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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Interested in shipwrecks? Check out:
- Kauri Coast beaches things to do & see – Best Bits – a ship graveyard
- Poor Knights Island – Things to Do, Attractions, Top Sights
- Waipapa Point Lighthouse & the fate of the passenger steamer Tararua
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.
For heritage buffs scroll through
- Marlborough art, culture & heritage trail – Best Bits
- Top 10 things to do in Marlborough
- Edwin Fox Museum & Visitor Centre, Picton
- Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre – where the drama of flight is captured
BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDE
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