A micro history of New Zealand in one spectacular valley
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The first people to arrive in the area were Māori exploring for food and resources. A coastal village at Martins Bay evolves becoming an important settlement between 1650 and 1800 with the tribe gathering abundant seafood, and gaining access to food resources in the nearby forests and lakes, building canoes from the giant trees of the forests and controlling access into and out of the highly prized pounamu sources in the region. Ancient Māori middens have been found on the sea side of the estuary on Martins Bay Spit.
Explorer James Cook visited the area and was overawed by this land of mountains and wild coastline. Captain Alabaster, a whaler, was one of the first Europeans to explore the valley. In 1863 he met Ngāi Tahu chief Tūtoko at Martins Bay and named the chief’s 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 Martins Bay after the girls.
Dr. Hector travelled up the Hollyford Valley and across the Southern Alps to Queenstown, and reported favourably on timber, indications of gold, iron, copper and zinc in the area. He also suggested a road through the area could be built, the idea still being a controversial issue to this day.
Sealers, whalers, gold hunters and fortune seekers soon arrive to settle the area; they start to build a small town, known as Jamestown, and attempt to clear the lowland forests for farming. But it is a harsh and unforgiving land and despite the best endeavours of these people they just couldn’t tame the land and Jamestown plus the settlement at Martins Bay were doomed by the conditions and isolation.
Today all that remains of Jamestown is the site marked by ancient rose bushes and apple trees. At Jerusalem Creek there are Sycamore trees that were planted by the early settlers and a few straggly rose bushes also survive further up the coast at Big Bay.
A few hardy settlers stayed on and among them were Hugh and Malcolm McKenzie, who moved to the bottom end of Martins Bay Spit. They raised cattle and drove them to sale-yards at Mossburn over 250km’s away from Jamestown. In 1926 the McKenzie brothers sell their cattle run to Davey Gunn who continued the cattle trade and started guiding tourists through the Hollyford Valley until his death by drowning in the Hollyford River in 1955.
In 1959 Hollyford Valley is incorporated into Fiordland National Park and the park receives international recognition as a place of outstanding natural values being accorded ‘World Heritage’ status in 1990 and the establishment of the larger Te Wāhipounamu - Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area.
Does this sound like a brief overview on the concise history of New Zealand? It is, and it all occurred in the Hollyford Valley, so deep is the natural and human history of this valley.