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-
HOME AT FIRST's-

NEW ZEALAND

WALKING THE

HOLLYFORD
TRACK

 NOT JUST ANOTHER

PRETTY PLACE

 

Sometimes the word gets through about New Zealand’s wonders,
its great surprises, and its anomalies. The Hollyford Track has all of these.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN AUTUMN 2001; LAST REVISED: 2014.   EXCEPT WHERE NOTED, ALL PHOTOS © HOME AT FIRST.

On the Hollyford Track the environment and the walking remain pristine. Photo © Home At First.
On the Hollyford Track the environment and the
walking remain pristine.

NO AMUSEMENT RIDE —
          The Hollyford Track is no great physical challenge. It’s basically all downhill. The trail follows the Hollyford River north-by-northwest from near its source in the snowcapped Southern Alps until it empties into the wild Tasman Sea. Walkers cover about 40-50 miles on foot during their three or four days on the track. They ride almost as many miles by bus, by jet boat, and again by small plane. Along the way there is one ghost town. Otherwise there is not so much as a hamlet between the mountains and the sea. Each night trekkers sleep in rudimentary but comfortable lodges in jungle clearings. There is no goal. The point is the experience.
          Enabling the experience was the vision of one man and one company. Peter Archibald formed the Hollyford Guided Walk company (now part of the New Zealand native-owned Ngāi Tahu Tourism Group of companies) to operate the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s

 

official trekking concession  in the Hollyford. Their guides,

their lodges, their boats, their backpacks, their home cooking, their flight out when the walking is done — these are the means to the end, and, for them, the end is more spiritual than physical. Interviewed in 2001 when he still operated the company, Archibald — tall, handsome, soft-spoken, and intelligent — spoke of the company’s operation of the Hollyford Track like a privileged stewardship. Today, as it was under Archibald's leadership, the Ngāi Tahu Tourism Group's Hollyford Guided Walk team considers it an honor to be able to introduce people from around the world to a rare and special environment. The new management keeps Archibald's promise that the Hollyford will become no amusement ride at Theme Park New Zealand.

COMPETING WITH THE MILFORD
AND THE ROUTEBURN TRACKS?

          Archibald’s goal was never to turn the Hollyford into another Milford Track, the self-styled "finest walk in the world." The
Milford Track — Fiordland’s most famous attraction, a walk of similar length in a parallel region of the national park just south of the Hollyford—has become so popular that it is often fully booked months ahead of time. Necessarily, traffic control measures have been installed to keep its walking population from harming its fragile environment. The Hollyford Track — currently a distant third in visitors behind the enormously popular Milford and (also neighboring) Routeburn Tracks — purposely restricts its capacity, which ensures that its environment and the walking experience remain pristine. The Milford and the Routeburn can be parades through paradise at certain times of year. Ironically, their enormous success helps ensure that the Hollyford can provide a solitary experience in the midst of a unique natural region

Peter Archibald's visionary leadership anticipated New Zealand's commitment to preserving its unique environment and not yielding to the pressures of tourism development. Photo © Home At First.
Peter Archibald's visionary
leadership anticipated New Zealand's commitment to
preserving its unique
 environment and not
yielding to the pressures
of tourism development.

barely touched by man.

 

 

SOME HISTORY —
          That the Hollyford Valley today has no permanent population wasn’t by design. The valley is one of the few low-level routes from the interior to the sea. Early New Zealand pioneers knew that the native Maori used the route to carry greenstone jade out of the mountains to the coast for transport and trade elsewhere on the island. The dense forests supplied them the huge trees necessary for constructing their fabulous ocean-going canoes. White men realized the route could be a natural outlet for the mineral wealth and agricultural products they imagined possible in the interior valleys.

 

They built a small settlement — Jamestown

Jet boat awaiting passengers on Lake McKerrow. Photo © Home At First.
Jet boat awaiting passengers
 on Lake McKerrow.

village — along Lake McKerrow. Jamestown is now a ghost town visited by Hollyford hikers during their 45-minute jet boat journey on the lake between walking sections along the Upper and Lower Hollyford Rivers. The visionaries of Hollyford colonization turned out to be too optimistic. The agricultural and mineral potential of the interior turned out to be quite limited, and the river’s outlet to the Tasman Sea, at Martin’s Bay, was not navigable. Besides, this corner of New Zealand remains its furthest from civilization. Whatever would come out of the Fiordland interior would require a

 

long coastal journey to reach market.

 

LOCATION —
          The western half of New Zealand’s
South Island is a patchwork of parks connected with bands of sparsely populated farmland. In an area roughly one-quarter the size of California, there are some nine large regions with national park status, and at least seven other major regional forest or maritime parks. Fiordland, covering the southwest corner of the island, is the largest of the national parks, and probably its most famous, especially now that it has earned coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
         
Fiordland is proof that opposites attract. It gets its name from the many deep saltwater sounds that invade far into this mountainous corner of the country—water-filled channels which were carved out by great glaciers Ice Ages ago. It’s this corner of New Zealand where two oceans collide. The Tasman

Sea — the thousand-mile-wide ocean separating New Zealand from Australia — ends here, when it encounters the frigid Southern Ocean, 1,700 miles of open water separating Fiordland from Antarctica. It is here that the territory of New Zealand’s mountain parrot, the kea, overlaps with that of the Fiordland crested penguin. Temperate zone rain forests extend from glaciated summits reaching nearly 10,000 feet down to sea level, where palm trees cohabit with birch and giant ferns. There are no land mammals; no snakes; rare birds with jungle cries and proud plumage; fur seals; giant waterfalls; looking glass

The Kea, Fiordland's mischievous parrot. Photo © Home At First.
The Kea, Fiordland's
mischievous parrot.

lakes; sand flies with teeth, or maybe knives; and rain — sometimes buckets full.

