The „Sunshine Capital“ of Blenheim stands on the wide open Wairau plain whose grazing potential drew to their deaths the leaders of the pioneer settlement at Nelson. Today the prospect is one of spacious riverflat, vibrant with colour except in summer, when the heat of the country’s sunniest district tans the landscape to a uniform brown. Some 2,686 sunshine hours were recorded here in 1972, the country’s highest.
It is a combination of high sunshine, a long ripening period and free-draining river flats that has placed the district’s vineyards in the forefront of the international wine trade. An annual wine and food festival (second Sat. in February) draws thousands to a celebration of gastronomy, music and dance.
Blenheim’s earlier name, The Beaver (which animal is still the town’s mascot), was bestowed by the first survey party in the area, who were caught in a flood and forced to roost in their bunks „like a lot of beavers in a dam“. It was renamed when the new province of Marlborough was created, honouring John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, and his most famous victory, over the French at Blenheim in 1704. At the same time Picton was named in honour of Sir Thomas Picton, one of the Duke of Wellington’s hard-swearing generals and a casualty at Waterloo.