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Marlborough places

by Malcolm McKinnon

This is a comprehensive guide to the towns, coastal and inland areas, and other places of interest in Marlborough.

Western Sounds

Rangitoto ki te Tonga (D’Urville Island)

Large island in the north-west of the Marlborough Sounds. At 163 sq km, it is just over half the size of New Zealand’s largest offshore island, Great Barrier (Aotea). The highest point is Attempt Hill (726 m), also known as Wetekia. Port Hardy and Greville Harbour are large bays, both open to the west.

The name ‘Rangitoto’ refers to a red sky, either sunsets or a major fire. ‘Tonga’ (south) distinguishes it from the much smaller island of the same name in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour.

Several names on the Cook Strait side of the island recall the legendary navigator Kupe. Adzes made from Rangitoto argillite have been found at sites throughout the North and South islands.

In the 1820s Ngāti Kuia, under the chief Tūtepourangi, were displaced by Ngāti Koata, led by Te Putu. A patu (club) of Tūtepourangi’s, in Ngāti Koata possession, is a link between the two groups.

The island’s Pākehā name commemorates French explorer Dumont d’Urville, who sailed through Te Aumiti (French Pass) in 1827. Port Hardy has names related to British naval hero Horatio Nelson (Hardy was his fellow officer). Missionary Henry Williams gained 13 signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi on the island on 11 May 1840.

European settlers farmed from the 1850s and intermarried with Māori. Roads were built from the early 1960s. In the 2000s the island is part farmland, part regenerating native bush. Water taxis take visitors from French Pass (Anaru) settlement to the island to hike, cycle, kayak, dive and fish.

Stephens Island (Takapourewa)

Island off Cape Stephens, the northern point of Rangitoto ki te Tonga. Named by James Cook, the island’s highest point is 283 m above sea level. Its lighthouse first operated in 1894, and was New Zealand’s most powerful at the time, with 50-km visibility. The island has been a nature reserve with restricted access since 1994. It is one of the few places (all isolated islands) where the tuatara (a lizard-like endemic reptile) survived. In the 2010s it had a tuatara population of around 30,000. The native Hamilton’s frog is endemic to the island.

Vot’s in a name?


A plaque at the summit of French Pass road commemorates the contribution Harold Leov made to the road. Harold was a descendant of Charles Augustus Leopold Leo von Fitzow, whose German family name was compressed to Leov in his new homeland.


Te Aumiti (French Pass)

Stretch of water, 100 m at its narrowest, which separates Rangitoto ki te Tonga from the South Island mainland. The former ridgeline that joined the island and mainland is barely submerged, and the channel is known for its strong currents, with tidal flows reaching 8 knots. The full Māori name was Te Aumiti a te Kawau-a-Toru – the turbulent currents that drowned Te Kawau (the shag), whose master, Toru, was an associate of the navigator Kupe.

In January 1827, after waiting four days in what is now known as Current Basin, French explorer Dumont d’Urville took his vessel Astrolabe through the dangerous pass which his chart labelled ‘Passe des Français’.

The name French Pass also applies to the surrounding district. Arthur Elmslie took up land in 1859–60 and developed a farm, run for many years in partnership with the Webber family, descendants of whom still farm at the Pass. A school opened in 1882, and closed around 2004.

A dolphin known as Pelorus Jack escorted ships both out from Admiralty Bay and through it to the entrance to French Pass between 1888 and 1912. This was the route for the daily Nelson–Wellington steam ferry service for many years.

The settlement of French Pass (Anaru) faces onto Admiralty Bay at the end of a dramatic 37-km road from Ōkiwi Bay, completed in 1958. Side roads reach Elaine Bay, Bulwer and Port Ligar.

Ōkiwi Bay

Settlement 23 km north of Rai Valley by road over the Ronga saddle, facing Croisilles Harbour and beyond that, Tasman Bay. A holiday place favoured by Nelson residents, with beach houses, campground and plantation-forested hillsides. The harbour takes its name from d’Urville’s mother’s family. Early Māori worked argillite in quarries near Ōkiwi Bay.

Tennyson Inlet

The most westerly part of Pelorus Sound, named after the 19th-century British poet Alfred Tennyson. The settlement of Duncan Bay, in Tennyson Inlet, is 32 km by road from Rai Valley, and 54 km by boat from Havelock. Penzance is a short distance further on. Tennyson Inlet scenic reserve takes in a large tract of land on the east side of the inlet, and is popular with local holidaymakers in summer. The two main islands in the inlet are Tarakaipa and Tawhitinui.

Maud Island (Te Hoiere)

Island in Pelorus Sound, part of which is the Tom Shand flora and fauna reserve, established in 1971. The rest is a bird sanctuary, including the rare takahē. The sanctuary was once part of the strategy to save kākāpō. Maud Island is also the only home of the frog Leiopelma pakeka, with an estimated population of 20,000.

Pelorus valley


Township with a 2013 population of 486, at the mouth of the Pelorus and Kaituna rivers and the head of Pelorus Sound. Havelock is 43 km north-west of Blenheim and 35 km from Picton via the winding Queen Charlotte Sound coastal drive. Havelock was the childhood home of two internationally important scientists, Ernest Rutherford and William Pickering.

