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
- 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
The Wairau Bar, on Marlborough’s Cloudy Bay coastline, is a place so historically significant that archaeologists have referred to it as the birthplace of our nation.
Local Maori call the boulder bank Te Pokohiwi o Kupe (The Shoulder of Kupe). The Boulder Bank’s incredible history was literally dug out by recreational fossickers, farming activities and later, scientists.
Fossicking was how, in 1939, 10-year-old schoolboy Jim Eyles famously found what has come to be described as the greatest archaeological find in New Zealand history: A 20cm moa egg, and a number of Maori artefacts. Modern analysis of the items found they date from around 1300AD.
Jim’s discovery later led to the excavation of 40 graves of Rangitane ancestors (tupuna), some of which were displayed at Canterbury Museum. Ultimately several thousand taonga (treasures) and artefacts were removed. Tools, personal ornaments, moa bones, human remains (koiwi tangata) and even buried dwellings have been found.
In the 1960s Rangitane, as kaitiaki or guardians of the land, closed off the site to protect what remained of their tupuna.
In 2009, Rangitane brought their tupuna home from the museum. They re-buried the remains at the Wairau Bar, but allowed the Wairau Bar Research Group from Otago University to continue scientific research.
There is no road access to the burial site and it is currently off-limits to the public. By 2012 it was officially declared as wahi tapu, recognising the land is sacred to Maori for traditional, spiritual and other cultural reasons.
The Wairau Bar’s southern side, across the river from the Wairau Bar, was settled by Europeans in the 1840s, who set up a port to service Blenheim. James Wynen was the region's first shopkeeper and in 1847, with his brother William, he set up a highly lucrative business at the entrance of the Wairau Bar. This included shipping and receiving goods, a store, accommodation house and drinking shanty.
Boats from Wellington and Nelson, not wanting to cross the Bar, moored outside the Wairau River mouth. Cargo was discharged into Wynen's whale boats and taken up the river to be stored at his large raupo (bullrush) warehouse located on the banks of the Omaka River. The warehouse was eventually converted into a shop.
A pilot house was built at the Wairau Bar in 1868 to guide ships across the bar. It was the home of pilot James Bulliff, his wife Clara and their children. Ttoday, it is the only pre-1900s building left in the area around the rivermouth. The Pilot’s House site is owned by Alison Orchard and is being preserved and restored with the support of Iwi, Marlborough District Council, DOC, Historic Places Trust, Marlborough Museum and local land owners.
The southern side of the Wairau Bar is open to the public and accessed by Wairau Bar Road.