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
Nick Gerritsen National Whale Centre chair
“Marlborough has a really unique story to tell”.My insider guide to Marlborough
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 Ngati Toa and Ngai Tahu.
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 Kekerengu - from Ngati Toa in 1846.
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 known for great fishing and crayfish.
Just south of Ward, via the Waima/Ure Valley, is Sawcut Gorge - a stunning limestone rock formation that is internationally significant due to its evidence of the K-T Boundary, the time zone that marked the end of the Cretaceous (dinosaur) era and the beginning of the Tertiary/Cenozoic era.
Access to Sawcut Gorge is on foot via Blue Mountain Station.