The Hollyford track, showcasing the best of Fiordland, New Zealand.
New Zealand’s 114km Hollyford track promises hikers jaw-dropping scenery, stomach-wrenching wire bridges, and enough native birdlife to wave a stick at. Following the pristine Hollyford river through virgin native bush, the Hollyford track guides you towards Lake Alabaster, and continues along the ‘demon trail’, named for its gruelling sections of ascent and descent over moss-covered rocks. Crossing raging rivers while balancing on a strand of wire, and finally emerging from the bush to meet the fierce Tasman Ocean at Martins Bay.. So, did it deliver?
We were dropped at the trailhead by a Tracknet shuttle just as darkness fell, after a 4 hr 30 minute drive from the next closest city, Queenstown. In order to maximise our schedule we had decided to hike out to the first hut (2.5 hrs) that night to gain an extra day later on down the track (pun intended). Our route would actually deviate here, and we would complete another (ex) trail called the Pyke-Big Bay route, and then link back up on the end of the Hollyford track and follow it back, making a 10 day round trip. Pyke Big-bay turned out to be one of the biggest hiking challenges I have ever faced..
So we will pick up our route again starting at Martins Bay, which is at the end of the Hollyford track. For many it is also the beginning of the Hollyford track as you can charter a small plane / or jetboat to fly/drive you out to Martins Bay and hike it back one way, instead of the ‘there-and-back-again’ journey you would ordinarily face (it is not a circular route) and saving 3-4 days in the process, if rushed for time.
Martins Bay must be one of New Zealands best kept secrets. Totally secluded, it is a place where you can sit on the boulder strewn shore and watch local seals fishing in the churning water as the Lake Mckerrow outflow meets the Tasman sea. The New Zealand fur seals are a tough breed of seals with double fat insulation layers, and the deepest diving of all seals, down to depths of 380 metres! We also saw yellow crested penguins, and plenty of birdlife while here.
Martins Bay hut is a simple wooden DOC (department of conservation) hut with a wood burner to stay warm, rain water and bunk beds. It is the highlight of all huts on the trip, mostly because of its perfect location (I could see the seals in the water whilst lying in my bunk!). We departed wishing we had longer to stay.
Thus began day 1. Martins bay to Hokuri Hut – 13km, 4 hours.
Easy trail following markers, a nice day-hike leaving the ocean behind you and travelling through riverside bush, past the hastily abandoned settlement of Jamestown (thwarted by Martins Bay’s dangerous harbour entrance) and across numerous wire bridges before arriving at Hokuri Hut, built in a clearing in the middle of the bush. The wire bridges were a fun and novel way to cross the rivers that would otherwise be impassable, but bear in mind after and during heavy rain (did I mention the area receives 7 metres of rainfall a year, raining 1 out every 2 days!) it is very slippery. Take your wet weather gear! Hokuri Hut has a delightful path leading down to Lake Mckerrow edge, and we popped down to go fishing for dinner! (Top picture).
Day 2 – Hokuri Hut to Mckerrow Island Hut. 15km, 7 hours.
Supposedly the toughest hike yet, the section between Hokuri hut and Demon trail hut is called the Demon Trail. The route is an old cattle track, that DOC have just placed markers on, basically. Alot of up and down over large boulders covered in moss. Most of the trail is inside dense bush, and emerges at the Demon Trail hut to an expansive view of the snow covered Darren mountains across crystal blue Lake Mckerrow. We continued after lunch to Mckerrow Island hut, wading through the Hollyford river to reach the island.
The river becomes impassable after heavy rain (is there any other type down here?) as the river swells, leaving you stranded on the island. There were plenty of stories in the Hut Guest Book of people being trapped on the Island for days, sometimes up to a week, waiting for the river to subside. The forecast for the next day was supposed to be torrential rain starting early AM.. We set the alarm for 5am to make sure we could cross the river before it swelled.
Day 3 – Mckerrow Island to Hidden Falls hut. 19km, 6 hours.
We crossed the river in the early AM without incident. The rain started shortly afterwards, turning torrential 4 hours later we arrived at the dramatic swing bridge across Pyke River. This officially ended our ‘loop’ of the Skippers Range peninsular, day 3 of the Hollyford trail but day 9 total for us, after completing the Pyke Route aswell.
Supplies were running low, and 8 days of dehydrated food was slowly bringing the morale down. Crossing back across ‘familiar terrain’ after the swing bridge was quite a good feeling! The torrential rain soon put a dampener to that. We bashed out the last 2 hours across the first section of serviced track for a week, and arrived fully satisfied, wet and exhausted at the Hidden Falls hut.
Day 4 – Hidden Falls to Hollyford Road end. 9km, 2.5 hours.
The final stretch out to the Hollyford road end concluded our 10 day trip, and we spent the night drowning our aching muscles in alcohol in Queenstown, whilst the storm of the year blasted Fiordland and dumped large amounts of snow over the road only two hours after we left. Had we been delayed, we would have been stuck for 5 days whilst the road was blocked off and closed!
If you can find the time to do all 10 days of the trip (Pyke + Hollyford), I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. The Hollyford track by itself is a fairly gentle track, and should be capable for the majority of fit people. It has stunning scenery in the middle of nowhere and provides a complete serenity for the senses. If pressed for time, and want to see the best that Alpine Fiordland has to offer, you might be better attempting the Kepler track (but only in the right season) or Routeburn track. The beauty of the Hollyford is its year-round access (providing the road isnt snowed over) and alot less people on the trail as it does not appear so readily in tourist brochures. Feel free to ask questions in the comments! The Hollyford track, showcasing the best of Fiordland, New Zealand!
Top items to take:
Mosquito repellant. Candles for the hut.
Goretex jacket and pants. Waterproof boots, a must! Waterproof holder for your Topo map (map is also a must). Waterproof cover for your bag. Basically, everything waterproof.