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.
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