Five-star way to walk the Hollyford

RELAXING: Time to put the feet up and rest with a beverage at Martins Bay Lodge.

Awakening from a fulfilling sleep following my first day walking the Hollyford Track, Pyke Lodge was humming with excitement as a mighty giant was flashing its face.

Typically shrouded in cloud and mist, the highest peak in Fiordland National Park, Totuku, was fully unmasked, strutting its sky-piercing grandeur with the fearless pride of a warrior.

This glorious mountain takes its name from the old Maori chief who the early Europeans encountered.

Day two on the guided walk started with a gentle stroll through the podocarp rainforest to Lake Alabaster. The rainforest provided a continuous font of insights, as our guide Justin pointed out some choice specimens including kahikatea, which ingloriously were felled to make butter boxes and clothes pegs.

The prized sightings were the rimu, gigantic gods of the forest, some 1200 years old. As a group exercise, we discovered that it took 13 people to hug the full circumference of its trunk.

I also learnt that 63 species live off the rimu tree, including the ubiquitous rata vine, which clings tenaciously to its trunk. Also reliant on this forest giant is our highly endangered kakapo. The rimu seedling is their primary source of food.

Then there are the magnificent tree ferns which act like umbrellas in the rainforest, including the mamaku – the world’s biggest tree fern growing 25m in height.

Wreathed in fast dissolving whiskers of morning mist, Lake Alabaster greeted us like a freshly polished mirror, its reflective quality is superlative.

Next up, an intimate encounter with the longest swing-bridge in Fiordland, a staggering steel and wire construction strung across the pristine waters of Pyke River.

On the far side of the bridge, we noticed the sign for the Demon Trail, a gut-busting 20km hilly trail that free-roaming trampers have to contend with to reach Martins Bay.

Mercifully, our guided experience had a far more pleasurable traverse in-store, with a jet boat ride down the rapids of the Hollyford River to Lake McKerrow. The interplay of alpine, rainforest and watery vistas were seraphic.

Our next port of call was the lakeside site of the ill-fated settlement of Jamestown, where pioneer settlers in the 1870s struggled, toiled and ultimately failed against formidable odds to establish the remote outpost as the new capital of the South Island.

From the vestiges of Jamestown we walked our way to Martins Bay, with more sumptuous podocarp rainforest to admire.

The increased birdsong was also very conspicuous. Kaka, fernbirds, kakariki, tui, grey warblers and those lusciously limpid notes of the bellbird all added to the avian choir, as we drifted beneath the forest canopy, before the windswept sand-dunes and booming surf of the Tasman Sea served up a startling change in scenery.

Before reaching our overnight roost, the magnificent Martins Bay Lodge, we strolled up to Long Reef to swoon over the seal colony. Mums and playful pups were lolling about the rocks, while the absentee Dads were apparently laying about in Wellington.

Sumptuous Martins Bay Lodge is only seven-years-old, and is even more pamper-packed than Pyke Lodge.

Warmly greeted by Sam and Anna, we started with an antipasto platter, before gorging on blue cod and a chocolate brownie. And the drinks just kept on coming.

After another restorative sleep and decadent breakfast, we set off along the Martins Bay sand spit, eye-balling the surly breakers of the Tasman Sea, to admire two historic sights.

We heard about the European settler family, the McKenzies, as we stood around the remains of their homestead, on a mound at the end of the wind-blasted sand spit.

From there, a short stroll brought us to the vestiges of the old Ngai Tahu site of Opu, on the beach. Previously used as a summer village, there are numerous middens present across the sand with shellfish and hangi sites.

After a ravishing lunch, one final crescendo brought our celestial three days to an operatic end. Two choppers landed in front of Martins Bay Lodge, to spirit us to Milford Sound on a riveting, climactic ride, swooping low along the rugged, jagged coastline and purring into the fiord, crowned by Mitre Peak.

What a finale to a wilderness journey of a lifetime, with all the frills, a soul-rinsing encounter with Fiordland’s greatest hits.

We traversed Tolkeinesque landscapes, steep-sided glacier-hewn valleys and fiords, snow-capped peaks, mirror lakes, crystal-clear rivers, the soothing tinkle of tiny streams, thunderous waterfalls and remote beaches. The solitude is priceless, the birdsong is operatic and the hospitality is five-star fantastic.

FAST FACTS

•The Hollyford Track three-day guided experience is easy-paced. You don’t need to be a hard-out tramper to enjoy this experience, a reasonable level of fitness will make this walk very manageable. The guided walk departs every second day from mid-October to late April. For more information www.hollyfordtrack.com\

 

STAGGERING: Fiordland’s longest swing bridge across the Pyke River.

SLEEPY: Seals lolling about on the rocks at Long Reef.

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