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.

Rai Valley Heritage

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.

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