 

 

THE EXPERIENCE —
          The hiking in the Hollyford isn’t hard. The path is excellent — often loamy and soft, but with enough roots and rocks to keep your attention. Following a river downstream to the sea makes getting lost a non-issue. Breaking the journey every 10 miles or so ensures that even inexperienced walkers can manage each day’s march without complaining — unless their boots are not broken in. Carrying a pack is necessary. Three or four days of clothing and camera gear weighs in at 20-40 pounds

 

soaking wet on your back. But you don’t need to carry

Ferns--the national symbol of New Zealand--are found in abundance along the Hollyford Track. Photo © Home At First.
Ferns — the national symbol
of New Zealand — are found
in abundance along the
Hollyford Track.

food, bedding, towels, or shelter. The Hollyford Track company provides all that. Its two huts—Pike River Lodge and Martins Bay Lodge—supply welcome hot showers, twin bunk rooms, and fresh cooked meals that are as creative as they are rustic. (We remember fondly a whitebait quiche we  were served at Martins Bay Lodge. The luncheon was anything but common campfire grub.)
          Guides — young and athletic — come along. Or, rather, they lead and follow, and are often not seen. They seem to serve more as a safety backup and an information service than as intrepid leaders and scouts. Want to talk native flora and fauna? They’re there. Want to go it alone? They’re not. Gotta problem? They’re back. Lonesome? Bored? Well, maybe you’re on the wrong trail.
          The experience doesn’t end at Martins Bay Lodge. After two days on the trail — with one night in each of the lodges — and a jet boat trip to Long Reef on the Tasman, you have options. After visiting Long Reef, you return to Martins Bay Lodge where you board a light plane and fly

 

out of the Hollyford due south to Milford Sound.

 

MAJOR AFTERTHOUGHTS —
          On the third day you fly out from Martins Bay Lodge in a helicopter. The flight is a short but dramatically scenic one over the ridge or along the coast south to Milford, where you board a bus for the overland trip back to Queenstown. Guests with time and money to spare can join a cruise boat for an overnight cruise on the region’s world famous fjord, Milford Sound. The cruise boat provides all meals and cabins with bathrooms, departs late afternoon and returns in the early morning to connect with the bus for Queenstown.

DETAILS AND PRICES —
          Regardless of the trip options selected, all trips begin and end in
Queenstown and Te Anau, with bus transport to the trailhead and back from Milford Sound included in the cost of their trip package. Also included are backpacks and rain ponchos, if desired, and all meals on the trail and at the lodges. Currently, the 3-day trip (walk in, fly out) costs NZ$1,795 per adult. Children 8 through 14 are welcome and receive a 22% discount. The overnight Milford Sound cruise must be pre-reserved as part of the trip and adds nearly NZ$500/adult to the cost of the itinerary.

The way out of the Hollyford for most hikers is via small, fixed-wing aircraft like this Cessna parked at Martins Bay landing strip. Photo © Home At First.
The FORMER way out of the Hollyford for
MOST hikers WAS via small, fixed-wing
aircraft. NOW HELICOPTERS ARE USED TO
HAUL OUT HIKERS FROM MARTIN'S BAY.

 

From October to December Fiordland crested penguins surf the Long Reef beaches at Martins Bay and nest in nearby Hollyford rain forest. Photo credit Gilbert van Reenen - NZ Tourism.
From October to December Fiordland crested
penguins surf the Long Reef beaches at Martins
Bay and nest in nearby Hollyford rain forest.

Photo credit Gilbert van Reenen - NZ Tourism.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME?
          The walking season lasts from late-October to May. Because group size is limited, advance reservations are important. You may want to come at a specific time: the penguins are at Long Reef through December; seals have young ones during January; February and March is the warmest time, with summer flowers blooming; and autumn weather and flowers makes hiking comfortable and attractive through April. Therefore, book early to be sure to get the reservations

 

you require.

 

MORE INFORMATION —
          Visit the
Hollyford Track guided walk web site for full details, prices, inquiry and booking forms. Book your walk on the Hollyford Track as part of your independent Home At First New Zealand travel itinerary.

Long Reef at Martins Bay: the exit of the
Hollyford River into the Tasman Sea.

Long Reef at Martins Bay: the exit of the Hollyford River into the Tasman Sea. Photo © Home At First.

 


Few natural spaces are as uniquely varied as New Zealand.
Home At First offers lodgings in regions across the length
of New Zealand. Our exclusive "New Zealand Activities
Guide" has hundreds of suggestions for things to see
and do when you travel with
Home At First to
:
NEW ZEALAND.

The HOLLYFORD TRACK and FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK are easily reached
from Home At First’s lodgings in QUEENSTOWN & FIORDLAND.

QUEENSTOWN & FIORDLAND are easily reached in NEW ZEALAND.

NEW ZEALAND is easily reached from Home At First.

ASK TO SPEAK WITH A HOME AT FIRST "NEW ZEALAND SPECIALIST"
TRAVEL CONSULTANT CERTIFIED BY THE NEW ZEALAND TOURISM BOARD.

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