Streets were laid out in 1858, but it was the gold rush to the Wakamarina valley in 1864 that brought the township into being. Sawmilling was the principal activity until the 1910s, then dairying. Havelock has long catered to travellers on the Nelson–Blenheim highway, and is the base for many fishing, launch and recreation vessels using Pelorus and Kenepuru sounds. Since the 1970s a green-lipped mussel packing plant has been the town’s principal employer. Plantation forests are widespread through the valley.

Cullen Point and Māhakipawa scenic reserves face Havelock across the Kaituna River estuary. There is a coastal walking track and a lookout at Cullen Point.


Locality on State Highway 6, 10 km west of Havelock, at the junction of the Pelorus and Wakamarina rivers, which came into existence during the short-lived 1864 Wakamarina valley gold rush. The sudden arrival of thousands of miners created a ‘canvas camp’. Most miners moved on to the West Coast in 1865, but gold and scheelite continued to be mined up the Wakamarina valley for some years. The Wakamarina Track crosses the Richmond Range to Onamalutu Reserve in the Wairau valley. Te Hora is a marae of Ngāti Kuia, the tangata whenua of the Pelorus area.

Pelorus Bridge

The four-wheel drive Maungatapu track to Nelson across the Maungatapu Saddle starts 10 km upriver. In June 1866 the criminal Burgess gang attacked miners heading from the Wakamarina River to Nelson, killing five. There is a commemorative plaque at Murderers Rock, just below the saddle.

The Pelorus Track is a three-to-four-day tramp through Mt Richmond Forest Park. It follows the Pelorus River to its junction with the Roebuck Stream, then descends into the Aniseed valley road end, 29 km from Nelson city.

Rai Valley

Settlement and district on State Highway 6 on the Marlborough side of the Rai Saddle, 31 km north-west of Havelock and 49 km north-east of Nelson. Sawmilling gave way to dairying, with a dairy factory operating from 1909 until 1980. Rai Valley Area School teaches both primary and secondary students. Ōkiwi Bay and Te Aumiti (French Pass) are reached via Ronga Road, and Tennyson Inlet via Ōpouri Road.


Also known as Māhakipawa, a district 11 km east of Havelock on the road to Picton, adjacent to the former Māhakipawa . The Grove and Māhakipawa arms were once part of the same stretch of water, but alluvial deposits have built up a land barrier between them.

The first sawmill was set up in 1863; by 1870 the timber was largely worked out.

Boom and bust

Gold was found in Cullen Creek in May 1888. By the end of the year Cullensville had hotels, bakeries, blacksmiths, bootmakers, butchers, general stores, a hairdresser, hotels, restaurants, an oyster saloon, skittle alleys, billiards rooms, a bank branch, courthouse, post office and constable. Within 15 years the alluvial gold had been exhausted and the township vanished.

Gold was discovered in Cullen Creek, 2 km south of Linkwater, in 1888, producing a short-lived rush followed by intermittent mining ventures until the late 1930s. A dairy factory operated at Linkwater from 1911 to 1953. In the 2010s the Linkwater settlement had a school, store and church. Plantation forests cover many hillsides.

The Waikākaho–Cullen Creek Track follows old gold-miners’ tracks between the Cullen Creek valley and the south-flowing Waikākaho River, where gold was also worked in the late 1880s and early 1890s.


Settlement 20 km south of Havelock, on State Highway 6 in the Kaituna River valley. It lies near the watershed of the Kaituna and Wairau river catchments, and has a tavern and a hall. The Kaituna valley, the product of faulting, is a broad depression in Marlborough’s northern hill zone, flanked by the Richmond Range to the west and broken hill country to the east. Ōkaramio was an early staging post between Nelson and the Wairau for Newman Brothers’ horse-drawn vehicles.

Outer Sounds

Pelorus Sound

Pelorus Sound is aligned roughly north–south from its seaward beginning at Kaitira (East Entry Point) and Te Akaroa (West Entry Point) to Havelock at its head.

Guided by whaler Jacky Guard, HMS Pelorus was the first European vessel to enter the sound, in 1838. Allen Strait, between offshore Forsyth Island and the mainland, is also known as Guards Pass, and links Guards Bay and Forsyth Bay. Mussels are farmed in a number of bays.

The Nydia Track starts at Kaiuma Bay (reached circuitously from Havelock via a bridge across the Pelorus River a few kilometres west of Canvastown). The track follows the valley to Nydia Bay and Nydia Lodge (accessed only by boat or walking), and ends at Tennyson Inlet.

Portage stories

Also known as the Torea saddle, the Portage is the neck of land at which Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte sounds approach each other most closely. Mid-19th-century settler Robert Blaymires regularly carried his boat from Torea to Kenepuru, and gave the name Portage to the route. Plans for a tunnel between the two sounds were never acted on. For many years the Portage lodge on Kenepuru Sound was one of the Sounds’ most glamorous hotels. It was revived in the 1980s, becoming popular with weekend visitors from Wellington and Christchurch.

