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Blenheim, New Zealand

Coordinates: 41°30′50″S 173°57′36″E / 41.514°S 173.960°E / -41.514; 173.960
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Waiharakeke (Māori)
Blenheim pictured from the International Space Station (ISS)
Blenheim pictured from the International Space Station (ISS)
Blenheim is located in New Zealand
Coordinates: 41°30′50″S 173°57′36″E / 41.514°S 173.960°E / -41.514; 173.960
CountryNew Zealand
Territorial authorityMarlborough District
Named forBattle of Blenheim
Member of ParliamentStuart Smith, Kaikoura Electorate
  • Blenheim
  • Burleigh
  • Farnham
  • Fairhall
  • Grovetown
  • Islington
  • Mayfield
  • Omaka
  • Redwoodtown
  • Renwick
  • Riverlands
  • Riversdale
  • Roselands
  • Solar Heights
  • Spring Creek
  • Springlands
  • St Andrews
  • Witherlea
  • Wither Hills
  • Wither Rise
  • Woodbourne
  • Yelverton
 • MayorNadine Taylor
 • Total27.46 km2 (10.60 sq mi)
 (June 2023)[1]
 • Total30,500
 • Density1,100/km2 (2,900/sq mi)
Area code03

Blenheim (/ˈblɛnɪm/ BLEN-im; Māori: Waiharakeke[2]) is the most populous town in the region of Marlborough, in the north east of the South Island of New Zealand. It has an estimated urban population of 30,500 (June 2023).[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.

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 New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage gives a translation of "flax stream" for the town's Māori name, Waiharakeke.[3]


"Kia Ora Welcome to Blenheim"

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 kūmara (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[4] due to its frequent flooding.[5]

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.


View from above looking north from Blenheim
The Taylor River in central Blenheim

Situated on the Wairau Plain, the town is mostly flat with only its southernmost 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 funnelled 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. It lies east of Renwick, and just south of Spring Creek.


The climate is generally very settled, largely due to the rain shadow 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, dry and sunny. Winter mornings are cool and frosty. Snowfall is rare as the town is sheltered from cold southerly weather by the mountain ranges to the south. Rainfall and humidity is highest in winter and early spring, between June and October. The town's average annual rainfall is a little more than 700mm, with 81.5 precipitation days.

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 37.8 °C, recorded on 7 February 1973.[6] The lowest is −8.8 °C.

Climate data for Blenheim (1991–2020)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 23.4
Daily mean °C (°F) 18.1
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 12.9
Average rainfall mm (inches) 43.0
Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm) 4.8 4.2 4.7 5.8 7.0 7.6 7.2 7.6 7.4 7.2 6.3 6.1 75.9
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 261.8 233.4 233.3 190.4 178.9 151.8 160.0 189.2 198.8 232.6 242.7 248.5 2,521.4
Source: NIWA Climate Data (humidity 1981–2010[7][8]


The Blenheim urban area, as defined by Statistics New Zealand, covers 27.46 km2 (10.60 sq mi) and incorporates thirteen statistical areas.[9] It had an estimated population of 30,500 as of June 2023,[1] with a population density of 1,111 people per km2.

Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
Source: [10]

Before the 2023 census, the urban area had a smaller boundary, covering 17.20 km2 (6.64 sq mi).[9] Using that boundary, the Blenheim urban area had a population of 26,835 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 2,229 people (9.1%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 3,141 people (13.3%) since the 2006 census. There were 10,644 households, comprising 13,050 males and 13,776 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.95 males per female, with 4,674 people (17.4%) aged under 15 years, 4,461 (16.6%) aged 15 to 29, 11,526 (43.0%) aged 30 to 64, and 6,162 (23.0%) aged 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 85.3% European/Pākehā, 13.7% Māori, 3.9% Pasifika, 5.6% Asian, and 2.6% other ethnicities. People may identify with more than one ethnicity.

