Story: Marlborough places

Page 8. Upper Wairau

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Locality 13 km west of Blenheim, with a population of 2,118 in 2013. Known as the heart of Marlborough’s wine region, Renwick is at the junction of state highways 6 (to Nelson) and 63 (the road along the Upper Wairau to St Arnaud). Formerly Renwicktown, it was established by Thomas Renwick, a doctor and local politician, who took up land in the area in the 1850s. Street names recall the 1854–56 Crimean War in Europe.

Northbank Road

Northbank Road follows the Wairau River along the southern foothills of the Richmond Range for over 40 km. Many of the lower slopes of the range were deforested in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since the 1970s they have been planted in pines, and the road is intensively used by logging trucks.

Onamalutu Reserve

Scenic reserve on the river of the same name, reached by a side road from Northbank Road. The name is a corruption (Māori has no ‘l’ sound), possibly of ‘te ana mahutu’ (the place of the cave). The reserve, the remains of a much larger forested area, was set aside by sawmiller Charles White in 1901.

Wakamarina Track

This track starts at the end of a winding road from Onamalutu Reserve. It follows an old gold-mining route into the Wakamarina valley, site of a gold rush in 1864, crossing the watershed at Foster’s Hut.

Pine Valley

Pine Valley outdoor centre is a short distance up Pine Valley Road, at the end of which is the tramping track to Mt Fishtail (1,643 m). Small quantities of gold were extracted in the 19th and early 20th centuries, both in Pine Valley and nearby Bartletts Creek.

Top Valley, Mt Richmond and Lake Chalice

The Top Valley road turns off a little more than 30 km along Northbank Road. At the valley head alluvial gold was retrieved in the 1870s, and extracted from quartz around 1900.

Walking tracks lead to Mt Richmond (1,760 m), Mt Patriarch (1,656 m) and Lake Chalice, the latter two off the winding Staircase Road. Lake Chalice is probably the result of a quake-triggered landslip around 2,000 years ago.

The Chalice–Goulter Track follows the Goulter River west from Lake Chalice, exiting at the head of Northbank Road, 12 km from the Top Valley junction.

State Highway 63

The main road through the Wairau valley, which mostly hugs the south bank of the Wairau River. It opened in 1930. Wairau Valley settlement, 24 km from Renwick, has a tavern, school, hall, golf course, volunteer fire service and vineyards.

Argyle Pond, 19 km further on, is the reservoir of a small power station established in 1983 and used for recreational fishing. Kōwhai Point scenic reserve adjoins the Wash bridge, which crosses the Wairau River 63 kms from Renwick. The first sheep taken through the upper Wairau are commemorated in a roadside monument, not far from the bridge, by Six Mile Creek.

Red Hills

High-altitude grassland in the Richmond Range, lying north of the Wairau River and State Highway 63. It is part of the mineral belt found also at Dun Mountain. Red Hill (1,790 m) is the highest peak in the Richmond Range.

Innocent or guilty?


In March 2010 three protesters were acquitted of charges of damaging the Waihopai satellite tracking installation – despite admitting that they breached the base’s security perimeter and slashed a protective dome over a satellite dish. The group said that their acts were driven by a belief that the base ‘caused human suffering’.1


Waihopai River

The principal south tributary of the Wairau River, flowing north-east to join the Wairau a few kilometres west of Renwick. A government satellite tracking station was installed in 1989 and became the object of recurrent protest by pacifist groups. A vineyard near Renwick labels its wine Spy Valley.

Wairau to Clarence

The Wairau River valley, from its headwaters to where it reaches the Alpine Fault on State Highway 63, provides a relatively low-altitude route from Nelson to Canterbury. Sheep were taken this way in the 19th century, crossing into the Clarence valley and then via Jollies Pass in North Canterbury into the Hanmer Basin. The route can be negotiated by four-wheel-drive vehicles but crosses private land. The Leatham Conservation Area takes in a large part of the Raglan Range and other hill country.

As at Renwick, names on the Wairau–Clarence watershed – Crimea, Raglan, Inkerman, Sebastopol, Alma and Balaclava – are reminders of the 1854–56 Crimean War in Europe.

  1. ‘Waihopai activists found not guilty.’ NZPA, (last accessed 31 January 2011). Back
How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Marlborough places - Upper Wairau', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 12 May 2012, updated 18 Jun 2015