Kenepuru Sound

Once called Coniston Water after a British lake, Kenepuru Sound is an arm of Pelorus Sound. It is parallel to Queen Charlotte Sound, from which it is separated by a spine of land at its narrowest at Te Māhia Bay and Portage Bay. Resorts and holiday houses are found at both bays and the latter along the road between them.

Mt Stokes

Mt Stokes (1,203 m), the highest point in the Sounds, is surrounded by a large expanse of native forest. It was probably named after John Stokes, commander of the 1849 survey vessel Acheron. Plantation forestry is the main economic activity on the lower slopes. There is also farming, particularly at Kenepuru Head, Waitāria Bay and Manaroa, and holiday houses, especially at Nōpera and Crail Bay.

Chetwode Islands

A nature reserve comprising two islands, Nukuwaiata and Te Kākaho. The group is named for Lieutenant Chetwode, acting commander of the Pelorus. Nearby Tītī Island, off Titirangi Bay, is a nature reserve. Titirangi Bay has much evidence of historic Māori cultivation.

Port Gore

Large bay between Capes Lambert and Jackson. In February 1986 the Russian cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov, leaving the Marlborough Sounds on its way to Milford Sound, hit rocks off Cape Jackson. It sank just over five hours later in Port Gore, by which time all but one of the 738 crew and passengers had been rescued. Lying 30 metres underwater, the wreck attracts divers.

Outer Queen Charlotte Sound

The outer part of Queen Charlotte Sound (Tōtaranui) is flanked by Arapawa Island to the east and Mt Stokes to the west, with Cape Jackson and Cape Koamaru its western and eastern headlands. James Cook named the sound for Charlotte, wife of British ruler George III, in 1770. Major bays include Cannibal Cove, Ship Cove, Resolution Bay, Endeavour Inlet, Bay of Many Coves, and East Bay on Arapawa Island.


The principal islands in the outer sound are Motuara, Long Island, Blumine Island and Pickersgill Island, the latter named after an officer on Cook’s ship, the Endeavour. Long Island is surrounded by Long Island–Kokomohua Marine Reserve; Motuara is a historic reserve. A plaque on Motuara records Cook claiming the South Island for George III on 31 January 1770.

Ship Cove

Popular bay for boating, where the Endeavour first dropped anchor in the South Island in January 1770. Cook returned there in the course of his second Pacific voyage in the Resolution in April and November 1773 and October 1774 – and in February 1777 on his third Pacific voyage. Ship Cove is a historic reserve.

Endeavour Inlet

Popular summer recreation area, with resorts at Punga Cove and Furneaux Lodge. By 1887 an antimony smelter was operating at the inlet with around 50 workers, but the quantities were too small and the company failed in 1892.

The inlet acquired notoriety on New Year’s Eve 1997, when Marlborough locals Ben Smart and Olivia Hope disappeared from Furneaux Lodge. Their bodies were never found, but Scott Watson of Picton was convicted of their murder in September 1999.

Queen Charlotte Track

Walking track from Anakiwa near the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, which opened in 1993. It follows the watershed between Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru sounds, descending to Endeavour Inlet, then taking an overland route to Resolution Bay and Ship Cove. The track, 71 km long, is usually walked (most often from the Ship Cove end) in three to five days, or cycled in two to three. Packs can be shipped from one overnight stop to another.

The outer Queen Charlotte Track reaches Cape Jackson, passing penguin nests, a shag colony and old gold mines.



Marlborough’s second-largest town, with a 2013 population of 4,236, Picton has an impressive setting in upper Queen Charlotte Sound, in the inlet known as Picton Harbour. The harbour is flanked by two headlands, Wedge Point and the Snout, and comprises two inlets, Picton Harbour proper and Shakespeare Bay.

Provincial streets

Many of Picton’s first streets were named after New Zealand provinces – as well as, more characteristically, for English counties. The town centre has Taranaki, Auckland, Wellington and Otago streets and a Nelson Square alongside Devon, Oxford, York, Kent and Durham streets.


The town is on the site of the Te Āti Awa settlement of Waitohi, which was established by migrants from Taranaki in 1828. In March 1850 the site was bought from Te Āti Awa, who moved to neighbouring Waikawa Bay, still a Māori centre in the 2010s. A town was surveyed but most section buyers were speculative, anticipating a road between Waitohi and the Wairau.

In 1859 the province of Marlborough was established. Governor Thomas Gore Browne renamed the town Picton, and named Mabel Island in Picton Harbour after his daughter. Settler Thomas Allport farmed the island named after him for some years.


In 1865 the Marlborough provincial council debated holding its sessions in Blenheim, not Picton. Determined to keep the council in Picton, councillor Arthur Beauchamp, grandfather of Katherine Mansfield, engaged in an unsuccessful stonewall by speaking for 10 hours and 40 minutes, concluding by saying, ‘With these preliminary remarks I will now proceed to speak to the matter under discussion.’1 At the end he collapsed and had to be carried from the chamber.

