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Marlborough, New Zealand - Where wine, water and wilderness meet

Last Modified: 21-2-2019 9:00

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Location and Formation of Marlborough

Marlborough District occupies the north eastern region of the South Island, of New Zealand, occupying a total land area of 10,491.28 km2. The region extends from the Marlborough Sounds, in the north to the rugged Pacific coastline in the south east, with the relatively arid south western interior that takes in New Zealand's largest farm, Molesworth. The region can be roughly divided into several sub-regions, the Marlborough Sounds, the Wairau, The Awatere,  and Flaxbourne. Prior to European settlement, the region was occupied by various iwi groups who gave names to different parts of what is now known as Marlborough. The Marlborough Province, formed in 1859 after separation from Nelson, extended south to the Conway River incorporating Kaikoura. The province was named after the Duke of Marlborough following a similar pattern to other provinces such as Nelson and Wellington, named after prominent British war heros. Although provinces were abolished in 1876, the former province continued to be known as Marlborough. 

In 1989, changes to local government resulted in Kaikoura District becoming separate from Marlborough District, and falling under the jurisdiction of the Canterbury Regional Council, however the Marlborough Land District with boundaries similar to the old provincial boundaries continues to be used in regard to property titles. Given that administrative boundaries may change over time, for the purposes of this website, 'Marlborough' may refer to either the Marlborough Land District, and the current Marlborough District, as administered by the Marlborough District Council

Geology

Marlborough is geologically active, with a number of major faults including the Alpine Fault, and parts of the landscape bear the scars of glaciation. The Marlborough Sounds are a series of drowned valleys resulting from the north east of the South Island gradually moving north over time, and the valleys gradually sinking. These drowned valleys are fairly unique globally as they combine temperate rainforest and a fjiord like landscape. Fault movement is responsible for the formation of mountain ranges and river valleys in the region. Ongoing uplift continues to raise the mountain ranges, and Tapuae-o-uenuku in the Inland Kaikoura Range is the highest mountain outside of the Southern Alps. Major rivers include the Awatere, Wairau, Pelorus (Te Hoiere) and Clarence (Waiau Toa).

A few small lakes are found in the region, mostly formed by earthquake triggered landslides that have dammed small rivers.

Natural History

Marlborough's diverse climatic and geographic variations provide a range of different habitats including coastal dunes, temperate forest, tussock grasslands, and alpine herbfields, for indigenous flora and fauna. In the northern Sounds area, rainfall tends to be higher, and in their natural state, much of the Sounds are forested in temperate rainforest including beech forest or mixed beech and podocarp forest.

South of the Wairau River, the climate is drier, and forest gives way to mānuka scrub and kānuka forest, and tussock grasslands. Much of this original vegetation has been converted to pasture, however there are remnants around the region.

Above the bushline on Marlborough's high mountain ranges, there are extensive areas of alpine habitat with some unique species of plants and animals adapted to the harsh environment, some found only in Marlborough.

Along the eastern coastline there are coastal habitats with a number of threatened species including the venomous, but endangered katipo spider.

List of Marlborough ecological regions and districts 2

  • Sounds-Wellington
    • Cook Strait
    • Sounds
    • D'Urville
  • Richmond
    • Pelorus
    • Para
    • Fishtail
  • Wairau
    • Blenheim
    • Wither Hills
    • Grassmere
    • Flaxbourne
    • Hillersden
  • Inland Marlborough
    • Waihopai
    • Medway
    • Bounds
    • George
  • Molesworth
    • Sedgemere
    • Balaclava
    • Miromiro
  • Clarence
    • Tapua-o-uenuku
    • Dillon
    • Manakau
  • Kaikōura
    • Kekerengu
    • Aniseed
    • Kowhai

Marlborough's Climate

Climate varies widely from relatively high rainfall in parts of the Marlborough Sounds through to highly arid areas such as the Awatere, back to more a more humid climate further south. Blenheim, the largest population centre frequently holds the national record for the highest annual sunshine hours in New Zealand. Over time, the region is showing a trend of becoming warmer and dryer as a result of climate change. 

Mean Temperature in Blenheim 1981-2010 - Source - NIWA
JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
18.017.615.813.010.27.77.08.210.312.214.216.5
Mean Rainfall (mm) in Blenheim 1981-2010 - Source - NIWA
JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
48.949.446.552.760.670.774.362.265.567.455.058.1

Human Activity

Marlborough boasts some of the oldest archeological sites in New Zealand with sites on the boulder bank and Wairau Bar dated to around 1300 AD. Many other historic Māori pa sites occur in different parts of the region, and there is a small but active local representation of various Māori tribes (iwi) including Rangitāne o Wairau, Te Atiawa, Ngati Apa, and Ngati Kuia.

European settlement began with sealers and whalers, and later with squatters who took up large pastoral runs. Relations between local Māori and Europeans were at times strained, with the "Wairau Incident" being the climax of various dubious land deals. It was in Marlborough that South Island iwi signed the Treaty of Waitangi (Tiriti O Waitangi) promising a formalised and cooperative partnership between the British Crown and the indigenous people of Aotearoa. 

Economy

Human exploitation of the regional resources began with Maori who hunted moa, and harvested flax, and eels from the area that is now Blenheim. Further south, kumara gardens were planted along the coast. European activities began with sealing and whaling, but later logging, gold mining, and pastoral farming became important local industries as the region developed. In the early 20th Century, Marlborough had the largest area of land in NZ devoted to lucerne production. Pastoral farming has remained a mainstay of the economy up until recently when viticulture has begun to dominate land use, and marine farming of greenshell mussels and salmon has also become an inportant part of the economy.

Today Marlborough is one of the southern hemisphere's most important wine growing regions, however traditional pastoral farming still continues in parts of the region, albeit on a much reduced scale. Along with the wine industry, an increasing focus on tourism has also developed, with the natural beauty of the Marlborough Sounds providing an ideal environment for eco-tourism, along with areas such as Mount Richmond Forest Park, a huge area of conservation estate larger than all but three of New Zealand's national parks.

Demographics

The regional population density is low, and population is concentrated in a few towns. At the 2013 census the usually resident population of Marlborough District  was 43,416, in  2006, 42,549 and 39,555 in 2001. By far the largest proportion of the population live in Blenheim, with a population of 24,083 (2013).  Other towns towns are Picton, Havelock, Seddon, Ward, Rai Valley, Renwick, Wairau Valley and Kaikoura (not officially part of the Marlborough District under current boundaries, but historically part of  Marlborough.) The permanent population is expanded considerably by seasonal workers employed in the region's vineyards.

Unemployment is considerably lower than the national average 2.8% vs 4.5%) , however incomes also tend to be lower, ($27,900 vs $28,500 median personal income).1
Work tends to be focused around primary production with viticulture and forestry providing a great deal of employment.

References

  1.  Source: Department of Statistics 2013 Census data.
  2. McEwen, W. (1987). ECOLOGICAL REGIONS AND DISTRICTS OF NEW ZEALAND. 3rd ed. [ebook] Wellington: Department of Conservation, p.v. Available at: https://www.doc.govt.nz/documents/science-and-technical/Ecoregions1.pdf [Accessed 31 Jan. 2019].

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