth. These farms fell into Crown hands in 1938 and 1949 after their runholders walked off the land, exhausted by a severe rabbit problem, overgrazing on eroding land and severe snowfalls. Through the 1950s and 60s the Government recovered the land, which today continues to be farmed under administration of the Department of Conservation on behalf of the Crown.
Acheron Accommodation House
A number of cob houses were built along the route to house stock drovers. The Acheron Accommodation House, also known as the Clarence Accommodation House, is the only one left today, and is open to the public as a heritage site, with information panels. It was built in 1863 by Ned James, a ships carpenter and station hand known for also building cob buildings. He took nearly a year to build the eight-roomed house. The house grew into a social hub. It included a store and unofficial post office and became a venue for a number of local clubs and meetings. Once its proprietor, Ernie Tozier, died in 1932, the house became used less often and was abandoned in 1954. It has now been restored and, along with the Molesworth Cob Cottage (also open to the public), is registered with the Pouhere Taonga Heritage New Zealand.
Travel the Molesworth
The Acheron Road is open from Labour Weekend to around Easter, though it can be closed at any point by the Department of Conservation if the fire risk is too high in the hot summer months. The unsealed road is not suitable for large vehicles, but can be driven by 2-wheel-drive vehicles. The Molesworth is accessed from the Awatere Valley, via Rainbow Station (4WD only, over private land for a fee) and from Hanmer Springs. Camping is available at several locations including alongside the Molesworth Cob Cottage and Acheron Historic Accommodation House.