The provincial council was established at Picton. Many of the runholders owned town sections and saw profits ahead. But commercial interests in Blenheim, which was thriving on account of its central location, resulted in the council shifting there in 1865.

The railway connected Picton and Blenheim in 1875; Picton gained a borough (town) council in 1876, but it was Blenheim which grew – with 3,222 residents in 1900 compared to Picton’s 875.

Picton’s population increased to 1,361 in 1911, probably on account of the freezing works, which opened in 1900 (and remained the town’s biggest employer until its closure in 1983). But only in 1956 did the population pass 2,000.

Picton’s situation was revolutionised with the introduction of the roll-on, roll-off Cook Strait ferry in 1962. It became a ‘station’ on both the road and rail main trunk routes. This had less effect on the permanent population (2,315 in 1961, 3,220 in 1981) than on the transient population and on employment. On census night 2013 Picton housed 4,752 people, but had 4,053 residents. Over 40% of Picton’s workforce worked in accommodation, transport, rental, hiring and real estate, compared with 12.7% nationally.

In the 1990s the berthing area was reconstructed to host larger vessels and to allow logs to be shipped. Waimahara wharf in Shakespeare Bay was opened in 2000. Kaipūpū Point on the seaward side of the wharf is a ‘mainland island’ for conservation of native species, protected by a predator-proof fence.

The railway station building, designed by George Troup, dates from 1914. The Picton waterfront was redeveloped between 2009 and 2011.

Picton is the principal headquarters for the Sounds, with an array of vessels ferrying visitors and locals to bays and accommodation. It is popular with retired people – in 2013, 26.4% of the population was over 65, compared with 14.3% nationally.


Suburban settlement 5 km from downtown Picton at the end of Waikawa Road and the head of Waikawa Bay.

Arapaoa is the name of the meeting house on the Waikawa marae. Waikawa is home to Picton’s secondary school, Queen Charlotte College, and a large marina.

Waikawa valley and bay are separated from Picton by a ridge that ends in the Snout, reached by a 90-minute walking track. The ridge and promontory form the Victoria Domain, with Bobs Bay a popular beach.

Grove Arm

Stretch of water at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. The winding Queen Charlotte Drive passes through settlements at Ngākuta Bay and Momorangi Bay to the Grove settlement itself, 18 km west of Picton.

Anakiwa, on the north side of the Arm, was farmed by Cradock and Harriet Beauchamp, great-uncle and -aunt of author Katherine Mansfield, from the 1860s until the 1900s. Later a lodge for holidaymakers, the homestead became the centre for the New Zealand Outward Bound Trust in 1962.


Farming locality in the hills, 9 km south of Picton on State Highway 1. Koromiko is the site of Picton’s airport, with a church in continuous use since 1871 and a school which first opened in 1876. A cheese factory operated from 1919 until 1980. The Collins Memorial Deer Park opened in 1968.


Once a large kahikatea and tōtara swamp. In colonial times most of the forest was cut and rafted down to Tuamarina. The remaining swamp is popular with duck hunters.

    • Quoted in Henry D. Kelly, As high as the hills: the centennial history of Picton. Whatamongo Bay: Cape Catley for the Picton Borough Council, 1976, p. 25. Back

Arapawa Island to Port Underwood

Arapawa Island

75-sq-km island flanked by Queen Charlotte Sound, Tory Channel and Cook Strait.

On 23 January 1770 an expedition from British navigator James Cook’s ship the Endeavour climbed to the ridgeline. A monument at the appropriately named Cooks Lookout was erected in 1970.

Herds of feral goats, sheep and pigs, all with distinctive genetic histories, became established in the 19th century. A cohort of goats survives in a sanctuary on the island; they are also now bred in other parts of New Zealand and in the northern hemisphere, in part because of their genetic distinctiveness. Few sheep survive in the wild. Large pigs are known as ‘Captain Cookers’.

The Brothers

Islands in Cook Strait. The Māori name, Ngāwhatu-kai-ponu (eyes that witnessed), refers to the eyeballs from the octopus fought by the navigator Kupe. The islands were considered extremely tapu, and when waka crossed Raukawa (Cook Strait), only those who had undertaken the trip before were allowed to look at the islands; the other paddlers covered their eyes with leaves. A lighthouse was erected on one of the islands in 1877. The Brothers are a wildlife sanctuary.

Tory Channel

The principal channel between the Marlborough Sounds and Cook Strait, and the route taken by inter-island ferries between Wellington and Picton. Tory Channel separates Arapawa Island from the mainland. It is known to Māori as Te Kura-te-au (the channel red with blood of the octopus), referring to Kupe’s struggle with a giant octopus.

Although James Cook anchored for days in nearby Ship Cove on a number of occasions, he did not find the channel. Jacky Guard ran a whaling station at Te Awaiti on the northern (Arapawa Island) shore of the channel in the late 1820s, before shifting his operations to Port Underwood. From hilltop lookouts, whales could be spotted.

The channel was surveyed and named in 1839 by the New Zealand Company ship Tory. At that time Dicky Barrett, Joseph Toms and Jimmy Jackson all operated whaling stations at Te Awaiti. Between 1911 and 1964 the Perano family hunted humpback whales from their station at Whekenui Bay, about a kilometre closer to Cook Strait than Te Awaiti.

