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
Ōpaoa River Heritage
The Ōpaoa River, which runs through Te Waiharakeke/Blenheim, has been an important food source and transport lifeline for both Māori and Pakeha.
A pou whenua at the entrance to the town’s new bridge over the river, opened in 2020, represents the tūpuna (ancestors) of local Māori, as well as the formation of the Wairau Valley. Interpretation panels tell the town and region’s shared stories.
For Ngāti Rarua, the river was an integral part of day-to-day life. It was called the ‘Ōpaoa’, which for both Ngāti Rārua and Rangitāne translated to smoking, or smokey river, describing the mist that rose from its waters.
The Ōpaoa was originally a branch of the Wairau River, but in 1880 it was cut off near Renwick. For the Wairau’s early European settlers, the river was a vital transport link that brought food and supplies to the new settlement of Blenheim.
Marlborough’s port and some residents were initially based at the Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau Bar, as ships were unable to cross the bar and enter the river. Goods that did travel to Blenheim, at the confluence of the Ōpaoa and Omaka (now Taylor) Rivers, were taken on whaleboats towed by horses walking along the riverbank.
In 1855, everything changed. A major earthquake in the North Island’s Wairarapa region caused the Wairau Lagoons to subside, allowing larger vessels to cross the bar and travel the entire 20km inland journey to Blenheim.
From 1860, it was realised even larger vessels could travel the Ōpaoa, and trading vessels sailed between cities. This inevitably resulted in problems for some of them; the ship Echo grounded on the mud bank briefly in 1965.
Raukawa/Cook Strait transport today has moved away from the Ōpaoa River to the ferry companies based in Picton, and airlines providing daily flights to Marlborough Airport and Picton Aerodrome.
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