Story of the Wairau Bar comes to life

01:11, Feb 26 2013
Marlborough museum
Bringing back memories: Lynne Walsh and husband John admire the 'Neal Canoe' at the new Wairau Bar exhibition. The 7.4 metre wooden waka, built in the 1870s. The waka was once used by Mrs Walsh’s father to carry feed to his stock during floods at his Marshlands farm.

A new exhibition that tells the "founding story of Marlborough" officially opened last night.

The Wairau Bar exhibition, at the Marlborough Museum, combines art with technology to emphasise the historical significance of the Wairau Bar, home to the oldest known burial site in New Zealand.

Museum chief executive Steve Austin said the story of the Wairau Bar, near Blenheim, had international significance as the first settlement site of New Zealand.

It was a high-status village that was essentially the country's capital in the 13th century, Mr Austin said.

The Wairau Bar exhibition, like the museum's wine exhibition, was of international standard, he said. "It's important for museums to invest in the design and quality of product to really develop something substantial for visitors."

Mr Austin praised Rangitane for embracing research and wanting to learn more about their ancestors.


"That is a gift to the descendants of this generation."

At least four people buried at the Wairau Bar were children of the first Eastern Polynesians who travelled to New Zealand, Mr Austin said.

Picton archaeologist Reg Nichol, who attended last night's opening ceremony and blessing, said the early settlers in their double canoes had the "rocket ships" of their day.

Rangitane development manager Richard Bradley said the museum had done a fantastic job to capture so many "icons of our nationhood" in one room.

Marlborough mayor Alistair Sowman said the settlement of the Wairau Bar had been a story waiting to be told.

The museum had brought that story into the public arena.

Tourists to New Zealand wanted a cultural experience first and foremost, Mr Sowman said.

"There is an opportunity here in Marlborough to market this.

"I think this is only the beginning. I see an opportunity here to grow the story culturally and economically."

Lynne Walsh and husband John attended the opening of the exhibition to see a waka on display that was taken from her father's farm at Marshlands.

Mrs Walsh remembered her father using the canoe, built in the 1870s, to take hay bales to his cattle during floods.

The exhibition was extremely important for people to learn the story of the Wairau Bar, she said.

The exhibition includes a fibre-optic floor feature depicting the waterways that once wound past the Wairau Bar and out to Cloudy Bay.

A centrepiece of wooden waka, and cabinet displays of moa bones, various tools and weapons and jewellery, are among other relics and recreations on display.

The Marlborough Express