Curious Cove

Locality on Kahikatea Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, near the western entrance to Tory Channel, 12 km by water from Picton. During the Second World War the government erected military buildings for use as a sea-plane training base. They were later used for a short time as a convalescent hospital. From 1949 to 1971 the national university students association organised an annual summer congress at Curious Cove, attracting a range of prominent speakers and a large student attendance. In the 2010s the buildings and grounds were run as Kiwi Ranch, a Christian outdoor education centre.


Australian author Frank Clune wrote that Port Underwood was ‘as beautiful as the lakes of Killarney ... and needs only poets and songwriters to extol its charms. From the air we could see farmhouses sprinkled around the shores, with sheep like white specks on vivid green pastures on steep hillsides surrounding the glass-calm waters of the bay.’1

Port Underwood

Large inlet opening into Cloudy Bay on the eastern side of the Marlborough Sounds. At its head are the smaller Ōpihi and Kanae bays. It is named after Joseph Underwood, a partner in a Sydney shipping firm which traded there in the 1830s and 1840s whaling years. Methodist missionary Samuel Ironside was based in the bay from 1840 to 1843, and preached there on Christmas Day 1840, just five days after his arrival. In the 2010s the main economic activities were forestry, mussel farming and summer tourism. The pylons for the lines that transmit power to the Cook Strait cable between the South and North islands are conspicuous. The cable leaves the South Island at Fighting Bay.

Oyster Bay

The main settlement on Port Underwood, 19 km from Picton via the sealed Whatamangō Bay Road and 49 km from Blenheim, largely via the 32-km unsealed Port Underwood–Rārangi Road. A 12-km side road reaches Ngākuta and Hakana bays.

Kākāpō Bay

Bay 5 km south from Oyster Bay. Jacky Guard moved his whaling operation from Tory Channel to Kākāpō Bay in the late 1820s. Guard family gravestones can be found in the private cemetery. Ocean Bay, 2 km south, also has relics of the whaling days.

Nine signatures on the Treaty of Waitangi were gathered at the bay by Major Thomas Bunbury on 17 June 1840. British sovereignty over the South Island was proclaimed on Horahora Kākahu Island, on the opposite shore of Port Underwood, later that day.

    • Frank Clune, Roaming round New Zealand: the story of a holiday trip. Rev. ed. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1961, p. 114. Back

Lower Wairau


Locality 10 km north of Blenheim on the Tuamarina River, a tributary of the Wairau, where it leaves the hills. In June 1843, 22 Europeans and at least four Māori were killed at Tuamarina in a confrontation over land ownership. The conflict, which came to be known as the Wairau affray, was a shock to European settlers across the country. Memorials at the conflict site and in the cemetery remember the settlers who died.


The poet Eileen Duggan was born at Tuamarina in 1894. She went to primary school in Tuamarina and high school in Blenheim. In 1949, when contributing to a school history, she wrote that 'to be asked to write of Tua Marina is almost like a request to write on self'.1

Commercial dairy farming started in the 1890s. In the 20th century there was an award-winning cheese factory, but it closed after a fire in 2004. In the 2010s Tuamarina had a feeder dairy plant for the Fonterra dairy company.

Spring Creek

Township 6 km north of Blenheim, on State Highway 1 between Blenheim and Picton, earlier known as Marlboroughtown. The creek is fed from an underground spring. Henry Redwood Junior imported Marlborough’s first steam plough for use on his land at Spring Creek, where he had a flour mill. Flax was also harvested in the area.


Locality 4 km north of Blenheim on State Highway 1, named because of former stands of native bush. An earlier name was ‘Big Bush’. Grovetown is the site of a Rangitāne marae and meeting house, Tua Mātene. A project is under way to restore the Grovetown lagoon, formerly a bend in the Wairau River.


Locality on the Wairau floodplain, 11 km north-east of Blenheim and immediately south of the Wairau River diversion channel. The name reflects the once swampy nature of the terrain. The Chaytor family have owned land at Marshlands since 1880. Edward Chaytor was a military commander of New Zealand forces in Egypt and Palestine in the First World War.

Wairau Pā

Locality 11 km north-east of Blenheim, on the east bank of the Wairau River, reached from State Highway 1 on Wairau Bar road from Spring Creek. Site of a meeting house and marae affiliated with both Ngāti Rarua and Ngāti Toa.

Wairau Bar

Locality at the mouth of the Wairau River, known to Māori as Te Pokohiwi, where a gravel bar impeded navigation between the river and the open sea. The 1848 earthquake improved navigation over the bar and provided better boat access into the Wairau and Ōpawa rivers. The 1855 quake lowered the land by 60 cm in places, improving access even further. The pilot’s house at Wairau Bar was built in 1868.

Wairau lagoons and boulder bank

Also known as the Vernon lagoons, the result of sea currents forming a boulder bank. Māori trapped eels and birds, and may have narrowed existing water courses to make it easier to trap fish.

