Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
The Hollyford Track is not a New Zealand Great Walk, it is a brilliant one. A 56km, four day, one-way track, follows the Hollyford river to the sea. In Fiordland National Park it rains two days out of three – celebrate it – that’s why this area is so stunningly beautiful.
30th November 2019 – a great day for an adventure. Drive from Te Anau to Hollyford Road end through beautiful rolling hills and bush, along the main highway then a loose metal road and around potholes. Looking for transport options? Suggest something with decent tyres as opposed to pimped up sewing machine on fragile plastic ones!
Hollyford Road end to Alabaster Hut
The start of the track is over a swing bridge spanning the Humboldt Creek (looked more like a river today!) – an amazing turquoise blue, flowing high and fast after quite a bit of rain in preceding days. We had been told this section of the track was good with plenty of swing bridges except for one creek crossing about 30 minutes from the start where the bridge kept getting washed out so they hadn’t replaced it. If the water was up, we wouldn’t be able to go on until it was safe to cross. There was plenty of water but luckily for us it was all good to cross – expect to get wet boots!
Enjoyed meandering through lush forest with ferns and mosses, connecting up with the Hollyford River, with occasional glimpses of the amazing Darren Mountains. Passed the private hut (Sunshine) and after another swing bridge lunched at Hidden Falls Hut. Hidden Falls is well worth a look – you could hear it before you saw it.
The next section of the track is a slight climb up to Little Homer Saddle (147m – slight stretch of the word saddle) but great views through the beech forest to the highest mountain in Fiordland National Park – Tutoko (2723m). A few Piwakawaka (Fantail) and Miromiro (Tomtit) flitting about hoping we would stir up some lunch for them. Then down to the Little Homer Falls that were roaring after the recent rain. The Pyke River/Hollyford confluence was fairly impressive and 15 minutes on we came across the Lake Alabaster Hut. The Hut is just up from the lake – sleeps 26 however only 12 people staying. The swim in the lake was fairly fast – combination of sand flies and cold!
(Brochure time: 5 – 7 hours. Actual time: 7 hours - easy)
Alabaster Hut – Demon Trail Hut
Believe what the brochure says about this track – this section of the track is very different to the first day. This is New Zealand backcountry at its gnarliest – you have to watch every step! Hard to believe they used to drive cattle on this trail.
Early start, overcast, mosses, ferns and water! Great swing bridges then the trail is rocky and undulating, and due to recent rain it resembled a small stream a lot of the way. Yay for orange triangles (blazes) marking the way.
After 2 hours we hit the Hollyford River again but couldn’t cross to McKerrow Island Hut for lunch as the water was too high and more was falling in the form of rain. Walking through the forest was just amazing – waiting for the trees to come to life, hobbits to pop out or Taniwha to jump from behind a fallen tree. After 5 hours the skies cleared a bit and we got great views across Lake McKerrow to snow covered mountains. We also got our first 3-wire bridge - these are fun. How would you walk a tightrope - straight on, the sideway shuffle or Charlie Chaplin (my favourite).
After another hour we came to Demon Trail Hut (12 bunks). A bit of dry wood in the wood shed which we replaced with some recent falls from the forest. Got the fire going, into dry clothes and enjoyed the hut to ourselves for a wee while but then joined by an American couple coming from Martins Bay with tales of fresh Crayfish provided by local lads from Queenstown who had dived for them. A few hours later a group of six who came from Hollyford Road and couldn’t get into McKerrow Hut - had a big day (13 hours!). As always, a good chat!
(Brochure time: 4.5 – 5.5 hours. Actual time: 6 hours - hard)
Demon Trail Hut to Hokuri Hut
Second day on the Demon Trail – blue sky. Rocky, slippery, undulating – and although the rain had stopped, still WET! Loving the 3-wire bridges – some now very close to the water – without these we wouldn’t have been able to cross most of the creeks.
Came across a young guy who was returning from Martins Bay – said the water was a bit higher on the way back but no problem crossing the streams.