The percentage of people born overseas was 18.3, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people chose not to answer the census's question about religious affiliation, 50.8% had no religion, 37.6% were Christian, 0.6% had Māori religious beliefs, 0.8% were Hindu, 0.2% were Muslim, 0.7% were Buddhist and 1.9% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 3,177 (14.3%) people had a bachelor's or higher degree, and 5,022 (22.7%) people had no formal qualifications. 2,673 people (12.1%) earned over $70,000 compared to 17.2% nationally. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 10,800 (48.7%) people were employed full-time, 3,258 (14.7%) were part-time, and 570 (2.6%) were unemployed.[10]

Individual statistical areas in Blenheim (2018 census)[11]
SA2 name Population Dwellings Median age Median income
Blenheim Central 1,152 489 37.1 years $28,800
Mayfield 1,674 708 38.2 years $29,400
Redwoodtown East 2,742 1,224 42.2 years $29,200
Redwoodtown West 2,613 1,140 43.7 years $26,700
Riversdale-Islington 2,319 909 38.3 years $28,900
Springlands 3,321 1,317 48.4 years $30,100
Whitney East 2,394 1,053 44.0 years $29,000
Whitney West 2,652 1,137 41.7 years $31,500
Witherlea East 2,808 1,155 44.2 years $34,400
Witherlea West 2,601 1,095 46.4 years $35,400
Yelverton 2,559 1,092 47.7 years $29,000


The Taylor River Geyser
Central business district of Blenheim in 2012


The town's economy is based on agricultural services, with pastoral and horticultural farming providing a major source of income. Historically, sheep farming, dairying, and wheat and barley were the major activities in the area. Marlborough's first commercial grape vines were planted in 1973, and since then viticulture has become the dominant industry in the region; employment is derived not only from the production of wine, but also from 'wine tourism' in the area. Olive growing has also gained some importance in recent years. Despite being located several kilometres inland, maritime industries are also important sources of employment for Blenheim. Lake Grassmere has New Zealand's only salt works, producing 50% of the country's total salt requirement. Fishing and mussel farming are also important in the region.

Wine production[edit]

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[edit]

Seymour Square, the main square of Blenheim
Seymour Sq, Blenheim in early spring 2012

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.[12] The Square was named after Henry Seymour.[13] 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, Christchurch, and Paraparaumu with Sounds Air.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]


Blenheim is on the Main North Line, the northern part of the unofficially-named South Island Main Trunk Railway. The Coastal Pacific, a long-distance passenger train between Picton and Christchurch, stops at Blenheim railway station.[17] The 1906 station has been listed NZHPT Category II since 1982.[18] It is a standard Vintage station, with Tudor half-timbering and tile.[19]

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

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

Infrastructure and services[edit]


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 1945,[20] 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.[21]

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

Water supply and sanitation[edit]

Blenheim's water supply is drawn from the Wairau aquifer via nine bores and is treated at two plants in Middle Renwick Road and Bomford Street.[22]


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.[23]

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.[24]

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 (MBC) retaining the existing site and Marlborough Girls' College (MGC) moving to a new site.[25] An intention to relocate both Marlborough Boys' College and Marlborough Girls' College on the site currently occupied by MGC and Bohally Intermediate was announced in 2019, with Bohally Intermediate relocating to the current MBC site on Stephenson Street.[26] The relocation plan was scrapped in 2024.[27]

There are currently 11 schools in the Blenheim urban area: [28]

  • Blenheim School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school. It has a roll of approximately 146.
  • 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 527.
  • 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 1,010.
  • 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 949.
  • Mayfield School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) school in Mayfield. It has a roll of approximately 92.
  • Redwoodtown School is a state full primary (Year 1-8) school in Redwoodtown. It has a roll of approximately 298.
  • Richmond View School is a state-integrated Christian composite (Year 1-13) school in Redwoodtown. It has a roll of approximately 328.
  • Springlands School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) school in Springlands. It has a roll of approximately 356.
  • St Mary's School is a state-integrated Catholic full primary (Years 1-8) school. It has a roll of approximately 157.
  • Whitney Street School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school. It has a roll of approximately 329.
  • Witherlea School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school in Witherlea. It has a roll of approximately 336.