A three-hour walking track leads around the lagoons. The wreck of the SS Waverley was to be sunk at the mouth of the Wairau River to form a breakwater, but floodwaters swept it into the lagoons instead, where it is still visible.

In 1942 early Polynesian human remains and artefacts were uncovered at the northern end of the boulder bank. In 2009, after representations by Wairau Māori, the remains, which had been stored at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, were reburied at Wairau Bar. They are located on a reserve closed to the public.


Coastal locality at the northern extremity of Cloudy Bay, 22 km north-east of Blenheim, where the road to Port Underwood leaves the Wairau plain. Rārangi is a popular beach for day visits from Blenheim, with a walking track to neighbouring Whites Bay and glow-worm caves. Idiosyncratic roadside letterboxes create a ‘mailbox alley’.

North of Rārangi

A circuitous route climbs up, then down, the lower flanks of Mt Robertson to Whites Bay. The South Island’s first cable link with the North Island was made here in 1866. The station was staffed until 1896. Since 1977 the restored cable house has been open to visitors.

Early Māori cultivated and walled the flat land at Robin Hood Bay, 10 km from Rārangi. Whalers lived at the bay, probably named after a whaling ship, in the 1830s and 1840s, and a restored house dates from that time. A boys’ boarding school operated there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.



Largest centre of Marlborough, in Māori called Waiharakeke, with a 2013 population of 24,183, half the province’s total. Another 5,115 people live in the wider urban area, including Ōmaka, Woodbourne, Renwick, Grovetown and Spring Creek.

Tolerant town

In 1940 poet Eileen Duggan wrote that ‘Blenheim is urbane but not as yet urban, though its position on the air routes may alter that. A deep and kindly tolerance distinguishes it, a tolerance as great as that for which Maryland strove in the early days of America.’1

Early history

Blenheim was established in the 1850s as ‘the Beaver’, a settlement as waterlogged as the name implied. The 1855 earthquake deepened the Ōpawa River, making it navigable for sea-going vessels. Two traders, James Wynen and James Sinclair, set up in business. As 150-acre (60-hectare) lots were subdivided, Sinclair traded profitably in them.

Blenheim replaced Picton as Marlborough’s capital in 1865. It was made a borough (town with its own council) in March 1869, and its population grew from under 1,000 in 1871 to over 3,000 in 1886.

The intensification of farming from the late 1890s was accompanied by growth in the rural population, from 6,330 in 1896 (a decrease from 1891) to 9,094 in 1926. Farming contributed to the growth of Blenheim’s population, which was just short of 5,000 in 1926.

20th-century expansion

The town itself grew more rapidly after the Second World War, more than doubling between 1945 and 1961, from 5,780 to 11,956. Farming was profitable but capital-intensive; the combination translated into a bigger and more diverse town in which many people worked in farming-related industries. A 1950s visitor listed Blenheim’s ‘butter factories, sawmills, flour-mill, flax-mill, brewery, fertilizer factory, tallow-works, and seed-cleaning works.’2

The population grew more slowly after 1961, but had doubled again by 2013. In that year 11% of Blenheim’s population identified as Māori. The lower Wairau is particularly associated with Rangitāne, an iwi also present in the lower North Island.


In 2013, 12.0% of Blenheim’s workforce was employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing, a high figure for an urban centre, and 13.3% in manufacturing, compared with 10.9% nationally. In past decades these manufacturing workers would have been in grain mills and food-processing plants – but in the 2010s they were likely to be working in different parts of the grape-growing and winemaking industries.

Education accounts for only 6.0% of the city’s workforce (Blenheim lacks a major tertiary institution), compared with 8.6% nationally. Professionals are 15.8% of Blenheim’s workforce, compared with 22.5% nationally. Labourers are 17.1%, compared with 11.1% nationally, in part because viticulture requires relatively unskilled labour.


Locality on the Wairau plain 10 km north of Blenheim on State Highway 62, the bypass route from Picton to Nelson which meets State Highway 6 just north of Renwick. Rapaura was known as Upper Spring Creek in the early settlement period. In 2010 it was a major centre for viticulture.


Locality 6 km west of Blenheim on State Highway 6. The site of the town airport, a training and maintenance base for the RNZAF, and the headquarters for SAFE Air, an aircraft maintenance company. Woodbourne had a population of 399 in 2013, down from 675 in 2006.

On 13 October 1928, just before 5 a.m., a crowd of 5,000 watched aviator Charles Kingsford Smith take off in his plane, the Southern Cross, on the first-ever flight from New Zealand to Sydney. He landed in Australia 22 hours and 51 minutes later, and was greeted by a crowd of 25,000.


Locality 5 km south-west of Blenheim, with many vineyards and winemaking establishments. Ōmaka marae was established in 1959 for all tribes; the protocol is Rangitāne. Its meeting house, Te Ara Waipounamu, opened in January 1985. Ōmaka is the site of the Ōmaka Aviation Heritage Centre, which opened in December 2006 and has a particularly strong collection of First World War aircraft. A biennial air show has been held since 2003.