It was gnarly and had to watch every step but loved it. Incredible rain forest with breath taking views of the lake and mountains.
(Brochure time: 5 – 6 hours. Actual time: 7 hours – hard)
Hokuri Hut to Martins Bay
This is an easy walk along the lake shore, however, when there is no lake shore…
Very heavy rain over night. We left early in light rain expecting to have to do a detour to a three-wire bridge to cross Hokuri Creek however before we got there, we came across a creek that was flowing very fast and high. While we were discussing strategies for crossing this the water got higher, faster and turned brown. We decided to return to the hut and give it a few hours to see if the water level would come down, as did the group of six. 4 hours later it was crossable so off we went; but, there was more water to come.
When we got to the 3-wire bridge across Hokuri Creek it was only about ½ m above the water – great fun!! Back to the lake and the track basically disappeared. Occasionally we would see a blaze on a tree in the lake under 1 -1.5 m of water but most of the time nothing. We did our best to follow the shore but when it disappeared or we came to a stream that was too deep we had to bush bash up the side of the stream until we came to a safe place to cross. Trapping tracks came in handy for this but not recommended!
Jamestown was a welcome sight but a bit concerning that what should have taken us 1.5 hours had taken 3 hours! Jamestown had a few relics of the old settlement but not much else. The settlers were expecting a road to be built in here – not likely. We continued along the lake in much the same way coming across private baches and sheds, along with the odd very old sign post for the track. Five hours after leaving the hut with utmost joy and relief we came to a very large orange blaze leading away from the lake shore and a sign for Hollyford Airstrip and Martins Bay Hut.
This part of the track was completely different. Open, well-marked and in most places dry, except while crossing the airstrip where we were blessed with a sudden storm - thunder, lightning and hail! One more obstacle before Martins Bay Hut – Jerusalem Creek - we got to practice our river crossing skills. This after heavy rain overnight was knee deep, very wide and flowing steadily.
Back into the forest where you could hear the sound of the breaking waves as you walked along a very well-marked track. And finally, Martins Bay hut (24 bunks), 12 people there already who had been there for a few days unable to do the walk to Big Bay Hut as planned and had been advised not to go to Hokuri. They were surprised to see us arriving at 7 pm at night and incredulous that we had managed to get along the lake.
From here you can go on a further 20 minutes to Long Reef and see Fiordland crested penguins and seals (May-November) – it was pretty wild and windy so didn’t stay long.
(Brochure time: 4 - 5 hours. Actual time: 7 ¼ hours. First half - hard due to high level of lake, second half - easy)
Martins Bay to Hollyford Road end
Up early to wind and rain. Worried that the boat wouldn’t be able to pick us up due to the weather so very pleased to see it arrive and able to take all 20 of us. Great trip across the lake – which was apparently 3 m higher than usual!
Dropped us off at Pyke Lodge and we then had a 6 hour walk back to the car. Only concern was if the water had risen further we would have problems crossing the creek 30 minutes before the road end. Came across a few DoC workers along the way who reassured us we would be fine. Had a fairly good gallop with fine weather but the skies opened just as we got to the car park – yay for shelters and hatchbacks!
1. Check level of lake
2. Check level of lake
3. Check level of lake
4. There are NO wardens at the huts
5. Take enough food for extra nights
6. Always have a plan B
On reflection, if we didn’t join up with the group of six we would have stayed at Hokuri Hut and not tried to get to Martins Bay. Reassuringly, talking to the captain of the boat if we weren’t at Martins Bay for pick up, he would have come into Hokuri Hut to see if we were there, and we could have boarded from there. On the walk to Martins Bay after the first 3 hours there was a long discussion about going on or heading back as it was pretty hard going. The decision to go on was taken once we started coming across baches where we could take shelter on the deck or in the shed if really necessary.
Absolutely loved the walk and would do it again anytime.
If you'd like to learn more about the Hollyford Track or any other New Zealand Great Walk for that matter, ask the folks at our travel desk or check out the Department of Conservation website - Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park.