Te Hoiere / Pelorus River

Last Modified: 1-1-2021 11:10

Pelorus River at Pelorus Bridge
Pelorus River at Pelorus Bridge
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

The Te Hoire / Pelorus River is the largest river in north west Marlborough, draining into Te Hoiere / Pelorus Sound near Havelock. The Pelorus River has its source in the north west of the Richmond Range, and flows for over 40km to the sea. The river flows in a single channel for its entire length. Between 70,000-130,000 years ago, the Pelorus River was a tributary of the Wairau, with the current Kaituna River forming the lower reaches of the valley. Sea level rise, and sinking and tilting of the land resulted in the sea entering what became Pelorus Sound, and the river in the Kaituna valley reversing direction and becoming a separate body of water.


The Māori name Te Hoeire was bestowed on the river by Ngāti Kuia after the eponymous waka of their ancestor Matua Hautere. European exploration and exploitation was begun by Lieutenant Chetwode of the HMS Pelorous in 1838, who named both the river and the sound after his vessel.  Originally, the entire Pelorus valley was heavily forested in mixed beech and podocarp forest. Ngāti Kuia migrated into the area and settled it. In the late 1830s, the valley was the site of a massacre of the Ngāti Kuia and Ngāti Apa by Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha.

Between 1865-1866, reserves were set aside close to the site of the current bridge, and designated as areas for accommodation and the site for future towns. These settlements did not eventuate, however in the 1880s the discovery of gold in the Wakamarina, a tributary of the Pelorous led to a large population of miners in the Pelorous valley for a time. The settlement of Canvastown at the point where the Wakamarina met the Pelorus was a direct result of the mining activity. Gold was not the only resource exploited in the Pelorus Valley. Over 80km of rail track were laid through the forest to serve Brownlee's Mill. In 50 years of operation, they processed a total of 5.3 million cubic metres of timber. They ceased felling in 1915, however other smaller mills continued operation till the 1930s. Today, the site of Brownlee's Mill is marked by the wreck of a steam tug. Both the gold mining, and the milling led to extensive silting of the Pelorus River, and Pelorus Sound.

In 1903 a Scenery Protection Act was passed at the instigation of W. H. Skinner who recognised the need to preserve the environment for future generations. The remaining forest at Pelorus Bridge was finally established as a scenic reserve in 1912. A scenic board was founded by volunteers, however the reserve was under the overall control of the government. The reserve today is populated by a mixture of beech and podocarp forest. Originally the whole valley was forested in mixed podocarp swamp forest. The reserve is the habitat of one of two bat species, the only indigenous land mammals in New Zealand.

The Pelorus Bridge reserve is a popular scenic, camping and swimming area approximately mid way between Blenheim and Nelson. 

In the 21st Century, the Pelorus River has been made famous by Sir Peter Jackson filming scenes for the second of The Hobbit trilogy in the Pelorus reserve area.

In 2020 a major, multimillion dollar collaboration between DOC, Ngāti Kuia, Marlborough District Council, and local land owners was launched to improve water quality and protect biodiversity in the Te Hoiere catchment.

Tributaries of the Pelorus River

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Te Hoiere / Pelorus River. (2021) Retrieved April, 24, 2024, from