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Blenheim, New Zealand facts for kids

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Waiharakeke  (Māori)
Urban area
Blenheim pictured from the International Space Station (ISS)
Blenheim pictured from the International Space Station (ISS)
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Country New Zealand
Region Marlborough
Territorial authority Marlborough District
Named for Battle of Blenheim
Member of Parliament Stuart Smith, Kaikoura Electorate
 • Total 17.20 km2 (6.64 sq mi)
 (June 2020)
 • Total 28,200
 • Density 1,640/km2 (4,246/sq mi)
Area code(s) 03

Blenheim ( 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 28,200 (June 2020). 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 Waiharakeke.


"Kia Ora Welcome to Blenheim"

The sheltered coastal bays of Marlborough supported a small Māori population possibly as early as the 12th century. Māori 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.


Blenheim, NZ
The Taylor River in central Blenheim

On the Wairau Plain, the town is mostly flat with surrounding hills, which do not give as much protection from prevailing winds as might be expected. Open areas in and around Blenheim are hit quite hard by winds blowing 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 23 February 1973. 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
Precipitation mm (inches) 48.9
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
Avg. 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
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


The Blenheim urban area, as defined by Statistics New Zealand, covers 17.20 km2 (6.64 sq mi) and incorporates eleven statistical areas. It has an estimated population of 28,200 as of June 2020.

The Blenheim urban area had a usual resident population of 26,832 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 2,220 people (9.0%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 3,138 people (13.2%) since the 2006 census. There were 13,056 males and 13,779 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.95 males per female. Of the total population, 4,677 people (17.4%) were aged up to 15 years, 4,461 (16.6%) were 15 to 29, 11,526 (43.0%) were 30 to 64, and 6,168 (23.0%) were 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 85.3% European/Pākehā, 13.7% Māori, 3.9% Pacific peoples, 5.6% Asian, and 2.6% other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).

Individual statistical areas in Blenheim (2018 census)
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


Taylor River Geyser, Blenheim
The Taylor River Geyser
Downtown Blenheim
Downtown Blenheim in 2012


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.



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.

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. 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.


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, stopped at Blenheim Railway Station until December 2021. The 1906 station has been listed NZHPT Category II since 1982. It is a standard Vintage station, with Tudor half-timbering and tile.

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

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

Events and points of interest

Seymour Square, the main square of Blenheim
Seymour sq, 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.

The Forrest Graperide is a 101 km (63 mi) cycle race through the most picturesque scenery in Marlborough every autumn and is a big drawcard for cyclists from all over New Zealand.

Hunters Garden Marlborough is an annual event held over a few days in early November that celebrates the gardens and the love of gardening in Marlborough. The event comprises garden tours, specialist workshops, and a fete.

The Havelock Mussel festival is an annual event held in mid March that celebrates the mussel industry.

Kaikoura Seafest is held annually in late September/early October, celebrating the food, wines, and beverages from the Kaikoura, Marlborough and North Canterbury regions.

The first weekend in February sees the festival "Blues, Brews and BBQ's", which comprises Blues and Jazz music, food and beer and wine.

The second weekend in February marks the annual event of Wine Marlborough, a showcase of the regions wines at Brancott Estate vineyard with good food and great entertainment.

The Marlborough Wine Weekend, first held in 2007 and held biannually since in late October, is a showcase of new release Marlborough wines and the wine-growing region. Hosted at stunning sites, it is a wine enthusiast's Mecca and a quality destination event with trade and VIP guests enjoying fine wine, gourmet cuisine and venues.

Seymour Square and Pollard Park are two of the town's 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. The Square was named after Henry Seymour.

The Wither Hills just out of Blenheim have many attractive walks just off Maxwell Road. They are dry and arid and have seen many severe forest fires.

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



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 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.

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.

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. The 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. Bohally Intermediate will relocate to the current MBC site on Stephenson Street.

There are currently 11 schools in the Blenheim urban area:

  • Blenheim School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school. It has a roll of approximately 47.
  • 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 420.
  • 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 931.
  • 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 964.
  • Mayfield School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) school in Mayfield. It has a roll of approximately 84.
  • Redwoodtown School is a state full primary (Year 1-8) school in Redwoodtown. It has a roll of approximately 307.
  • Richmond View School is a state-integrated Christian composite (Year 1-13) school in Redwoodtown. It has a roll of approximately 124.
  • Springlands School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) school in Springlands. It has a roll of approximately 430.
  • St Mary's School is a state-integrated Catholic full primary (Years 1-8) school. It has a roll of approximately 176.
  • Whitney Street School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school. It has a roll of approximately 251.
  • Witherlea School is a state contributing primary (Year 1-6) primary school in Witherlea. It has a roll of approximately 396.

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.

Notable people

  • Bob Bell (politician)
  • Rosina Buckman, opera singer
  • Charles Burns (doctor)
  • Frank Devine, editor and journalist
  • Jim Eyles, archeologist
  • William Girling, member of Parliament
  • Greg Hegglun, cricketer
  • Cameron Howieson, footballer
  • Jamie Joseph, rugby union player
  • Elizabeth Lissaman, potter
  • Leon MacDonald, rugby union player
  • Jack Macdonald (sportsman), rower
  • Ben May (rugby union), rugby union player
  • Liam Messam, rugby union player
  • John Newton (poet)
  • Ben O'Keeffe, rugby union referee
  • Humphrey O'Leary, Chief Justice of New Zealand
  • Sam Prattley, rugby union player
  • Vernon Redwood, member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly
  • Callum Saunders (cyclist)
  • Charles Saunders (rower)
  • Ben Sigmund, footballer
  • Robin Slow, artist
  • Alan Sutherland, rugby union player
  • David Teece, organizational economist and professor
  • Ian Wedde, author
  • Richard Wild (judge), Chief Justice of New Zealand
  • Michael Wintringham, State Services Commissioner

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