    • Eileen Duggan, ‘Introduction.’ In Marlborough: a provincial history, edited by A. D. McIntosh. Blenheim: Marlborough Provincial Historical Committee, 1940, p. 7. Back
    • Frank Clune, Roaming round New Zealand: the story of a holiday trip. Rev. ed. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1961, p. 119. Back

Upper Wairau


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.


Awatere valley

Awatere River

The 113-km Awatere River rises on the Marlborough–Canterbury border. The high-country Acheron River probably at one point fed into the Awatere, but now flows south to join the Clarence; it is reached from the Awatere via Wards Pass.

In colonial times the Awatere was forded about 10 km upstream from the current bridge, at Taylors Ford, where there was an accommodation house from 1859 to 1904 and a settlement. In 2010 all that survives is a cemetery and the name Old Ford Road. Since the 1990s much of the alluvial plain has been turned over to grapes.

Black Birch

From 1984 to 1996 the US Naval Observatory operated a star-tracking station on Black Birch, a summit on the north bank of the Awatere River, until it was superseded by satellite navigation. In the 2010s Black Birch was the name of an Awatere valley winery.

Molesworth Station

New Zealand’s largest property takes in 185,000 hectares in the upper Awatere and Acheron river valleys and reaches into North Canterbury. The government took it over between 1938 and 1949. By controlling the rabbits, and replacing sheep with cattle, vegetation and productivity recovered. The road through Molesworth, following the Awatere then the Acheron River to Hanmer Springs, is open to tourists in summer.


New Zealand’s first recorded mountaineering death took place on Tapuae-o-Uenuku in 1849, when Wiremu Hoeta of Te Āti Awa, one of a party of nine attempting the climb, fell to his death. In 1864 the first successful ascent of the mountain was carried out by Nehemiah McRae, from the Welds Hill run in the Awatere valley, and two companions. The first solo climb was made by Blenheim schoolteacher W. J. Weiss in 1876. Annie and Florence Parsons of Kaikōura were the first women to make the ascent, in 1890. The highest trigonometrical station in New Zealand was erected on the summit in 1895. In the 1940s Edmund Hillary gained early climbing experience on the mountain.


The highest summit in New Zealand outside the Southern Alps (higher than any summit in the North Island), 2,885-m Tapuae-o-Uenuku (informally known as ‘Tappy’) is a part of the Inland Kaikōura Range, which divides the Awatere River from the Clarence valley.

Wither Hills

The outermost spur of the mountains that separate the Wairau, Waihopai and Awatere valleys. The first route across the hills was Taylor Pass. It was followed by a route closer to the coast through Redwood Pass, and in 1903 by a rail route through Dashwood Pass. The road through Dashwood and Weld passes was built in 1933.

On 26 December 2000 fire swept through the Wither Hills, destroying both pasture and recent reforestation. Walking tracks through the hills are easily reached from Blenheim.


Township on State Highway 1, 24 km south of Blenheim, on the south bank of the Awatere River, about 7 km from the coast. Seddon had a population of 504 in 2013.

In 1899 the government broke the 14,000-hectare Starborough estate into holdings averaging 1 square mile (260 ha) as part of the government’s closer settlement policy, and laid out a township named for the premier (like neighbouring Ward, named for his cabinet colleague).

In 2007 the vehicle bridge across the Awatere River, a single-lane structure underneath the railway line, was replaced by a standard road bridge. The vineyard demand for seasonal labour, recruited from the Pacific since 2006, has changed the township’s population make-up. In 2013, 6.3% of Seddon's population identified as Pacific, not far off the national figure of 7.4%, which is unusual for a township.

In 2011 the government was considering building a port in Clifford Bay, east of Seddon, for the roll-on, roll-off inter-island ferry from Wellington, but decided in 2013 to retain the Picton terminal.

Lake Grassmere/Kāpara Te Hau

Former bay separated from Clifford Bay by sand dunes. Exposed to the north-west wind, the lake is known to Māori as Kāpara Te Hau (wind-ruffled waters). Ngāi Tahu defeated Te Rauparaha and his followers in a major battle at the lake in 1832–33. Salt was first produced there in 1952, and in the 2010s the lake met about 50% of New Zealand’s salt requirements.

Cape Campbell

The southern headland of both Clifford Bay and Cook Strait. Called Te Karaka by Māori, the cape was named by James Cook in 1770 for a British naval figure of the time. The 1903 lighthouse replaced an earlier one installed in 1870. A day return walk leads from Marfells Beach campground to the lighthouse.


Settlement on the Flaxbourne River, 50 km south of Blenheim on State Highway 1. Frederick Weld and Charles Clifford pastured the first sheep flock in the South Island there in 1847. The 23,000-hectare Flaxbourne estate was subdivided by the government in 1905 and the township was laid out and named after Joseph Ward, a cabinet minister. Disagreement between owners and government over the value of the land provoked two court cases before a figure was agreed on.

Waimā (Ure) River

One of the shorter Marlborough rivers, like the Flaxbourne and the Kēkerengū. In 2010 vineyards were a relatively new part of the Waimā valley landscape. The roadside church at Wharanui, 2 km south of the river, was built in 1924 by the Parsons family and consecrated by the Bishop of Nelson in that year.

