Hollyford Track | Fiordland National Park

Walk down a big valley to the sea, alongside the attractive Hollyford River for much of the way, around the scenic Lake McKerrow/Whakatipu Waitai for the rest. No mountain passes, no major climbs, all creeks bridged if you class those three wire structures as a bridge, attractive huts, the Hollyford is a go to, all year round track, unaffected by avalanches in the colder months, unlike most of the tracks in the South Island.

It’s a track with two distinct characters, a highly manicured, Great Walk standard fully benched track from the roadend into the Lake Alabaster Hut, and similarly from the north end of Lake McKerrow/Whakatipu Waitai to Martins Bay, coinciding with the route traversed by the commercial parties that share much of the Hollyford. Then there’s the section along Lake McKerrow/Whakatipu Waitai, often well above the actual water and around to the crossing of the Pyke River which is more up and down, the track while benched is more like your standard South Island tramping track, tree roots and slippery rock included at no extra charge, all those three-wire bridges, termed the Demon Trail which may be an apt description for newcomers to the tramping adventure but ain’t no big thing for the more experienced.

Experience standard dripping Fiordland forests, that’s dripping with vegetation and dripping, often, with rain; waterfalls of both the delicate and pounding types; a couple of substantial lakes, McKerrow/Whakatipu Waitai and Alabaster; two big rivers the Hollyford and Pyke, the tributaries mostly bridged by suspension bridges or the famous and entirely exciting three wire bridges; you may note the preponderance of water features mentioned here. And, of course, the views to the startlingly rugged Darran Mountains. As a finale there’s Martins Bay, the hut one of the most splendid sited around, a short walk from the seals and penguins down at Long Reef on the often pumping Tasman Sea.

The huts are well enough spaced and not fully utilised for large parts of the year, ie, there’s a great deal to like about this tramp.

The major question is what to do with what is essentially a cul-de-sac, as few seem to have the time and inclination to walk both directions.

There’s four main options: fly out, or indeed in, from the Martins Bay landing strip, fixed wing, from Milford typically; jet boat back up the lake, nothing like watching the scenery zip past while seated; keep going around to Big Bay, a great coastal day walk and onto the much more awkward Pyke; or, for the enthusiastic, turn around and retrace your path, it’s a splendid enough excursion to have no problem giving the track an encore.

Overall the Hollyford is a great way to experience Fiordland/South Westland in all its shades in that lush, dripping big tree forest.

where | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

The track starts at the end of the Lower Hollyford Road, 17 km from the main Milford Road

click to view larger, more interactive topographic map from, err, topomap.co.nz

distance | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

56 km one way, roadend to Martins Bay Hut

time | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

3 — 8 days depending on return option

when | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Anytime. Yup, indeedy.

Winter is surprisingly the time of least rain, June, July and August, although the duration of sunlight ain’t the best. February is the driest month on average but, then again, March is the wettest. You just take your chances, you can get floods at any time of year.

One thing, the track is not generally affected by avalanches due to the low altitude and the creeks are generally bridged with suspension or a three-wire bridge.

maps and GPS | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

On the extremely well marked and signposted track there’s little real requirement for anything more than the NZ Topo50 app on your phone for your map.

If you are planning on doing the Pyke as well it is definitely worth carrying the Land Information New Zealand, LINZ, Topo50 map, CA09 Alabaster Pass as a minimum, the major proportion of both tracks is on that single map. If you need the lot there’s the issue that small sections of the Hollyford Track are found on CA08 Milford Sound/ Piopiotahi, around Martins Bay, and CB09 Hollyford, the start.

You could download free digital versions from LINZ Mapchooser and print out the bits you need. Or buy the real thing, ie, on old-fashioned paper, at DOC offices, outdoor shops, and bookshops where maps sold. There’s a nationwide list at LINZ Map Retailers.

