Blenheim, New Zealand

Blenheim (/ˈblɛnɪm/ BLEN-im; Māori: Waiharakeke) is the most populous town in the region of Marlborough, in the north east of the South Island of New Zealand. It has an urban population of 31,600 (June 2018).[1] The surrounding Marlborough wine region is well known as the centre of the New Zealand wine industry. It enjoys one of New Zealand's sunniest climates, with warm, relatively dry summers and cool, crisp winters.


Waiharakeke  (Māori)
Blenheim pictured from the International Space Station (ISS)
Coordinates: 41.514°S 173.960°E / -41.514; 173.960
Country New Zealand
Territorial authorityMarlborough District
Named forBattle of Blenheim
Member of ParliamentStuart Smith, Kaikoura Electorate
  MayorJohn Leggett
  Total103.89 km2 (40.11 sq mi)
 (June 2018)[1]
  Density300/km2 (790/sq mi)
Area code(s)03

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 sheltered coastal bays of Marlborough supported a small Māori population possibly as early as the 12th century. Archaeological evidence dates Polynesian human remains uncovered at Wairau Bar to the 13th century. The rich sea and bird life of the area would easily have supported such small communities. As the Māori population of the area increased, they developed the land to sustain the growing population. In the early 1700s canals and waterways were dug among the natural river courses, allowing for the first forms of farming in the area including that of fish and native water fowl. A total of approximately 18 km of channels are known to have been excavated before the arrival of European settlers. Māori in the Marlborough Region also cultivated crops, including kumara (sweet potato).

The area is also home to the first serious clash of arms between Māori and the British settlers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Wairau Affray which occurred in what is now the village of Tuamarina.

The settlement was originally known to Europeans as The Beaver or Beaverton[2] due to its frequent flooding[3].

Although the early history of Marlborough was closely associated with the Nelson settlement, the people of Marlborough desired independence from Nelson. In 1859, nineteen years after the original Nelson settlement, the request of Marlborough settlers was granted, and Marlborough became a separate province. Although gold was discovered in the province in the early 1860s the resulting boom did not last, and while the gold rush helped to expand the region, it was the development of pastoralism which 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.


Situated on the Wairau Plain, the town is mostly flat with only its southern most fringe rising to the base of the Wither Hills. As the plain is surrounded by mountains on all but the eastern flank, which is open to Cook Strait, it is relatively well protected from the frequent southerly weather fronts occurring during winters. The area does however experience some high wind events during the course of the year, especially from the west where the wind is funneled down the Wairau Valley directly at the town. Open and exposed areas in and around Blenheim are also hit quite hard by winds blowing inland from Cook Strait. Blenheim sits at the confluence of the Taylor and Ōpaoa rivers. It 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.


The climate is generally very settled, largely due to the rainshadow effect of the mountain ranges to the west which shelter Blenheim from the heaviest of rains that hit the western part of the South Island.

Summers are typically warm and dry while winters are normally cool and frosty with clear sunny days that follow. Snowfall is rare as it is sheltered from cold southerly weather by the mountain ranges to the south.

Thunderstorms are an uncommon occurrence due to the sheltered climate. There is a higher likelihood in summer, when afternoon heating can generate a buildup of clouds above the ranges.

The highest recorded temperature is 37.8C, Recorded on 7 February 1973.[4] The lowest is −8.8C.

Climate data for Blenheim (1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 24.1
Daily mean °C (°F) 18.0
Average low °C (°F) 11.8
Average precipitation mm (inches) 48.9
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 5.0 5.1 5.5 5.3 6.7 7.9 7.6 8.0 8.5 8.3 6.9 6.7 81.5
Average relative humidity (%) 68.7 74.2 74.9 77.5 81.5 82.3 83.7 80.8 73.3 72.1 67.7 67.5 75.4
Mean monthly sunshine hours 262.2 223.7 230.8 193.7 172.7 151.6 157.1 183.9 189.5 226.7 234.7 248.8 2,475.3
Source: NIWA Climate Data[5]


Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
1996 26,100    
2001 27,300+0.90%
2006 29,100+1.29%
2013 30,100+0.48%
Source: [1]

At the 2006 census, Blenheim had a population of 28,700, a change of 7.0% since the 2001 census. The June 2018 estimate puts Blenheim's population at 31,600.[1] Following the 2013 census, Blenheim became the country's 17th main urban area, after Statistics New Zealand promoted the town from a secondary urban area.


  • 21.3% of people were under 15, compared with 22.7% for New Zealand.
  • 16.7% of people were 65 and over, compared with 12.1% for New Zealand.


  • 28.7% of people 15 and over had a post-secondary-school qualification, compared with 32% for New Zealand.

Ethnic background

Most residents are of European origin, predominantly of British, Irish, German and Dutch descent. Small Māori, Pacific Island and Asian communities exist. Ethnic diversity has increased in recent years with the arrival of large numbers of South Americans (mostly Brazilians) and Asians (mainly Indonesian, Japanese, Korean and Filipino), who work in the expanding viticulture sector.

