Sometimes the word gets through about New
its great surprises, and its anomalies. The Hollyford Track has all
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.
NO AMUSEMENT RIDE —
The Hollyford Track is no great physical challenge. Its 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.
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?
Archibalds goal was
never to turn the
Hollyford into another Milford Track, the self-styled "finest walk in the
Milford Track Fiordlands most
famous attraction, a walk of similar length in a parallel region of the national park just
south of the Hollyfordhas 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
leadership anticipated New
Zealand's commitment to
preserving its unique
environment and not
yielding to the pressures
of tourism development.
barely touched by man.
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
They built a small settlement — Jamestown
Jet boat awaiting
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 rivers outlet to the Tasman Sea, at Martins 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.
The western half of New Zealands
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
Heritage Site status.
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 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 Zealands 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
lakes; sand flies with teeth,
or maybe knives; and rain — sometimes buckets full.
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
New Zealand — are found
abundance along the
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
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? Theyre there. Want to go it alone? Theyre not. Gotta
problem? Theyre back. Lonesome? Bored? Well, maybe youre on the wrong trail.
The experience doesnt 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
out of the Hollyford due south to Milford
On the third day you fly
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
DETAILS AND PRICES —
Regardless of the trip options selected, all
trips begin and end in
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.
FORMER way out of the
WAS via small, fixed-wing
aircraft. NOW HELICOPTERS ARE USED TO
HAUL OUT HIKERS FROM MARTIN'S BAY.
From October to December
penguins surf the Long Reef beaches at Martins
Bay and nest in nearby Hollyford rain forest.
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
MORE INFORMATION —
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
Zealand travel itinerary.
Long Reef at Martins Bay:
the exit of the
Hollyford River into the Tasman Sea.
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