Blenheim is a town in Marlborough, in the north east of the South Island of New Zealand. It has a population of 29,700. The area which surrounds the town is well known as a centre of New Zealand’s wine industry. It enjoys one of New Zealand’s sunniest climates, with hot, relatively dry summers and crisp winters.
The Marlborough region in which Blenheim is situated has a wide range of leisure activities, from swimming with dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds to watching whales in Kaikoura; from walks through the bush and along the rugged coastline, as well as scenic boat cruising, fishing, water-skiing and kayaking. The relaxed lifestyle and the flourishing wine and gourmet food industry in Marlborough are enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike.
Blenheim is named after the Battle of Blenheim (1704), where troops led by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough defeated a combined French and Bavarian force.
The commercial hub of Marlborough (population 42,300) is Blenheim (population 28,200). Originally a provincial service town to the farming community, it is increasingly geared towards urban lifestyle, visitor needs and the dominant wine industry, a meld of modern sophistication and relaxed ambience. North is Picton (population 3,700), seaport gateway to the stunning Marlborough Sounds.
Blenheim is the focal point for the Marlborough wine growing region. A number of wineries are located on the towns edges, with many more just a short drive away.Synonymous internationally for its distinctive, herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc. It is New Zealand’s largest winemaking region with around 65 wineries and 290 grape growers and over 4000 hectares planted in grapes, mainly Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. The annual Wine Marlborough festival (second Saturday in February each year) is held in Blenheim. It is a show-case for the region’s bounty and draws people from all over the world to taste Marlborough’s wines.
Marlborough is also known for its idyllic Sounds, sunken valleys which create a network of tranquil clear waterways amidst regenerating and virgin native forests. The Sounds are home to treasured bird and sealife terns, shags, herons, blue penguins, dolphins, seals, and native forest birds, all easily viewed by private boat or charter tour. The renowned 71km Queen Charlotte Track, a 3-4 day walk, curls around these coves and inlets and along skyline ridges between the breathtaking Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte Sounds
Marlborough has a diverse economy, emerging from a base of primary industry. The largest sector, apart from tourism, is aquacultureprimarily Greenshell mussels, along with oysters, salmon, paua, and fresh water crayfish. Wine is a major player, with vineyards taking over central and southern valleys from traditional cropping, stonefruit orchards and sheep. However, sheep and cattle farming remain a major contributor, including high country stations specialising in finest merino wools. Forestry and commercial fishing are strong in the North. Technology based industry and consultancy is increasing as more people shift to Marlborough for the environment and lifestyle.
The sheltered coastal bays of Marlborough supported a small Maori population possibly as early as the 12th century. Anthropologists have christened this part of central Aotearoa, Waenganui, a region that stretched from inland Ureweras to Kaiapohia. Maori in the Marlborough Region cultivated crops, including kumara (sweet potato) and exploited marine resources.
Although the early history of Marlborough was closely associated with the Nelson settlement, the people of Marlborough wanted independence from Nelson. Nineteen years after the original Nelson settlement the request of Marlborough settlers was granted, and Marlborough became a separate province in 1859. Although gold was discovered in the province in the early 1860s the boom did not last and, while it helped to expand the region, the development of pastoralism provided the greatest long-term benefits. Marlborough squatters developed huge sheep runs that dominated the countryside, rivalling Canterbury’s sheep stations in size and wealth.
Today the region’s economy is still rurally based with pastoral and horticultural farming, providing a major source of income. The region’s inhabitants continue to utilise the marine resources. Lake Grassmere is the country’s only source of salt, and fishing and mussel farming are also extremely important in the region. Grape growing has been one of the fastest growing industries and Marlborough is now New Zealand’s largest wine producing region, receiving worldwide recognition for its sauvignon blanc wines. Olive growing has also become popular in recent years.
The sunny, pleasant climate has attracted people to the region, either as holiday-makers or as permanent settlers. The region is especially popular among retired people, as well as people seeking an alternative lifestyle. Rapid population growth and other factors though have led to a contemporary chronic shortage of affordable housing for low and middle income earners.
Blenheim is situated in the Marlborough region of New Zealand on the north east corner of the South Island. While located at the top of the South Island, Blenheim is actually due west of Wellington city in the North Island.
Blenheim, situated on the Wairau Plain, is mostly flat with surrounding hills, which do not, however, give it as much protection from prevailing winds as might be expected. Open areas in and around Blenheim are hit quite hard by winds blowing in from Cook Strait. Blenheim sits at the confluence of the Taylor and Opawa Rivers. Blenheim is in a tectonically active zone and experiences several (usually small) earthquakes each year. The boundary between the Pacific plate (on which Blenheim sits) and the Indo-Australian plate passes just north of Blenheim.
