From as early as the twelfth century the sheltered coastal bays of Marlborough supported a small Maori population. Maori in the region lived by fishing and cultivating crops.
In 1770, Captain James Cook was the first to explore the area and sixty years later, the first Europeans arrived and set up a number of whaling stations. At first Maori in the region and the European settlers co-existed, but with the arrival of the New Zealand Company in 1840 and its subsequent land purchases on behalf of Nelson settlers, conflict sparked.
The early history of Marlborough was closely linked with the settlement at Nelson. However, the people of Marlborough demanded independence from Nelson and nineteen years after the original Nelson settlement, this request was approved and Marlborough became a separate province in 1859.
In the early 1860s, gold was discovered in Marlborough, swelling the region's population. However, the boom did not last long. Gold-mining soon became unsustainable and the development of pastoral farming began to provide the region with its greatest long-term benefits. During this period, Marlborough settlers developed huge sheep runs, rivalling neighbouring Canterbury's sheep stations in size.
Today Marlborough's economy continues to be rural based, with pastoral and horticultural farming providing a major source of income. The region continues to utilise its marine resources, with salt production at Lake Grassmere, the country's only source of salt, plus fishing and marine farming. Wine production has been one of the fastest growing industries and Marlborough is now one of New Zealand's largest wine producing regions.
Commercial whaling was also a feature of Kaikoura's early history. One of the first European settlements in the area was the establishment of a shore whaling station in 1843, located near the historically important Fyffe House. Other whaling stations followed, eventually employing more than one hundred men in the Kaikoura district. With declining whale numbers from the 1850's, many whalers turned to farming, and descendants of those early pioneers still farm the land here today.