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A lot of people know the Milford and Routeburn, but what about the Hollyford Track? Gidday, my name’s Andrew Wells and I’ve been guiding hiking trips on New Zealand’s best walking tracks since 1999. I’d love to share my experiences to help you figure out which Fiordland walking track is just right for you.
Visitors to the Fiordland region of New Zealand are spoilt for choice when it comes to spectacular hiking and walking - every corner of the map offers the best walking in the world! The Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford Tracks are all in a stone's throw of each other, meaning that the hardest part of any visit to this famous area of New Zealand is choosing which walk is the best one to fulfill your dream walking holiday.
The truly breath-taking beauty of the Fiordland region – created by ancient glaciations tamed to form deep fiords, draped in emerald rainforest and framed by wild coastlines and soaring cliffs - was not lost on UNESCO, who made the Fiordland National Park, and the larger Te Wahipounamu, a World Heritage Area. This region is one of only three World Heritage areas to exist in New Zealand.
The Milford and the Routeburn tracks are probably the best-known hiking experiences in New Zealand, and don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but each of these tracks now have over 10,000 walkers each year. In the last few seasons I’ve been lucky enough to spend more time in the stunning and very peaceful Hollyford Valley - one of the real sparkling jewels in the crown of the Fiordland region. If you ask me what makes a day on the Hollyford different I’d say the lack of people; more often than not we’d be lucky to see even 20 people all day.
Where are the Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford Tracks?
All three tracks lie within Fiordland National Park, in the southwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand. The easiest way into Fiordland is from Queenstown or Te Anau, from Te Anau it's between one and two hours to the start of the trail heads of all three. The tracks are easy to get onto but you will need some help as they all start and finish in different spots and like anywhere, there are a few local tips you'll need to enjoy your trip even more.
What about Milford Sound, can I see Milford and walk one of these tracks?
Yes you can. Milford Sound is also in Fiordland and very close to all of these tracks. Be careful though, there aren’t many places to stay in Milford Sound and at the wrong time of day it can be very busy. With a little planning, there are ways you can get out on Milford Sound without the crowds and experience some special views that very few people ever see! How about this for a Milford Sound experience you'll never forget: Helicopter the length of the Sound on your way into the Hollyford Valley, something only a few very lucky people get to do each year!
What makes the Hollyford Track unique?
The Hollyford Track is a remote place of untouched beauty, it’s like stepping into an ancient land untouched by the hands of time. Throughout your walk you’ll be transported into dramatic landscapes that look like they belong on a movie screen, you can only guess at the secrets hidden within vast valleys filled with forest giants, lost lakes, and thundering waterfalls. You’ll meet the friendly local wildlife too.
Martins Bay - The Ace of the Hollyford Valley
This is a truly unique area made up of lowland coastal forest, regenerating sand dunes and the Hollyford river mouth and sand spit. There's nowhere like this on the Milford and Routeburn tracks, or anywhere else in the country. Martins Bay is the meeting point of two ancient worlds, it’s like an outdoor museum! Our cousins from the animal kingdom are relics from a prehistoric age, a time before human beings had even seen the land of the long white cloud. The Hollyford is the place for natural encounters with the New Zealand Fur seal and Fiordland Crested Penguin - most people have to travel far and wide to catch a glimpse of these stunning creatures in their natural habitat, but at the right time of year, you may even see both on the very same day. Some days we’ll even see the famous Hollyford dolphins on the only freshwater lake in the world regularly visited by saltwater dolphins. For bird lovers it may be the Banded Dotterel nesting on the sand spit which makes your day.
But it’s the human history of the Hollyford and Martins Bay which captures the imagination. Stories of mountains and warriors, explorers seeking their fortune, treasures of gold, shipwrecks, dramatic rescues and mythical creatures all bring this untamed land alive in a way possible nowhere else. Visiting the Hollyford with a guide is the best way to bring these stories of the land to life.
A bit more about the Hollyford Track
The full Hollyford Track walk begins at the Hollyford Valley, nestled beneath the Darren Mountain range, and follows the Hollyford River to the sea at the Martins Bay. Until recently it was only possible to walk the Hollyford from the 'Alps to Ocean' but in the last few seasons for a few lucky people it is now possible to go the other way, from 'Ocean to Alps', combining the Hollyford with Milford Sound and the Milford Track for a Fiordland adventure you'll never forget.
Of all the walks in the Fiordland region – the Hollyford Track is one of the gentlest, yet it is just as equally rewarding as its better known counterparts. While steep climbs on the Routeburn and Milford Track may have you huffing and puffing in parts, the Hollyford Track offers a calm walk into the heart of New Zealand nature at its very best – no steep inclines and no surprises.
Visiting the Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford Tracks with New Zealand Trails
Walking the full Hollyford and Routeburn Tracks takes four days each, while walking the Milford Track takes five. With New Zealand Trails, you are able to make the most of your precious time on vacation by experiencing day walks on all three famous tracks - the Hollyford Track, Milford Track and Routeburn Track are all part of our 13 Day New Zealand World Heritage Walking Tour.
Our Hollyford experience begins with a memorable helicopter flight the length of Milford Sound and around the rugged Fiordland coast to land in Martin’s Bay! Wow. We stretch our legs on a coastal wildlife walk to the Martins Bay seal colony to get up close to view the New Zealand fur seal in their natural habitat. If we’re lucky, we may even spot the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin.
We then hop in a jetboat to journey on to the beautiful Martins Bay Lodge, our cosy lodgings for the night. We're the only ones here in this purpose-built lodge on the edge of the Hollyford River - close enough so you can hear the waves crashing at Martins Bay Spit - a luxurious experience in the middle of an ancient wilderness. Relax and get to know your friendly hosts while being spoilt rotten in this most remote of settings - a delicious meal of kiwi-influenced cuisine. If you’re lucky, you might even catch sight of the cheeky native New Zealand Kea, in its natural playground, in its favoured Cabbage Tree just outside the lodge.
The following day’s adventure begins with an unforgettable jetboat ride across Lake McKerrow before following your trusty guides to hike the Hollyford Track. Walking 17 kilometres (10.5 miles) on a well-formed trail, emerald mosses, ancient Beech forest and giant rimu trees steal the show.
With a maximum of 14 guests on any New Zealand Trails tour, our guided Hollyford Track adventure is all the more fun with our small friendly groups - the perfect way to get to know your Kiwi guides and fellow travelers. See more about our New Zealand World Heritage Walking Tour here.
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