Introduction

People who took on sheep farming at Stewart Island did the hard yards. Learn about the island's longest running sheep farm.

Much remains of the original homestead complex on the 5,000 acre Island Hill Run - Stewart Island’s longest operating sheep farm.

The first Stewart Island run

Matthew Scott was the first to take up a pastoral run on Stewart Island, and began his venture in sheep farming in 1874, when he built a small hut on the Scott Burn. Scott must have found sheep farming incredibly difficult, due to the extensive peat swamps, and the sheer isolation of the run.  He soon gave up the endeavour.

Island Hill

More suitable, relatively drier land lay to the west of Scott’s lease, and in 1879 it was established as Run 419. It was also dominated by swamp, and the ancient sand dunes which line the coast were the driest parts of the property.

William Walker was the first to take up the lease in 1884, and built a small house which remains at the core of the homestead building, although it has been added on to substantially.

Island Hill Run Homestead, Mason Bay, Stewart Island, 1890s.
Island Hill Run Homestead c1890s

Walker farmed the run for 14 years before selling to Welles Charlton. Charlton’s two stepsons, William and Cyril Thompson managed the run with him. In 1902 William Thompson took on newly established Kilbride Run, 533, immediately to the south. Cyril continued to work the Island Hill Run until 1923, when Arthur Traill took it over. His wife’s family, George and Stanford Leask, had taken over the Kilbride run the year before. In 1942 Stanford and Dolly Leask took over the Island Hill Run, and were succeeded by the last leasees Tim and Ngaire Te Aika who farmed there from 1966-85. 

A tough life

Wood and fresh water were not easily procured. High transport costs and the inaccessibility of Island Hill Run meant that income was made from wool alone in the early years, and subsidised with deer and possum skins in the final decades.

Today

Island Hill homestead today – house and implement shed.  Image: R Egerton.
Island Hill Homestead today

The Island Hill Homestead is used to accommodate Department of Conservation weed control and hut warden staff, but visitors are welcome to walk around the buildings and look from the outside. Wherever possible, staff will invite you in to look around.

As well as the homestead and the nearby implement shed, a number of other features remain as part of the homestead complex.  

The woolshed and yards at Island Hill Homestead.  Image: R Egerton.
The woolshed and yards at Island Hill Homestead

Near the homestead are the remains of the homestead vegetable garden and a number of old macrocarpa windbreak trees.  Dog kennels sit in the shelter of one of these windbreaks. 

The woolshed and yards can be visited alongside the track towards Freshwater River.  The walking track also goes past a number of fence lines and gateways, and follows the run’s access roads both to the beach and Freshwater River.  Old bridges span some of the stream crossings along this farm road. 

In some places it is possible to see drains that were dug in an effort to make more land suitable for grazing.  The most substantial of these is the Scott Burn drain which the middle section of the Mason Bay to Freshwater Track follows. 

Hidden in the bush near the homestead there are a few of the deer pens which Tim Te Aika built to capture deer to diversify the income of the run in its later years.  Beyond the woolshed can be found the dark room Tim built for working on the deer.  In more recent years this has been used by hunters for accommodation but now a new hut has been built it is to be restored to its earlier functional layout. 

Getting there

The Homestead is a short walk from the Mason Bay tramping hut on the North West and Southern Circuits.  Access Island Hill Run and Homestead by walking from Oban to North Arm Hut (Rakiura Track), and then to Freshwater Hut (North West Circuit and Southern Circuit) and across to Mason Bay. Alternatively, take a water taxi with a licensed operator to Freshwater Hut and walk through to Mason Bay

Further reading

Sansom, O. (1970) The Stewart Islanders (A.H. & A.W. Reed).

Howard, B. (1974) Rakiura: A History of Stewart Island, New Zealand (A.H. & A.W. Reed).

Peat, N. (2010) Rakiura Heritage: A Stewart Island History and Guide to Historic Sites (Dept of  Conservation).


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