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.[29]



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 while the locally owned Marlborough Weekly is published every Tuesday and delivered to every home in the region.


Blenheim is served by 22 FM radio stations. The town can also receive AM and FM radio stations from Wellington, due to the straight line-of-sight across Cook Strait and the high power of the transmitters.

Notable people[edit]


  • Reed, A. W. (2002). The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand Place Names. Auckland: Reed Books. ISBN 0-7900-0761-4.
  1. ^ a b c "Subnational population estimates (RC, SA2), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996-2023 (2023 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 25 October 2023. (regional councils); "Subnational population estimates (TA, SA2), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996-2023 (2023 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 25 October 2023. (territorial authorities); "Subnational population estimates (urban rural), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996-2023 (2023 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 25 October 2023. (urban areas)
  2. ^ "Te Waiharakeke/Blenheim Heritage". Destination Marlborough. Retrieved 18 April 2023.
  3. ^ "1000 Māori place names". New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 6 August 2019.
  4. ^ "Blenheim - NZHistory, New Zealand history online". 12 February 2018. Archived from the original on 12 February 2018.
  5. ^ "Watery Marlborough settlement was never 'Beavertown'". Stuff. 21 January 2016.
  6. ^ "Welcome to the Climate Database". cliflo.niwa.co.nz.
  7. ^ "Climate data and activities". NIWA. Archived from the original on 20 May 2024. Retrieved 20 May 2024.
  8. ^ "Climate Data and Activities". NIWA. 28 February 2007. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  9. ^ a b "ArcGIS Web Application". statsnz.maps.arcgis.com. Retrieved 23 April 2024.
  10. ^ a b "Statistical area 1 dataset for 2018 Census". Statistics New Zealand. March 2020. Springlands (307500), Yelverton (307600), Mayfield (307700), Whitney West (307800), Blenheim Central (307900), Riversdale-Islington (308000), Whitney East (308100), Redwoodtown West (308200), Witherlea West (308300), Redwoodtown East (308400) and Witherlea East (308600).
  11. ^ "2018 Census place summaries | Stats NZ". www.stats.govt.nz. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  12. ^ "War Memorial and Clock Tower". New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
  13. ^ 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.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Sounds Air – Routes". Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  15. ^ Maria Slade (20 January 2016). "New Zealand's biggest town without traffic lights: Blenheim". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  16. ^ Selina Powell (25 May 2016). "New Zealand Transport Agency investigates State Highway 1 between Picton and Christchurch". Stuff.co.nz.
  17. ^ "Urgent calls for long-distance passenger services to stay as KiwiRail cuts operations". Newshub. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  18. ^ "Search the List - Blenheim Railway Station - Heritage New Zealand". www.heritage.org.nz.
  19. ^ "Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand - Blenheim Station". www.railheritage.org.nz. Archived from the original on 27 September 2015. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  20. ^ "AtoJs Online — Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives — 1945 Session I — D-01 PUBLIC WORKS STATEMENT (BY THE HON. R. SEMPLE, MINISTER OF WORKS)". atojs.natlib.govt.nz. 1945. p. 11. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  21. ^ "The History of Marlborough Lines". www.marlboroughlines.co.nz.
  22. ^ "Blenheim Water Supply - Marlborough District Council". www.marlborough.govt.nz. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  23. ^ McIntosh, Alister; Redman, William Edward; Allen, William Raymond, eds. (1940). Marlborough: A Provincial History. Blenheim: Marlborough Provincial Historical Committee. pp. 338–349.
  24. ^ A. D. McIntosh, pp 328–329
  25. ^ "Marlborough Boys' College – History".
  26. ^ "About the Project". Ministry of Education. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  27. ^ Gee, Samantha (27 February 2024). "Education Ministry does U-turn on school co-location project after spending $24m". Radio New Zealand.
  28. ^ "New Zealand Schools Directory". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  29. ^ "Marlborough Campus". Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on 3 May 2008.

External links[edit]