Hollyford Track – a walk in the park

UNSPOILT: Fiordland’s Hollyford Valley offers magnificent views. Right – At the end of a day’s tramping, a venison steak at Pyke Lodge was delightful.

Dream of embarking on an unforgettable trek in Fiordland?

Earlier this year I lost my multi-day hiking virginity, undertaking a three-day guided walk on the Hollyford Track with Ngai Tahu Tourism.

It’s the only major low altitude track in Fiordland National Park – ideal for newbies like me.

Add to that the lure of well-appointed private lodges with twin share rooms, piping hot showers, flush toilets, first-rate cuisine, jet boats and chopper rides, and these all-inclusive indulgences soften any qualms about physical discomfort.

In spite of that, I had spent several weeks getting “tramp-ready”, hauling a backpack with bricks in it, all over the Port Hills. In hindsight, my training was far more arduous than the actual hike, itself.

Truth be told, it’s a walk in the park. Our lead guide was Justin, a gregarious 30-year-old with a disarming, free-spirited Kiwi demeanour. He was like a walking, talking wilderness Wikipedia, with a trusting, first-hand sense of authority, knowledge and reverence for the natural realm.

In spite of Fiordland’s notoriety for high rainfall, the weather gods were on their best behaviour as the sun was blazing and the mercury was nudging 25 deg C.

What a novelty to be able to quench your thirst from the gin-clear water, running freely in unmolested streams, rivers and waterfalls.

Beneath the exalted gaze of the serrated Southern Alps, our first day’s assignment followed the crisp, swift blue-green waters of the Hollyford River, on a gently undulating track through native beech forest, along the valley at the base of the steep and dark-forested slopes of the Darren Mountains.

Refuge from that beaming sun soon unfurled as we walked in dappled light under the cooling shade of the vast canopy of beech and ferns. The pace was leisurely as Justin brought to life the fascinating history, geology, botany and ecology of the Hollyford.

Sections of ribbonwood and podocarp forest, liberally draped in mosses, ferns and lichens, added great variety and texture to the dominance of the silver beech, before the relatively flat track served up a short climb over Little Homer Saddle.

With an elevation of 182m, it was entirely manageable, after which we took in the gushing cascades of Little Homer Falls ahead of the day’s triumphant finish line of Pyke Lodge.

As the lodge shuffled into view, a frisson of ecstasy rippled through my body, as lodge hosts, Jesse and Skye, warmly greeted us on the lawn with an inviting tray of thirst-quenchers.

After settling in to our private rooms and savouring a steaming hot shower, we retired to the lodge lounge, to be showered again, with an evening of pampered hospitality.

I gazed out the window at the dreamy view of Mt Madeleine, tinged in pink, as the lowering sun spangled her peak.

Dinner was a delight, headlined by a succulent venison steak and drool-worthy lemon tart. As much as I was ready to fall into a deep sleep, Justin had a playful nocturnal encounter lined up for willing night owls.

We followed Justin by torchlight to the banks of the Hollyford River, where a voracious feeding frenzy fast ensued, as he fed the native eels the leftovers from the evening’s venison.

They’re possibly the best fed eels in New Zealand, growing 3m long – and some are 70-years-old. This frenetic riverside exposition, alongside the glow worms and a powdered sky of bright stars, brought the curtain down on a cracking day.