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.

Perano Whaling Station

On a narrow platform on Arapaoa Island, just above the waterline of Kura te Au/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 ‘Jacky’ 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 Fishing 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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