The Marlborough Museum: From Maori Beginnings to Wine Country

When you walk into a hostel’s kitchen to the smell of freshly baked scones and knowing that they are you are going to be enjoying them (for free, no less), you know you have found a winner. We are delighted to be back at the Tombstone Backpackers in Picton for many reasons, but the free scones for breakfast has to be a highlight.

After having a couple of days with early mornings out in the Marlborough Sounds, we decide to stick to dry land today and opt for a more relaxing activity – visiting the Marlborough Museum. Every region in New Zealand has their own museum showcasing the things that make their region special – and we’ve visited all but the Marlborough Museum. It would be a darn shame to leave the South Island tomorrow without paying a visit!

Back to Blenheim for the Marlborough Museum!

Despite missing the museum when we were in Blenheim a couple of days ago, we figure it’s still worth taking the 20-minute journey from Picton to get there. Plus, we really don’t mind the drive back into the wine country surrounded by golden hills.

We arrive in a huge car park at the end of Arthur Baker Place and enter the museum into a rustic red-bricked reception. The friendly receptionist gives us a map and points us to the direction of the “cellar doors”. Of course, we should have known that the Marlborough Museum, in the most famous wine region in New Zealand, would have cellar doors as an entrance!

A funky entrance to the wine exhibition A funky entrance to the wine exhibition
Checking out all the fancy wine labels of NZ's largest wine region Checking out all the fancy wine labels of NZ's largest wine region
Smelling the aromas of sauvignon blanc Smelling the aromas of sauvignon blanc
Many wine-o artifacts Many wine-o artifacts

Behind the cellar doors…

Pulling on a large metal ring of the shabby cellar doors, we walk into a corridor lined with luxurious display cases dedicated to certain famous Marlborough wine brands, including a few we visited on our winery-hopping bike tour we did the other day. From brand new wine menus to old bottle designs, there are lots of little wine memorabilia to look at. At the end of the “wine cellar” are a case of barrels showing the different uses and parts of the classic wine barrel. Did you know you can fit a man in one? (Yep, there is a poor model of a sailor living in one).

From aromas to pesky bugs

The wine cellar is just the beginning of the Marlborough Museum’s wine exhibition. Now we enter an open room filled with different features, from seeing differences in soil that produce the different aromas found in Marlborough’s sauvignon blanc to actually smelling these aromas in some snouts sticking out of the wall. (Man, they smell gooood!) You can learn all about Marlborough’s humble wine-making history all the way to how large commercial wine operations produce the wine today. If you really want to go into greater detail, learn about the outbreak of phylloxera, a wine-makers worst nightmare, complete with a mechanical insect moving about on the wall.

Learning about the ecosystem of Marlborough to wine heritage

The earliest settlement in New Zealand

A carved archway at the end of the wine industry’s story indicates that we are now moving into the Maori exhibition, Te Pokohiwi. Maori history and artifacts always fascinate us when we see them displayed in various museums throughout New Zealand, but this exhibition especially significant as in covers the settlement of Wairau Bar, the earliest settlement site in New Zealand dating back to 1300! The floor is lit up with shimmering blue lights in the shape of the Wairau River and its many estuaries from source to mouth. Then our attention is drawn to three large wooden waka (canoes) in the centre of the room.

Tools, jewellery, weapons, clothing, and more have been excavated and fill up the display cases. We perhaps spend the most time in this room looking at the relics from the indigenous culture’s fascinating past.

Europeans come to Marlborough

After the early Polynesian settlers came the Europeans in Marlborough lead by the first landings in the Marlborough Sound by Captain James Cook. You will hear lots of stories about this fella throughout New Zealand, as he is the reason there is such a British influence here in New Zealand. A small display case covers his story with a model of his ship, The Endeavour. Then we move onto the 1820s and the whaling history in Marlborough with relics, such as whaling weapons and whale jaw bones.

Checking out the Maori exhibition Checking out the Maori exhibition
Intricately carved Maori weapons Intricately carved Maori weapons
Strange happenings in Marlborough... Strange happenings in Marlborough...

Vintage bedrooms and unusual crime stories

The back wall of this European exhibition is like walking through the house from Victorian times with many trinkets and treasures from the early European settlers set out a bedroom, kitchen and living room style. Robin is particularly drawn to the vintage board games… He was definitely born in the wrong era.

It turns out the Marlborough has a few fun stories during its time, which we read more about on various newspaper clippings. A headline reading: “Marlborough can claim to have been the scene of a series of horrible murders accompanied by unusual circumstances which may unique in the history of crime.” Whurrt?!

The ever-essential natural history

As well as checking out some landscape photography in the theatre, our final exhibition to check out is the “Wild Things”. This is a colonial naturalist’s study of the regions plants, animals, birds and insects. If you know anything about colonial wildlife displays, you’ll know that it’s a little bird creepy with taxidermy displays on Victorian-style furniture. Nevertheless, it shows such diversity in wildlife in the Marlborough region, something we’ve been able to experience for ourselves recently on Motuara Island.

Feeling a bit more cultured and super knowledgeable about the Marlborough region, we make our way back to Picton for the final time. Tomorrow, we will be leaving the South Island at sunset, which no doubt will be a magical time to see the Marlborough Sounds. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

A fascinating display of Maori artifacts!
A fascinating display of Maori artifacts! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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