A spirit-lift­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Fiord­land

Finds the per­fect blend of the great out­doors and mod­ern com­forts on a guided tramp through one of the most beau­ti­ful parts in New Zealand.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Alice Neville

his pack­horse, whom he later named Calm, af­ter her sad­dle bags (con­tain­ing gelig­nite and det­o­na­tors) caught fire as Davey burned bush for farm­land; how he stitched up his own pri­vate parts with fish­ing line af­ter a nasty ac­ci­dent; and how he died on Christ­mas Day 1955, aged 68, when his horse fell while cross­ing the Hol­ly­ford River. Davey could do most things, but he couldn’t swim.

Any­way, af­ter a home-baked friand and a few yarns at Gunn’s Camp, you’ll carry on a lit­tle fur­ther by bus then board the wae­wae ex­press (aka shanks’ pony) to get on with this tramp­ing business.


Not so hard for any­one with a rea­son­able level of fit­ness, and my group ranged from teens to 70-some­things. You’ll walk more than 40km over three days, but this is a val­ley trek, not an alpine cross­ing like the Route­burn and Mil­ford tracks, and you don’t have to carry your pack af­ter the first day. That said, it’s no leisurely stroll – day one in par­tic­u­lar is pretty chal­leng­ing, and a de­cent pair of hik­ing boots is def­i­nitely in or­der.

Along the way

So much! On day one we fol­lowed the Hol­ly­ford River through stun­ning na­tive beech for­est, with the odd spec­tac­u­lar wa­ter­fall thrown in for good mea­sure, be­fore ar­riv­ing at Pyke Lodge for a hard-earned shower and beer (the Tu­atara range is avail­able, pleas­ingly, and of course there’s wine too). Our hosts (a nice young Ki­wiAmer­i­can cou­ple) cooked us up a three-course meal be­fore those keen enough to pull on the old boots again ven­tured out for a brief ex­cur­sion to feed a gang of hun­gry eels and check out some glow worms.

Then it was time to re­tire to the com­fort of our cosy bunk rooms (com­plete with hot wa­ter bot­tles and Whit­taker’s choco­late turn-downs – if this is rough­ing it, then count me in).

Af­ter a large cooked break­fast (take note – de­spite all the walk­ing, you may ac­tu­ally gain weight on this trip), we headed to the stun­ning Lake Alabaster and crossed a slightly ter­ri­fy­ing 101-me­tre swing bridge, one per­son at a time, to check out the be­gin­ning of a par­tic­u­larly das­tardly stretch of the Hol­ly­ford Track called the De­mon Trail. Thank­fully, that’s as much of the de­mon as we had to con­front thanks to the wel­come ar­rival of a jet boat that took us along the Hol­ly­ford River to Lake McKer­row.

We landed on the site of Jamestown, es­tab­lished in 1870 as a first stop for ships from Aus­tralia, and aban­doned when cap­tains re­fused to cross the treach­er­ous har­bour bar. Af­ter build­ing eight houses, a gen­eral store and half a pub while strug­gling with bouts of star­va­tion, the hardy Scot­tish set­tlers fi­nally gave up on Jamestown in 1879, and now all that re­mains is a plaque.

Next we hiked through a se­ri­ously im­pres­sive podocarp for­est where we en­coun­tered mighty to­tara, rimu and matai be­fore emerg­ing onto the west coast to visit New Zealand fur seals, moth­ers and ba­bies, in the crash­ing sea at Long Reef. Fi­nally it was time to head home to Martins Bay Lodge and the wel­com­ing touch­stone, Te Herenga ki te Ngakau Ma­haki, a pounamu boul­der he­li­coptered in as a gift from the peo­ple of west coast runanga Makaawhio.

Day three saw us ex­plore Martins Bay Spit, a misty, moody in-be­tween zone of sorts that sep­a­rates the for­est from the sea. We heard a lit­tle about chief Tu­toko, whose vil­lage and peo­ple guarded the pounamu lands and con­trolled the route to the east. The site of his vil­lage is not walked on out of cul­tural re­spect, but in­stead we fol­low the old route of the pounamu car­ri­ers. Ap­par­ently vil­lagers moved rocks and stones to form a smooth path for the men lug­ging rocks on their backs, and the path re­mains 200 years later.

As the driz­zle set in and the in­fa­mous Fiord­land sand­flies be­gan to bite, we boarded the trusty jet boat to re­turn to Martins Bay Lodge, where we were picked up by he­li­copters for the penul­ti­mate leg of our jour­ney, through the in­cred­i­ble Mil­ford Sound, be­fore board­ing buses to re­turn to Te Anau and Queen­stown.

High­lights The birds.

Along the way we are teased by pi­wakawaka (fan­tails), ngirun­giru (tomtits) and ko­ri­mako (bell­birds). Robins make a cameo ap­pear­ance, and we are pretty sure we hear a kaka one evening. Per­haps the pest-con­trol ef­forts are work­ing? We’re fairly cer­tain we’re see­ing and hear­ing more birds than ear­lier walk­ers have re­ported.

Gran­deur, vi­brancy and pu­rity, beauty be­yond ex­pec­ta­tion. And ex­cel­lent in­for­ma­tion/ed­u­ca­tion from our knowl­edge­able guide, Justin, a man pas­sion­ate about the flora and fauna of the val­ley. (He had a few days off re­cently, but came back for a walk in the val­ley just for fun.) We walk

The for­est.

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