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.
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.
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
- 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
- Opaoa 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
The Rai Valley’s early inhabitants were members of Māori iwi Ngāti Kuia and Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō.
Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha's war parties tore through the area in 1828, killing local Māori and driving others from their land. But many returned to catch birds and eels from the rivers, and Ngati Kuia’s Te Hora Marae remains today at nearby Canvastown.
A decade after the war parties’ visits, Colonel Edward Wakefield travelled to the head of Pelorus Sound and noted the area as promising for farmers and ship builders. Sawmillers moved in and built roads, bridges and tramlines. The highway between Blenheim and Nelson opened in 1885. 58 mills operated in the Rai and Upper Pelorus valleys, and the cleared land revealed fertile grazing areas.
The town thrived and eight schools opened as farms were established.
One of the valley’s first European settlers was Charles Turner, who from the early 1880s lived with his family in a cottage made from locally pit-sawn totara slabs. The Turners’ cottage remains today and is registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.