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.
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 events happened. From Meretoto/Ship Cove, the site of Captain James Cook’s frequent Marlborough visits and first encounters between Māori and Europeans, to the remains of the Perano Whaling Station, the wooden immigrant ship Edwin Fox and the ancient fortified pā of Te Rae o Karaka/Karaka Point, you can learn more about, and visit, these historic sites.
With almost 4,000km² of coastline in the Marlborough Sounds alone, our region has played an integral role in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s maritime history. From the earliest known Māori settlers to arrive on our shores to a thriving whaling industry, and the many ships that wrecked along our rugged coastline, 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 Te Waiharakeke/Blenheim received its first nickname, Beavertown.
Did you know the man who split the nuclear atom was schooled in Motuweka/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 Airshow
- Marlborough Airport Heritage
- Omaka Aerodrome Heritage
- Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
- Picton Airport Heritage
- Arapaoa Island
- Te Aumiti/French Pass Heritage
- Te Pākeka/Maud Island Heritage
- Te Pokohiwi/Wairau Bar Heritage
- Te Rae o Karaka/Karaka Point Heritage
- Kākāpō Bay Cemetery Heritage
- Horahora Kākahu Island Heritage
- Molesworth Station Heritage
- Te Hoiere/Pelorus Heritage
- Mt Taupae-o-Uenuku
- Perano Whaling Station
- Meretoto/Ship Cove Heritage
- Wairau Affray Heritage
- Wairau and Waikārapi/Vernon Lagoons Heritage
- The Edwin Fox
- Te Karaka/Cape Campbell Heritage
- Te Taonui-o-Kupe/Cape Jackson Heritage
- Raukawa/Cook Strait Ferries Heritage
- Mikhail Lermentov Heritage
- Ōpaoa 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
- Awarua/Spring Creek Heritage
- Te Waiharakeke/Blenheim Heritage
- Motuweka/Havelock Heritage
- Waitohi/Picton Heritage
- Rai Valley Heritage
- Renwick Heritage
- Seddon Heritage
- Ward Heritage
Beryl Bowers Events Coordinator
"I am so lucky to live here with the mountains and the bush clad hills reaching the sea. The beauty of this region is amazing and nowhere else in the world have I seen such stunning scenery."My insider guide to Marlborough
Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau Bar, a gravel bar on Marlborough’s Cloudy Bay coastline where the Wairau River flows into the sea, is a place so historically significant that it is referred to as the birthplace of our nation.
Settled by Māori - the direct descendants of local iwi Rangitāne o Wairau - around 1300AD, it is one of the oldest known settlement sites in Aotearoa.
Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe (which refers to the shoulder of the legendary navigator Kupe), 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 Māori artefacts. Modern analysis of the items found they dated from around 1300AD.
Jim’s discovery later led to the excavation of 40 graves of Rangitāne tūpuna (ancestors), some of which were displayed at Canterbury Museum. Ultimately several thousand taonga (treasures) and artefacts were removed. Tools, personal ornaments, moa bones, human remains (kōiwi tāngata) and even buried dwellings have been found.
In the 1960s Rangitāne, as kaitiaki (guardians) of the land, closed off the site to protect what remained of their tūpuna.
In 2009, Rangitāne brought their tūpuna home from the museum. They re-buried the remains at the Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe, 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 wāhi tapu, recognising the land is sacred to Māori for traditional, spiritual and other cultural reasons.
The south side of the Wairau River mouth 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 Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/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 raupō (bulrush) warehouse located on the banks of the Ōpaoa River. The warehouse was eventually converted into a shop.
A pilot house was built in 1868 to guide ships across the bar. It was the home of pilot James Bulliff, his wife Clara and their children. Today, it is the only pre-1900s building left in the area around the river mouth. The Pilot’s House site is privately owned and being preserved and restored with the support of iwi, the Marlborough District Council, Department of Conservation, Pouhere Taonga Heritage New Zealand, Marlborough Museum and local landowners.
The southern end of Te Pokohiwi/Wairau Bar can be viewed from across the river, accessed by Wairau Bar Road.