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Wairau Lagoon & Bar things to do

  • 3 minutes

Marlborough, South Island

Heritage buried in the Marlborough coastal salt marshes

Wairau Lagoon & Bar, heritage is buried in Marlborough’s rare coastal salt marsh. Marvel at the rusted beauty of the SS Waverley, ponder about the lives of pre-European Maori as they cut canals and left archeological traces behind. Enjoy the stark beauty of one of Marlborough’s conservation areas.

Wairau Lagoon walk DOC signage to SS Waverley evocative rusting shipwreck, Marlborough NZ
Wairau Lagoon walk DOC signage to SS Waverley evocative rusting shipwreck, Marlborough NZ

Top sights at Wairau lagoon, Marlborough

  • SS Waverley quietly orange tinted with rust looks glorious as the rays of a sinking sun cast a golden glow across the salt marsh and the old rusting hulk
  • Extraordinary stark landscape once a rich food source with its canals and fishnets now the home to numerous shorebirds including the magnificent royal spoonbill
  • An easy meandering walk among salt marshes

Wairau Lagoons Walkway: Blenheim area, Marlborough region

If you embark on only one walk this should be at the top of your list.

The Wairau Lagoon Walkway is a flat loop track, ideal for kids. The boardwalk follows the lagoon shoreline to the rusting remains of the Waverley ship.  This easy flat walk is a great way to explore the habitat of the Wairau Lagoons. Information plaques will help you identify the numerous foraging wading birds.

Photo icon Grab a photo moment at sunset with the ship wreck resting in the mud.

You are walking in the footsteps of New Zealand’s earliest inhabitants. Wairau is a site of historical significance in the settlement of New Zealand. Traditionally Wairau was a place for seafood gathering and fishing. There are a number of hand cut canals designed to trap birds and fish.

  •  Take a short walk, or do the full 3 hour loop.
Tidal lagoons nature reserve near Blenheim, New Zealand
Tidal lagoons nature reserve near Blenheim, New Zealand

To get to the lagoons, drive to the end of Hardings Road, which leaves State Highway 1.5 km south of Blenheim.

Travel pack information

SS Waverley

Ship wrecks Scuttled rusting hulk of SS Waverley in shallows of Wairau Lagoons, Marlborough, NZ
Ship wrecks Scuttled rusting hulk of SS Waverley in shallows of Wairau Lagoons, Marlborough

Wairau Lagoons Walkway – Marlborough, New Zealand is a place of intriguing history from one of the first places of documented human activity in New Zealand, unique inter-tidal salt marshes, and a SHIP WRECK, the SS Waverley.  Walk across the stark landscape with the sound of shorebirds, water currents slowly circulating. Soak in the atmosphere, the mood of timelessness developing the Wairau Lagoon.

SS Waverley, built in 1883 was a New Zealand coastal trader between Nelson, Wellington and the South Island’s West Coast.  From 1916 she carried frozen meat between Patea and Wellington for the Patea Farmers’ Co-operative Freezing Company. SS Waverley was decommissioned and a candidate to support the Wairau bar against further storm damage. However nature had another place for her as flood waters firmly relocated the SS Waverley to her current position before she could be scuttled at the Wairau Bar.

Pre-European Maori canal building

A system of canals was excavated by pre-European Maori creating a rich harvesting area for birds and fish trapped in the shallow canals. Birds in the moulting season were trapped in the canals. Eel traps were set at locations where the channel narrowed.

This wetland was the scene of fierce intertribal warfare over the right to harvest. Ngati Mamoe seized it from the Waitaha, who were assimilated and enslaved. In turn the Ngati Mamoe were ousted by the Rangitane.

The tools used to excavate were the ko or digging stick, supplemented occasionally by adze, which makes this painstaking removal of 45,000 cubic metres of soil even more remarkable. The work took more than one generation to complete, and was finished by Te Whatakoiro’s son Nganga.

The area is the first known archaeological site of early human settlement in New Zealand.  It is dated approximately 800 years ago.  The Moa Hunter society was East  Polynesian.  The shallow tidal channels, sand spits and boulder bars make for a great place for fish traps and hunting the Moa.  The remains of these fish traps are visible.  While it looks just like an uneven indentation in the ground 800 years ago people devised a method to trap fish using flax nets.

Wairau Lagoon is the home for shore birds and water loving birds nesting grounds, black swan and the majestic royal spoonbill.

To the south of the Wairau lagoon are White Cliffs reaching heights of 270 metres.

@Wairau Bar
@Wairau Bar

Interested in shipwrecks? Check out:

The HMNZS Waikato and the HMNZS Tui are 2 decommissioned NZ Navy ships which have been purposely sunk for divers just outside the Tutukaka Marina.

Remains of the nineteenth century ship `Edwin Fox`, preserved in Picton, New Zealand
Remains of the nineteenth century ship `Edwin Fox`, preserved in Picton, New Zealand

For heritage buffs scroll through


Nearby Blenheim is the largest town in Marlborough and a busy horticultural centre for the vineyards. Find out more about what to do in Marlborough Sounds and Queen Charlotte Track.


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