For centuries Blenheim New Zealand has offered safe harbour to travellers sailing to the spectacular South Island: first the Maori traders and war parties; then explorers like Captain James Cook and Dumont d’Urville; and now, to visitors seeking a retreat from city pressures, as they discover the unspoilt haven and foodie heaven that is Marlborough today.
The Marlborough region is famous for its wine production, although other forms of agriculture are significant and the services sectors is also important.
With the growing international critical recognition of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, much of the wine industry has come to be dominated by large firms, owned by major New Zealand companies or offshore investors. Wages for most industry participants are low (around NZ$10-NZ$13/hour) and often calculated on a piece rate basis. Employment arrangements are often insecure and frequently not in accordance with New Zealand employment law. Agricultural land prices in the Wairau Valley have increased dramatically in value through the 1990s and 2000s.
Overall, income and wealth distribution in the town and wider region is highly uneven by New Zealand standards.
The first school was opened in Blenheim in 1859. By 1875 there were three classes: Blenheim Upper Boys, Blenheim Lower Boys, and Blenheim Girls and Infants. A Blenheim High School was formed within the school in 1879.
Catholic schools for boys and girls also were established in Blenheim in 1872. St Mary’s Boys’ school replaced it in 1886. In 1929, St Mary’s was rebuilt after a fire.
A coeducational secondary school called Marlborough High School was founded in Blenheim in 1900. It moved to the Marlborough Boys’ College Stephenson Street site in 1901. In 1919 it changed its name to Marlborough College. The intermediate section was split to form Bohally Intermediate in 1956, and the girls moved to form Marlborough Girls’ College in 1962, at which time the school took its current name.
Marlborough Boys’ College is a boys’ secondary (years 9-13) school with a roll of 1006. Marlborough Girls’ College is a girls’ secondary (years 9-13) school with a roll of 1029. Both have a decile rating of 7.
The other schools in Blenheim are all coeducational.
Bohally Intermediate is an intermediate (years 7-8) school with a roll of 407 and a decile rating of 6.
Blenheim School and Whitney Street School are contributing primary (years 1-6) schools with decile ratings of 3 and 5, respectively. Blenheim School has a roll of 81, and Whitney Street School has a roll of 248
St Mary’s School is a state integrated full primary (years 1-8) school with a decile rating of 8 and a roll of 376.
Other primary schools are in the suburbs of Redwoodtown, Witherlea, Mayfield, and Springlands, and in the surrounding localities of Fairhall, Grovetown, Rapaura and Riverlands.
The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology has a campus in Blenheim.
Woodbourne Airport is a domestic airport and is also used by the RNZAF as an operational base. There are direct flights from Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. Omaka Aerodrome, to the south of the city centre, is used solely by private and vintage aircraft pilots. An airshow (based mainly on World War I and II aircraft) is held at Omaka Aerodrome every two years on Easter.
State Highway 1 runs through Blenhiem and State Highway 6 terminates at the junction of the two state highways. Blenheim is notable for a town of its size, in that it does not have traffic lights at any intersection. Instead, roundabouts were installed to speed arterial traffic flow. Since the installation of these roundabouts, traffic volumes have quickly increased and upgrading options are being considered, eg. traffic lights, longer 2-lane approches and even a bypass.
Blenheim is on the northern section of the South Island Main Trunk Railway. A daily long-distance passenger service between Picton and Christchurch, the TranzCoastal, stops at the Blenheim Railway Station.
A major railway classification yard is located north of Blenheim at Spring Creek.
A heritage railway, the Blenheim Riverside Railway runs through the town.
Events and points of interest
Blenheim’s attractions include its wine industry, the Marlborough Sounds, gourmet foods and adventure activities.
Omaka Aerodrome, south of the town centre, is the setting for the biennial Classic Fighters Marlborough airshow. The show, with a large emphasis on aircraft of World War One, has been held biannually since 2001, with the next show set to be held over the weekend of 10-12 April 2009.
In December 2005 the third meeting of the biennial Australasian Ornithological Conference series, initiated and organised by the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, and jointly sponsored by the RAOU and the Ornithological Society of New Zealand (OSNZ), was held in Blenheim.
Seymour Square and Pollard Park are two of the town’s main attractions for walks and general tourism.
The first weekend in February sees the festival “Blues, Brews and BBQ’s”, which comprises of Blues and Jazz music, food and a variety of Beer and wine. It starts at 12pm and ends at 7pm, and its located at the A and P park near Redwood Town.
The Wither Hills are just out of Blenheim and have many attractive walks found just off Maxwell Road. They are dry and arid and have seen many severe forest fires in the past.
The GCSB Waihopai communications monitoring facility, part of the ECHELON network, is situated near Blenheim.