Less popular than the nearby Milford and Routeburn tracks, the Hollyford Valley is nonetheless one of the South Island’s great tramping experiences.
The Hollyford Track follows the course of the longest valley in Fiordland National Park from the Darran Mountains out to remote and beautiful Martin’s Bay. It can be done either in style, with guides and private lodge accommodation, or under your own steam, staying at the Department of Conservation’s excellent huts.
Unusually for Fiordland tracks, it has no alpine passes to contend with, but that’s not to say it’s easy. Oh no. No one said it was going to be easy.
The track begins at the end of a road off State Highway 94, from Te Anau to Milford. It takes around four days to reach Martin’s Bay, depending on how hard you want to push it and whether you avail yourself of the jet-boat service that cuts out that most demanding section of the track.
Most of the walk is comparatively easy, following the flats alongside the Hollyford River. The highest point on the track, which you strike on the second day’s walk, is a steady rather than a steep climb, and the effort is rewarded with views of Mount Madeline and, further south, Fiordland’s highest peak, the 2,746m Mount Tūtoko.
There are two picturesque waterfalls along the way, a huge swingbridge over Pykes River, a pretty tract of southern podocarp forest and the two lakes you encounter on your way – lakes Alabaster and McKerrow – boast more than passable trout fishing.
At Lake McKerrow, you even have a choice of transport modes. You can continue to hoof it, or you can catch a ride on a jet-boat the length of the lake, thus skipping what has been called ‘the most exhausting non-alpine day’s walk’ in New Zealand, evocatively named the Demon Trail.
The Hollyford Track ends at Martins Bay, where you will be welcomed by improbably dense clouds of sandflies and the opportunity to get up close to a big seal colony and a penguin rookery.
The return journey can be accomplished via Big Bay and Lake Alabaster (another four to five days’ walk), by turning around and retracing your steps up the Hollyford, or by catching a ride on a plane or helicopter. Try watching all that terrain you’ve so laboriously covered in days of footsore toil roll away beneath you in a matter of minutes and see if you don’t have a whole new respect for technology.