Need a custom map for your GPS device, download a more compact .klm format file from topomap.co.nz for free, although if you download a few maps consider a small donation, there’s considerable work gone into getting that info onto the internet and we should support these useful resources.

guided walk | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Hollyford Track, owned and operated by Ngai Tāhu Tourism run a three-day fully guided trip that takes in much of the track, avoiding the more demanding Demon Trail section where instead you power down Lake McKerrow/Whakatipu Waitai in a speeding jet boat, visit the seals and penguins on the coast, and fly out to Milford Sound. You stay in luxury lodges, with showers, sheets and fine dining each night. Trips leave every second day from Labour Weekend to Anzac weekend over the warmer months.

Costs are around $2950 per adult, 15+ years. Transportation from Queenstown/Te Anau, accommodation in Te Anau, and all meals/snacks are included. Alcohol extra.

route description | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

There are a few possibilities.

Fly into, or out of, the Martins Bay landing strip, many do this, most from Milford Sound, so they only walk the track one way.

Walk in, take the jet boat option for the slower Lake McKerrow section, and walk the rest out.

Combine with the Pyke – Big Bay route, this is very much weather dependent for the Pyke section.

Walk both ways.

The section from the roadend to the Lake Alabaster Hut is at a Great Walk, highly manicured, level of track. That applies to the part from the north end of Lake McKerrow to Martins Bay. The section between crossing the Pyke River on the suspension bridge until the north end of Lake McKerrow is more physically demanding with plenty of crossing of three wire bridges required.

huts | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

The Hollyford Track huts are comfortable enough, the mattresses are okay, the fireboxes work, and the roof keeps the water out, what’s to complain about? Actually, for much of the year, these huts will not be anywhere near capacity.

Here’s the DOC huts you will encounter:

Demon Trail Hut

Hidden Falls Hut

Hokuri Hut

Lake Alabaster Hut

Martins Bay Hut

McKerrow Island Hut

You can also continue on the nearby Big Bay Hut.

Big Bay Hut

Camping, while possible, best outside the huts, is not recommended due to the damp, and sometimes lumpy, nature of the terrain. Don’t camp on the helicopter landing pads.

There’s a simple and small, ie, inadequate, shelter at the roadend. You are not permitted to stay there.

Lower Hollyford Road Shelter

tramping times | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Here’s the DOC stated tramping times between huts, as shown on their website, usually actual walking times, ie, not taking into account any long breaks. DOC bases its estimation on times for an “average” tramper which means that it’s possible to walk faster.

Unfortunately, this time information tends to emphasise a pointless aspect of tramping, The Destination, and, some trampers feel they need to test themselves, rush, to prove something to someone. Aren’t you there to experience your environment, notice things, experience the thundering waterfalls, and watch the bellbirds flitting around? There’s no actual requirement to minimise the time racing through this memorable landscape.

Lower Hollyford Road shelter and carpark to Hidden Falls Hut
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Distance: 9 km

Hidden Falls Hut to Lake Alabaster Hut
Time: 3 – 4 hours
3 hours 30 minutes – 4 hours 30 minutes
Distance: 10.5 km

Lake Alabaster Hut to McKerrow Island Hut
Time: 3 – 4 hours
Distance: 10.4 km

McKerrow Island Hut to Demon Trail Hut
Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
Distance: 4.2 km

Demon Trail Hut to Hokuri Hut
Time: 5 – 6 hours
Distance: 9.6 km

Hokuri Hut to Martins Bay Hut
Time: 4 – 5 hours
Distance: 10.4 km

Side trip – Martins Bay Hut to Big Bay Hut
Time: 4 – 5 hours, one way

Then? Well, depends on your choice of return to civilisation.

getting there | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Unfortunately, the regularity of the various companies and routes has not yet settled back to what was once available pre-Covid in early 2020. Hopefully we will return to plenty of choice soon.

Trips and Tramps are not currently providing transportation, except to the Milford, Routeburn, and Kepler Tracks.

