History of the Hollyford Valley and Martins Bay

Māori history

Whakatipu Waitai is a place of immense significance to Ngāi Tahu. Evidence of the extent of early occupation is noted in the various archaeological reports that have been compiled, but more importantly such values still exist on the landscape today. 

Martins Bay was an important settlement for Ngāi Tahu between 1650 and 1800, giving easy access to food resources in the nearby lakes, sea and forests, as well as pounamu (greenstone).

Large trees on the river banks were felled to make canoes for use on the lakes and ancient Māori middens have been found on the sea side of the estuary.

Whakatipu Waitai was home to the 19th century fighting Chief Tūtoko and his whānau. Tūtoko had participated in the Ngāi Tahu struggle to gain control of pounamu and mana whenua status (territorial status) over the Tai Poutini (West Coast).

In 1863 Captain Daniel Alabaster met Chief Tūtoko at Martins Bay and named Tutoko’s two daughters Sara and May. Dr. James Hector, the first provincial geologist of Otago, visited later the same year and named the hills either side of the bay after the two daughters.

The highest peak in Fiordland, among the Darran Range overlooking the Hollyford Valley, was named after Chief Tūtoko.
One of the Hollyford Conservation trustees, Kara Edwards, is a seventh generation descendant from Chief Tūtoko.

Mount Tūtoko

Chief Tūtoko

European History

Either side of the lower Hollyford River, and in an area known as Jamestown on Lake McKerrow, are 19 freehold sections of land. These private landholdings date back to an attempt, albeit unsuccessful, to settle the area of Martins Bay and Jamestown in the 1860s. It was thought that the area could provide a West Coast port to service the Otago goldfields. The settlement failed because of the lack of road access and not least because of the notorious river entrance.

One family remained, the McKenzies, subsistence farming into the 1920s when they were bought out by the famous runholder, Davey Gunn. Davey Gunn ran cattle in the area until he drowned crossing the Hollyford River on Christmas Day in 1955. He also pioneered guided tramping trips through the valley, the precursor of today’s commercial operation.

Davey Gunn

McKenzie homestead

Fiordland National Park absorbed most of Davey Gunn’s cattle run, but the 19 sections remained with freehold title. Some of the Trustees on the Hollyford Conservation Trust are landholders of these few pieces of private land. 

Still accessible today are the remnants of the historic site of the McKenzie homestead behind the dunes at the southern end of Martins Bay. Near Jamestown can be found the remains of a cemetery, testament to those who struggled and lost their lives and their loved ones trying to survive in the harsh and inhospitable climate and conditions. 

Few of today’s landholders at Martins Bay live there year round. Most come and go, but all have an enduring passion and sense of guardianship for the restoration of the ecology of our Fiordland tūrangawaewae.

There are many excellent books on the Hollyford area. We recommend:

  • Pioneers of Martins Bay – by Alice McKenzie
  • Hidden Water – by Philip Houghton
  • The Land of Doing Without – Julia Bradshaw

We want to see a healthy and thriving native ecosystem in the lower Hollyford Valley, with diverse and abundand bird life free from the risk of predation by possums, stoats and rats.

Our Vision

To protect, enhance and restore all native flora and fauna for the enjoyment of all, today and for generations well into the future.

About The Trust

The Hollyford Conservation Trust was formed in June 2014 to establish a ‘mainland island’ sanctuary in the lower Hollyford Valley, in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and other stakeholders.

Pest control

This project was established in 2014 after local landowners realised the impact introduced pests were having on the Lower Hollyford Valley – the birdsong was gone, and the canopy was collapsing, with the more palatable species such as southern rātā and fuschia being browsed extensively to the point of dieback.

Bird translocations

One of the key long term aspirations of the project is to return species that once lived in the project area but have become locally extinct.

Cliff Broad Tawaki Project

The Cliff Broad Tawaki pest control project is a trapping line along the rocky coastline to the North of Martins Bay to protect Fiordland crested penguins/tawaki during the breeding season.  This project is funded by a generous donation from the Broad family in memory of their father Cliff Broad, who had a special bond with the Hollyford Valley and Martins Bay.

Latest News

2019 annual bird monitoring

2019 annual bird monitoring

The results of the 2019 bird monitoring show birdlife in the valley has increased significantly since intensive pest control began in 2015.

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February 2020 floods in the Hollyford Valley

February 2020 floods in the Hollyford Valley

Early February brought record rainfall to the Hollyford Valley, causing signficant damage to the Hollyford and Milford roads, as well as causing large slips and damage to tracks, huts, and the Trust's own infrastructure. 1,000mm of rain fell in a 60 hour period in...

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