Sawcut Gorge (also known as Slot Canyon) is a dramatic limestone formation that can be reached by a 90-minute walking track 12 km up the Waimā River valley.

Kaikōura coast


Windswept town in a dramatic setting between mountains and the coast, on State Highway 1 and the main trunk railway, with a 2013 population of 1,971. Kaikōura is isolated by mountains and hills to both north and south. Before 1900 it had only bridle tracks north and south, and no rail connection in either direction until 1945. Manakau (2,608 m) is the highest summit of the Seaward Kaikōura Range, the peaks of which tower over the coast and the town. Alluvium from the mountains created a plain, and what had been an offshore limestone outcrop became a peninsula.

2016 Kaikōura earthquake

At 12.02 a.m. on Monday 14 November 2016 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck New Zealand, causing significant damage to buildings and infrastructure in southern Marlborough and northern Canterbury. Two people were killed.

Kaikōura was an important settlement for early Māori. One name for it was Te Taumanu-o-te-waka-a-Māui (the seat or thwart of Māui’s canoe). In the 1820s and 1830s Te Rauparaha and his allies attacked Ngāi Tahu. Ngāi Tahu retained its mana in the district, but numbers slowly fell.

Early Pākehā settlers, many of Irish origin, struggled to clear the forest and create swamp-free pastures. Kaikōura languished for over a century. Kaikōura’s port has been mostly used by fishing vessels. Crayfish are a specialty (the town’s name means ‘eat crayfish’).

On 15 December 1945 the Christchurch–Picton railway was opened at Kaikōura in front of an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 5,000. From 1962 the roll-on, roll-off ferry between Wellington and Picton brought more freight and passenger traffic, both road and rail.

The undersea Kaikōura Canyon brings abyssal depths and sperm whales close to the coast, and whale watching has been a major tourist attraction since the 1980s. A museum, a peninsula walk, natural history and many cafés are points of interest in the town itself. Kaikōura has two other major industries, agriculture and cheesemaking.

One in five of the population identify as Māori. The Takahanga marae of Ngāi Tahu is located above the town centre. The University of Canterbury’s Edward Percival Marine Research Laboratory is in the town.

Goose Bay

Settlement 17 km south of Kaikōura. The highway is squeezed under cliffs after crossing the Kahutara River, then passes through the Paritītahi and Rarama tunnels before reaching the bay. Near Goose Bay the undersea Kaikōura Canyon approaches closest to shore.

A berry good idea

In the 1880s Maungamāunu School’s Māori parents tried to get dispensation for children to be excused from school for two weeks in autumn so they could collect karaka berries.


Settlement 16 km north of Kaikōura. In the later 19th century Mangamāunu was a centre of Māori population in the district. A native school opened in 1880, where Australian poet Henry Lawson taught for a few months in 1890.

Ōkiwi Bay

Young seals are guided upstream by their elders to gambol in a fresh-water pool at the base of a waterfall in this scenic reserve 30 km north of Kaikōura.

Visual feast

T. E. L. Roberts cycled from Waikari, Canterbury, to Blenheim to take part in the ballot for the Starborough estate in March 1899. On a new bicycle, a ‘gleaming triumph of individual locomotion’, he arrived in Kaikōura as the sun went down. Roberts wrote that the scenery was ‘a feast for Canterbury eyes. The majesty of those mountains away to the left, with just a little snow on the tops, and with bush running down to the shore, left nothing to be desired, let one’s taste be what it may ... the green cliffs, the blue sea glinting in the sunshine, the white, oh so white foam, dashing on the rugged rocks below the roadway, and anyone ... asking for more could scarcely be satisfied in this world.’1

Clarence River

At 200 km the longest of Marlborough’s major rivers, known to Māori as Waiau-toa. The headwaters of the Clarence are in the Spenser Mountains, very close to the headwaters of the Wairau and Canterbury’s Waiau River (Waiau-ua in Māori). The faulting and blocking that have raised the Kaikōura and neighbouring ranges have shaped the course of the Clarence, while the speed of the mountain-building has prevented it developing a flood plain.

The Clarence flows first south-east for 50 km, passing through the small Lake Tennyson, then due east for 30 km, where it is joined by the south-flowing Acheron, then north-east for more than 80 km, running parallel with the Awatere. It then makes a U-turn through a 12-km gorge, to reach the ocean 40 km north of Kaikōura township.


Settlement 56 km north of Kaikōura and 73 km south of Blenheim on State Highway 1. Kēkerengū was a Ngāti Ira chief whose amorous dalliances offended Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata. He fled south, but the northerners followed, and he was killed in the subsequent fighting. St George’s church at Kēkerengū is one of the smallest churches still in use in New Zealand.

    • Quoted in A. L. Kennington, Awatere: a district and its people. Blenheim: Marlborough County Council, 1978, pp.128–129. Back

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Malcolm McKinnon, 'Marlborough places', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Malcolm McKinnon, i tāngia i te 12 o Mei 2012, updated 18 o Hune 2015