Tracknet will not be providing a scheduled service to the Hollyford Road Endfor the 2022/2023 season. They will be able to offer dropoffs and pickups at the Marian Corner in conjunction with the Te Anau to Milford Sound service.

Hitching is possible despite the remoteness of the cul-de-sac, Humboldt Falls is one of the attractions of the full Milford excursion for many tourists and it’s right at the end of the road. Hitching is also possible, if not entirely ideal, at the junction with Milford Road, but only, realistically, to Te Anau. The other side of the road to Milford is on a big bend with limited visibility and no safe stopping possible.

supplies | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Te Anau has one major supermarket, FreshChoice, open from 7 00 am to 9 00 pm seven days, for getting the main supplies. There is also a small 4 Square with similar, but marginally truncated opening hours.

Shellite, Fuelite, or gas canisters for your stove can be obtained at Outdoor Sports, Fiordland Frontier Supplies, both open Monday – Friday from 9 00 am to 5 30 pm and Saturday from 9 00 am to 1 00 pm, or Mitre 10, Monday – Friday from 8 00 am to 5 30 pm, Saturday from 9 00 am to 4 00 pm, Sunday from 11 00 am to 3 00 pm, if you haven’t been allowed to fly with it. All these shops are in the main shopping area of Te Anau.

warnings | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

This is Fiordland so anything can happen with the weather. And being New Zealand, this is something overseas visitors are entirely unused to. The weather can change surprisingly speedily, from blue skies to heavy rain in half an hour.

The track is built to accommodate what might be considered heavy rainfall in many other parts of New Zealand, it takes a huge deluge to cause major problems to the Hollyford. It can happen, in which case it’s often safer just to bunker down, the rivers and creeks rise quickly, they fall rapidly as well, once it stops raining.

Getting over to Lake McKerrow Hut requires the fording of the Hollyford River flood channel, ie, getting the feet wet even in times of drought, but it is possible to get trapped on the island for a few days if there is rainfall of major proportions.

Take care when crossing the numerous three-wire bridges, were those three-wire bridges mentioned? Some are short and fairly easy to cross, but there’s one that might be 30 m long, wobbles a bit, and another that might be in excess of six or so metres above the raging torrent. The wires can be slippery when wet, or frosty, although it doesn’t get frosty often with the all the water around. Yeah, really take care, but they are a lot of fun once you become accustomed to the experience.

Cars have been broken into when left at the Lower Hollyford Road end, make sure valuables are not left in sight to minimise the likelihood.

Hunters may be in the area, they often stay at Hidden Falls Hut, other huts less frequently, and may be roaming around off the track. On the positive side, they are aware of the popularity of the track and are mindful that they should point the guns well away from where trampers are walking. Remember that while hunters tend to shoot their best friends rather than strangers it’s best to avoid walking pre-dawn and after dark, try to wear light blue coloured clothing, not brown or red, and, make some noise as you wander along.

Keep some distance from the seals and penguins down at Long Reef near Martins Bay Hut, this is a major breeding area during spring.

Other than that it’s kinda benign.

The Demon Track has a reputation, apparently, as being a tougher section but really it’s just like any non-named DOC track in the South Island, no big ups and downs, just persistent oscillation and when raining, for some reason the odd small creek is directed along where you walk, you sometimes think you are just walking up a small stream. One thing, this section doesn’t last forever, eventually you finish. Actually when it’s wet the flat section between the Pyke River suspension bridge and the turnoff to McKerrow Island is the most irritating walking. You have to pick your way around muddy bits and generally get your feet wet.

Remember this is a track surrounded by the high mountains of Fiordland, one of the wettest areas in the world. As they say, be prepared.

other websites | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

DOC has a track guide on the tramp.

There’s also the $1 brochure already mentioned.

a big image slideshow | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Here’s a 49 image slideshow from the Hollyford Track giving an indication of the general track conditions and sights along the way, if you need any further convincing.

Click on the thumbnail image below to get the slideshow started, then you can click on the left or right sides of the bigger images to go forward or back.

Hollyford Track

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