The 2006 New Zealand census found that of people in the Blenheim Urban Area who completed the census forms:

  • 78.4% belonged to the European or Pākehā ethnic group
  • 1.6% belonged to the Asian ethnic group
  • 10.5% belonged to the Māori ethnic group
  • 1.6% belonged to the Pacific Island ethnic group
  • 0.5% belonged to the Middle Eastern/Latin American/African ethnic groups
  • 16.1% belonged to Other ethnic group



The region's economy is rurally based with pastoral and horticultural farming providing a major source of income. The modern inhabitants, as their forebearers, continue to utilise the marine resources available. Lake Grassmere is the country's only salt works, producing 50% of its total salt requirement. Fishing and mussel farming are also extremely important in the region. Olive growing has also become popular in recent years.


Viticulture also has a very large impact on the local economy both directly, by way of employment and servicing required, and also by way of 'wine tourism'. The local cellars attracted hundreds of thousands of domestic and international tourists every year. The area also hosts the annual Marlborough Wine & Food Festival. The Marlborough wine region is now New Zealand's largest, and receives worldwide recognition for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.

With its growing international critical recognition, much of the Marlborough wine industry has come to be dominated by large firms, owned by major New Zealand companies or offshore investors. There are over 50 vineyards near Blenheim. Agricultural land prices in the Wairau Valley increased dramatically in the 1990s and 2000s.


The sunny, pleasant climate has long attracted people to the region, 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.

The Marlborough Region has a wide range of predominantly outdoor leisure activities and the relaxed lifestyle and the flourishing wine and gourmet food industry in Marlborough are enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike.

Events and points of interest

Omaka Aerodrome, south of the town centre, is the setting for the two-yearly Classic Fighters Marlborough airshow. With a large emphasis on aircraft of World War One, it has been held since 2001.

Seymour Square and Pollard Park are two of the town centres main attractions for walks and general tourism. Seymour Square is an open public area in the centre, containing the War Memorial and Clock Tower, unveiled in 1928, classified as a "Category I" ("places of 'special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value'") historic place by Heritage New Zealand.[6] The Square was named after Henry Seymour.[7] Pollard Park is a large public park including children's play areas, native shrubbery, rose gardens, a landscaped waterway, and is home to the Blenheim Golf Club and its 9-hole course, the Marlborough Tennis club and its courts, and Blenheim Croquet Club. They are dry and arid ranges which have previously been the site of severe grass fires.

The GCSB Waihopai communications monitoring facility, part of the ECHELON network, is near Blenheim.



Woodbourne Airport is a domestic airport and an RNZAF operational base. There are direct flights from Auckland and Wellington with Air New Zealand and from Wellington, Napier, Christchurch, and Paraparaumu with Sounds Air.[8]

Omaka Aerodrome, to the south of the town centre, is used solely by private and vintage aircraft. The Classic Fighters airshow (based mainly on World War I and II aircraft) is held biennially at Easter.


State Highway 1 runs through Blenheim 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.[9] Instead, roundabouts speed arterial traffic flow. Since the installation of roundabouts traffic volumes have quickly increased and upgrading options are being considered, e.g. traffic lights, longer two-lane approaches and even a bypass.[10]


Blenheim is on the Main North Line, the northern part of the unofficially-named South Island Main Trunk Railway. The Coastal Pacific, the daily summer-only long-distance passenger train between Picton and Christchurch, stops at Blenheim Railway Station. The 1906 station has been listed NZHPT Category II since 1982.[11] It is a standard Vintage station, with Tudor half-timbering and tile.[12]

A major rail freight facility is north of Blenheim at Spring Creek.

The narrow-gauge Blenheim Riverside Railway runs through the town.



Blenheim is served by a variety of print publications. The major daily newspaper serving the area is The Marlborough Express published by Fairfax NZ, with its headquarters in Blenheim. The Saturday Express and Midweek are community newspapers published by the same company and distributed throughout Marlborough. The Blenheim Sun is a twice-weekly free newspaper distributed each Wednesday and Friday.


This is a list of FM radio stations in Blenheim. The town can also receive most AM and FM radio stations from Wellington, across Cook Strait; these are not included.

