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.

Ward Heritage

Ward, located 45km south of Blenheim, was built on what was once the South Island’s first and largest pastoral station.

Flaxbourne Station was 23,000ha in size and, near its end in the 1870s, ran more than 70,000 sheep.

Before the arrival of Europeans, Māori were attracted to the area for its seafood, eels and ducks. But, with flat and open land, it was also an area that was open to attack – in the 1830s the mouth of the Flaxbourne River was the scene of a bloody battle between Ngāti Toa and Ngāi Tahu.

The first sheep arrived in Marlborough in November 1846, when John Cooper and Nathaniel Morse drove a flock from Nelson to the upper Wairau Valley.

Flaxbourne Estate was established when cousins Charles Clifford and Frederick Weld leased land stretching from Lake Grassmere to the Waima/Ure River - and soon to Kēkerengū - from Te Puaha of Ngāti Toa in 1846 and shipped 3,000 merino sheep from Australia.

The estate was one of the first stations to use shearing machines.

Flaxbourne survived two massive earthquakes in 1848 and 1855 of magnitudes 7.5 and 8.2. But it didn’t survive the New Zealand Government’s Lands for Settlement Act, which allowed the Crown to take estates and award compensation.

In 1905, the town was established and within four years 300 people settled.

In 1911, when the railway arrived, the town was renamed Ward after the Minister of Railways of that time, Joseph Ward, who eventually became Prime Minister.

Today, Ward is a small service town on State Highway 1. Ward Beach is an exposed, rugged section of coastline where you can find round concretions similar to the Moeraki Boulders.

The rocks became easier for visitors to see after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in November 2016, known as the Kaikōura Earthquake, lifted up the seabed along Marlborough’s east coast.

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