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 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.
- 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
- Opawa 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
Steve Austin Marlborough Museum
“Marlborough is incredibly rich in terms of heritage nationally and internationally, and we are in the process of discovering even more.”My insider guide to Marlborough
On a narrow platform on Arapawa Island, just above the waterline of Tory Channel, lie the skeletal concrete and steel remains of a once-thriving whaling station.
Here, at Fishing Bay, the Perano family began a career in whaling that would last from 1911 until 1964, when gunner Trevor Norton shot the last whale in New Zealand waters.
Whaling in the Marlborough Sounds began when John Guard established the first land-based whaling station, Te Awaiti, next to Fisherman's Bay, in 1827.
The Peranos, an Italian family living in Picton, established three whaling stations – but Fisherman's Bay, established in 1924 by Joe Perano, was considered the most important.
Whalers initially used rowboats and hand-held lances and harpoons, but the innovative, forward-thinking Peranos soon improved on that. They built high-speed whale chasers, hunted with bomb lances, and at the end even had a spotter aircraft.
Today visitors can still see the slipway where whale carcasses were winched out of the water and their blubber stripped off. This was thrown into a digester, which processed 25 tonnes of whale at a time, releasing the lucrative oil which was skimmed off the top.
The digester is one of the remaining features at the station today and also includes a steam boiler, bone saws, whale oil processing tanks and a theatre/hall.
The station is now managed by the Department of Conservation as an historic site.
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Ferries & Water Transport
Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries Wellington - Picton
Arapawa Seafarms Ltd