Martins Bay looking towards Hollyford Valley
PHOTO: Jonathan Astin ©

Introduction

Explore the remote, forested Hollyford Valley where the river flows from dramatic Fiordland mountains to the west coast sea. Enjoy tramping the Hollyford Track, or hunting, fishing, climbing and more.

Highlights

A remote and beautiful area - the Hollyford Valley is isolated with only one road for access, via the Milford Road. The scenery ranges from the dramatic glacier-carved mountainscapes near the Homer Tunnel, down beautiful riverside forest to Lake McKerrow, wetlands and wild coastal seascapes at Martins Bay.

A tramp from the mountains to the sea -  the Hollyford Track offers year round tramping for those who enjoy a more remote experience, while still using tracks and huts. With no alpine sections this track is rarely cut off by snow so you can tramp it in any season (depending on weather). The first part of the track offers a great overnight option for families or those with limited time.

A paradise for climbers, hunters, adventurers - the peaks at the head of the Hollyford Valley, the Darran Mountains, are famous in climbing circles. Many other activities can be enjoyed in this area, from tramping the more challenging Pyke- Big Bay Track, to hunting, fishing and boating in the river and exciting kayaking expeditions.

Place overview

Activities

  • Climbing
  • Fishing
  • Mountain biking
  • Walking and tramping

Find things to do and places to stay Hollyford Valley area

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Climbing

The peaks at the head of the Hollyford Valley, the Darran Mountains, are famous in climbing circles. 

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    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    Geology - formation of landscapes

    The U shaped Hollyford Valley was carved by a huge glacier, about 20,000 years ago. It left behind the Donne Glacier on the eastern face of Mt Tutoko.

    Lake McKerrow/Whakatipu Waitai was originally a fiord which was cut off from the sea by sedimentary deposits at Martins Bay.

    Trees and plants

    The majority of the forest is silver beech, mixed with kāmahi, kahikatea, mataī and rimu. The forested areas have a rich understorey of coprosmas, wineberry, fuchsia and pepperwood, with abundant ferns, mosses and lichens.

    Birds in the forest and wetlands

    The extensive forest in the Hollyford Valley (and Pyke area) provides habitat for native bird species including kākā, kea, mohua (yellowhead), kererū and New Zealand falcon. Small birds; tomtit, robin, brown creeper, bellbird, grey warbler, fantail, rifleman and silver eye are still common in many areas in spite of introduced predators.

    Kererū, the native pigeon, can be seen when kōwhai and other blooms and fruit are available. Rātā and flax attract the honey eaters, tūī and bellbird.

    Fiordland crested penguins nest in scrub and rocks near Long Reef where there is a fur seal colony.

    Fernbirds live in areas of swamp and scrub scattered through the valley, while bitterns hide in reeds at Martins Bay. Occasionally the kōtuku, or white heron, winters over at the bay.

    Ducks, shags, gulls and terns can be seen in the Hollyford estuary.

    Other wildlife

    Schools of dolphins regularly visit Lake McKerrow/Whakatipu Waitai, via the Hollyford River mouth.

    The rare native short- tail bat (pekapeka) is present in the forests but not common.

    Each spring the juveniles of several native fish of the galaxid family begin their annual migration up the river. These inanga, or whitebait, were an important traditional food item and today are still an important recreation fishery.

    Introduced animals include red deer, possums, rabbits, stoats and rats.

    History and culture

    Early Māori in Martins Bay

    Martins Bay, known to Ngāi Tahu as Kotuku, was an important settlement between 1650 and 1800 giving easy access to food resources in the nearby lakes, sea and forests, as well as pounamu (New Zealand jade or 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.

    European farmers and early tourist tramping in the Hollyford Valley

    Captain Alabaster, a whaler, was one of the first Europeans to explore the valley.

    In 1863 he met Ngāi Tahu chief Tutoko 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 above the bay after the girls.

    Dr. Hector travelled up the Hollyford Valley 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 and the idea is still a controversial issue.

    Jamestown and the settlement at Martins Bay were surveyed in 1879 but were doomed by isolation and only a few settlers stayed on. Among them were Hugh and Malcolm McKenzie, who raised cattle and drove them to sale-yards at Mossburn over 250 kms away.

    Today the Jamestown site is marked by ancient rose bushes and apple trees. Rose bushes also survive at Big Bay and at Jerusalem Creek there are sycamore trees planted by the early settlers.

    In 1926 the McKenzie brothers sold out to David Gunn who continued running cattle and started guiding tramping tourists from the Hollyford Camp. Since David Gunn's death in 1955, until 2005, his son Murray managed Gunn's Camp, a rest-stop for trampers with a store and small museum. The camp is now managed by the Hollyford Museum Charitable Trust.

    Getting there

    The Hollyford Valley is located in the northern area of Fiordland, and is accessed from the Hollyford Road.

    The nearest town with facilities is Te Anau.

    To get to the Hollyford Road from Te Anau, take the Milford Road (SH94) north towards Milford Sound. After the Divide (the start of the Routeburn Track), turn off after a few minutes at Marian Corner, onto Hollyford Road. Marian Corner is about 87 km along the Milford Road from Te Anau. Allow 2 hours to drive from Te Anau to the end of the Hollyford Road.

    Know before you go

    Contacts

    Te Rua-o-te-moko / Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre
    Phone:   +64 3 249 7924
    Email:   fiordlandvc@doc.govt.nz
    Address:   Fiordland National Park
    Visitor Centre
    Lakefront Drive
    Te Anau 9600
    Full office details
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