FM Frequency Nickname Callsign Format
87.6Sunshine RadioEasy Listening
88.0World FMInternational/News
88.9Fresh FM NelsonAlternative Community Radio
89.7The BreezeEasy Listening (formerly known as Easy FM)
90.5ZMTop 40
91.3The RockModern Rock
92.1Newstalk ZBNews/Talk
92.9MORE FM MarlboroughAdult Contemporary (formerly known as Sounds FM)
93.7Life FMChristian/Alternative
94.5Radio HaurakiModern/Alternative Rock
95.3Radio LiveNews/Talk
96.1The SoundClassic Rock
96.9The Hits Marlborough2ZZE-FMThe Hits (formerly known as Radio Marlborough)
98.5Radio SportSports/Talk
99.3Radio New Zealand ConcertClassical
100.9Brian FMVariety Hits
101.7Radio New Zealand NationalPublic Radio
104.1RhemaChristian Music & Talk
104.9The Edge FMTop 40
105.7Magic50s, 60s, 70s
106.7Whisper FMNostalgia


The first school opened in 1859. By 1875 there were three classes: Blenheim Upper Boys', Blenheim Lower Boys', and Blenheim Girls' and Infants'. Blenheim High School was formed within the school in 1879.[13]

Catholic schools for boys and girls were established in 1872, replaced by St Mary's Boys' school in 1886. In 1929 St Mary's was rebuilt after a fire.[14]

Marlborough High School, a coeducational secondary school, was founded in Blenheim in 1900. In 1919 it changed its name to Marlborough College. The intermediate section was split to form Bohally Intermediate in 1956. The college was split into separate boys' and girls' schools in 1963, with Marlborough Boys' College retaining the existing site and Marlborough Girls' College moving to a new site.[15]

There are currently 11 schools in the Blenheim urban area: [16]

  • Blenheim School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school. It has a roll of approximately 81.
  • Bohally Intermediate is a state intermediate (Year 7–8) school opened in 1957 following a split from Marlborough College. It has a roll of approximately 510.
  • Marlborough Boys' College is a state boys' secondary (Year 9–13) school. It opened in 1963 following the split of Marlborough College into separate boys' and girls schools, and has a roll of approximately 965.
  • Marlborough Girls' College is a state girls' secondary (Year 9–13) school. It opened in 1963 following the split of Marlborough College into separate boys' and girls school, and has a roll of approximately 961.
  • Mayfield School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) school in Mayfield. It has a roll of approximately 111.
  • Redwoodtown School is a state full primary (Year 1-8) school in Redwoodtown. It has a roll of approximately 316.
  • Richmond View School is a state-integrated Christian composite (Year 1-13) school in Redwoodtown. It has a roll of approximately 159.
  • Springlands School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) school in Springlands. It has a roll of approximately 407.
  • St Mary's School is a state-integrated Catholic full primary (Years 1-8) school. It has a roll of approximately 173.
  • Whitney Street School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school. It has a roll of approximately 343.
  • Witherlea School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school in Witherlea. It has a roll of approximately 376.

Other primary schools are in the surrounding localities of Renwick, Fairhall, Grovetown, Rapaura and Riverlands.

The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology has a campus in Blenheim.[17]

Infrastructure and services


The Marlborough Electric Power Board (MEPB) was formed in October 1923 and established the Blenheim's first public supply in April 1927, following the commissioning of the Waihopai hydroelectric power station 40 km southwest of Blenheim. Two diesel generators were commissioned at Springlands in 1930 and 1937 to supplement the supply from Waihopai. The town was connected to Cobb Power Station in 1948, which in turn was connected to the rest of the South Island grid in 1956. The diesel generators were relegated to standby duty, last generated power on 22 July 1992, and were decommissioned in 2003. The Energy Companies Act 1992 saw the MEPB corporatised and renamed Marlborough Electric. The 1998 electricity sector reforms required electricity companies to separate their lines and supply businesses. Marlborough Electric sold its generation and retailing business to Trustpower, with the remaining lines business renamed Marlborough Lines.[18]

Today, Marlborough Lines owns and operates the electricity distribution network servicing the city, with electricity fed from Transpower's national grid at its Blenheim substation in Springlands.

Notable people


  • Reed, A. W. (2002). The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand Place Names. Auckland: Reed Books. ISBN 0-7900-0761-4.
  1. "Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2018 (provisional)". Statistics New Zealand. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2018. For urban areas, "Subnational population estimates (UA, AU), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996, 2001, 2006-18 (2017 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  2. "Blenheim - NZHistory, New Zealand history online". 12 February 2018.
  3. "Watery Marlborough settlement was never 'Beavertown'". Stuff.
  4. "Welcome to the Climate Database".
  5. "Climate Data and Activities". NIWA. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  6. "War Memorial and Clock Tower". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
  7. McLintock, Alexander Hare; Brian Newton Davis, M. A.; Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "BLENHEIM". An encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, 1966.
  8. "Sounds Air – Routes". Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  9. Maria Slade (20 January 2016). "New Zealand's biggest town without traffic lights: Blenheim". Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  10. Selina Powell (25 May 2016). "New Zealand Transport Agency investigates State Highway 1 between Picton and Christchurch".
  11. "Search the List - Blenheim Railway Station - Heritage New Zealand".
  12. "Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand - Blenheim Station".
  13. A. D. McIntosh, ed. (1940). Marlborough – A Provincial History. pp. 338–349.
  14. A. D. McIntosh, pp 328–329
  15. "Marlborough Boys' College – History".
  16. "Directory of Schools - as at 3 April 2019". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  17. "Marlborough Campus". Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on 3 May 2008.
  18. "The History of Marlborough Lines".
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