The Greenstone Valley and the Hollyford Valley were the easiest access routes between the West Coast and Central Otago. They were discovered and widely used by the Waitaha, one of the earliest groups of settlers in the region. They were followed by Kati Mamoe and Kāi Tahu in succession, travelling from Lake Wakatipu to the West Coast in search of pounamu, or greenstone.
Early West Coast Ngati Wairangi also used the route as they sought pounamu from the Dart Valley. Pounamu was highly valued as a material for tools, weapons and ornaments. The Otago pounamu was the especially valued pearly grey-green variety, and was made into tools and weapons of great mana (status).
No Māori archaeological sites have been found within the Greenstone and Caples Valleys, but about 20 sites have been identified beside the Dart/Te Awa Whakatipu and Rees/Puahere Rivers, and on Pigeon Island/Wāwāhi Waka, opposite the mouth of the Greenstone Valley.
The first Europeans to view the area, in 1862, were Southland runholders David McKellar and George Gunn. In 1863 gold prospector Patrick Caples was the first European to cross from Lake Wakatipu to the West Coast. For a long time the pack route up the Greenstone Valley was the only land route to the West Coast and the settlement at Martins Bay. The first runholder began farming the Caples Valley in 1880, and the original homestead of Birchdale Station still stands.
During the 1880s both valleys were plagued by rabbits, as was much of New Zealand at that time. The Greenstone Valley and the Pass Burn, which joins the Greenstone Valley above the Greenstone Hut, were used as stock trails for early runholders at the head of Lake Wakatipu. In the late 1800s Lake Rere was a popular destination for steamer excursions, and the steamer would stop at the Elfin Bay wharf while the tourists walked to the lake.
Ngāi Tahu Land Settlement - Kā Whenua Roimata
As part of the Crown’s settlement of Ngāi Tahu’s historic land claims, three high country stations at the head of Lake Wakatipu have been transferred to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Te Runanga are to transfer 4100 hectares of mountain land in the southern Ailsa Mountains and the southern Humboldt Mountains back to the Crown by way of gift to the people of New Zealand. This land is now known as Kā Whenua Roimata, which translates as “the lands of tears”.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu are also to lease back to the Crown in perpetuity, as conservation areas, other significant portions of the stations, mainly in the Mararoa catchment. In addition, public foot access by means of covenants is available around Lake Rere, to Scott Basin, and through the freehold portions of the properties in the Greenstone and Caples Valleys.