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Blenheim (Te Waiharakeke)
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Blenheim is both the district capital, and the largest settlement in Marlborough, with around half of the district's population.
In pre-European times, what is now Blenheim was a large flax swamp, known as Te Waiharakeke, "The waters of Flax" by local Māori. The area was particularly significant for its rich food resources of eels and ducks, and on drier ground kumara was grown.
The first European settlement was made by James Sinclair in 1852, although Blenheim could hardly be regarded as a 'town' . Generally, James Wynen is regarded as the true founder of the town. He opened a store in 1855 and catered to small ships which travelled up the Opawa River. Originally the settlement was named Beavertown due to frequent problems with flooding, but the name was changed to Blenheim in 1859 by governor Sir Thomas Browne, to commemorate the victory of the Duke of Marlborough over the French in 1704.
Blenheim became the provincial capital of Marlborough in 1865 when Picton relinquished this role. Blenheim was a major port until 1964, with the scow 'Echo' providing regular sailings across Cook Strait.
Able to boast some of the highest sunshine hours in the country, Blenheim is popular as a holiday destination, and acts as a service centre to the wine, horticulture, forestry and marine farming industries of Marlborough.
The Taylor River flows through the town, and the river's flood protection zone has been transformed into a popular recreational reserve with walking and cycling tracks, and a riverside railway. The reserve connects with Brayshaw Park, site of the Marlborough Musuem, and on to the Taylor Dam in the south-western direction, while the eastern end connects with the privately operated River Queen riverboat.
The southern limits of the town are defined by the Wither Hills, the majority of which comprise a farm park owned by the council, offering walking and mountain bike tracks.
Blenheim town centre has very few historic buildings due to concerns over earthquake risk which let to many older buildings being demolished. A historic band rotunda in Market Street, and the Blenheim railway station are two notable pieces of historic architecture in the CBD. Saint Mary's Catholic Church is a historic wooden church over a hundred years old in Maxwell Road.
Blenheim has few multi-storey buildings, with the Post Office building, Barnes building and Youell House being the only large constructions.
The Marlborough Convention Centre and Clubs of Marlborough is a new construction next to the Taylor River reserve with modern convention facilities and combined RSA and Workingmens Clubs.
Marlborough Civic Theatre provides a venue for local and visiting productions with a capacity for 461. The theatre is constructed in the former Farmers building, as a replacement for His Majesty's Theatre which was demolished due to earthquake concerns, leaving Blenheim without a theatre for many years. Issues with the low seating capacity of the current theatre combined with a growing population have led to plans to build a new theatre next to the Marlborough Convention Centre.
Marlborough has a lively café culture with a number of cafés and bars. A single night club serves the town. Other recreational facilities include a multiplex cinema complex, and a stadium and aquatic centre.
The majority of national retail franchises are present in Blenheim, along with a handful of uniquely local retailers such as Thomas's (established 1912).
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