Heritage, Culture & Arts

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.

Pelorus Heritage

The place where the Rai River pours into the Pelorus is called Titi raukawa: Where the two waters meet.

This is where, 1000 years ago, local iwi Ngati Kuia's oldest tupuna (ancestor) Matua Hotere tied up his waka after a long journey from Hawaiki, across Cook Strait and up Pelorus Sound. Here, the grandson of the great voyager Kupe surveyed his new discovery. The river was named ‘Te Hoiere’ after his waka. Until Europeans arrived, many temporary Maori settlements existed along the river.

In 1839, Colonel Wakefield arrived, searching for settlement sites for the New Zealand Company. Nobody settled, but from 1850 to 1860 the land was progressively sold around the people of Ngati Kuia.

In 1894 sawmillers moved in, the biggest of which was Brownlees who established 80km of tramway through the bush and cut 189 million feet of timber in 50 years. The patch of virgin forest that remains today is thanks to the foresight of surveyor-general Marchant, who commented to the Commissioner of Crown Lands in Blenheim on the area’s beauty.

On October 13, 1912, Governor-General Lord Islington proclaimed the popular picnic and swimming spot a scenic reserve and people began camping there from the 1920s. The first of four Pelorus River bridges was opened in 1860 for pedestrians in stock and the current bridge in 1952.

Today, Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve has a popular Department of Conservation camp site, shop and cafe and many walking tracks. The area is home to one of the last remaining populations of long-tailed bats in Marlborough, and an extensive pest trapping programme is in place to help protect them.

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