Walking the Hollyford Track
You may know the Milford and Routeburn, but what about the Hollyford Track? Visitors to the Fiordland region of New Zealand are spoilt for choice when it comes to spectacular hiking and walking – this renowned corner of New Zealand offers some of the best walking in the country! The Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford Tracks are all within a stone's throw of each other, meaning that the hardest part of any visit to this famous area is choosing which walk is the best one to fulfil 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 Fiordland National Park, and the larger Te Wahipounamu a World Heritage Area in 1990. This region was the first World Heritage area in New Zealand and is one of only three World Heritage areas to exist in the country, with the other two being Tongariro National Park on the North Island and the Sub Antarctic Islands that lie to the south east of New Zealand.
The Milford and Routeburn tracks are probably the best-known hiking experiences in New Zealand, and are two of New Zealand's Great Walks. Whilst there’s no denying they’re incredible tracks with world-renowned scenery, they are also incredibly popular with over 10,000 walkers each year. As well as spending a day on these walks, we take our guests into the peaceful Hollyford Valley - one of the real sparkling jewels in the crown of the Fiordland region. What our guests really love about the Hollyford is its lack of people. More often than not, we’ll be lucky to see a few people all day whilst walking along the track. At the end of the day, we like to count to see how many other people we’ve seen - sometimes we even get into double figures!
Where are the Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford Tracks?
All three tracks lie within Fiordland National Park, in the south west corner of the South Island of New Zealand. The easiest way into Fiordland by road 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 tracks. From Queenstown, it’s between three and four hours to the start of the Hollyford and the Milford and the Divide start of the Routeburn. If beginning the Routeburn from the Routeburn Shelter near Glenorchy, expect a journey of around an hour and fifteen minutes from Queenstown and over three hours from Te Anau. 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 that can help you enjoy your trip even more.
What about Milford Sound, can I see Milford and walk one of these tracks?
Milford Sound is also in Fiordland and very close to all of these tracks. Be aware 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 careful planning, there are ways you can get out on Milford Sound without the crowds and experience some special views that few people ever see! Guests on our Kiwi Classic, Masterpiece and Short South stay overnight on Milford Sound before enjoying a morning cruise, whilst guests on our World Heritage trip see the Sound by air as they take a helicopter over the length of the sound towards the Hollyford Valley.
What makes the Hollyford Track unique?
The Hollyford Track is a remote place of untouched beauty. It almost feels like you’ve stepped back in time. Throughout your walk, you’ll be surrounded by seemingly mystical and dramatic landscapes that look like they belong on a movie screen. There’s an array of secrets hidden within vast valleys filled with forest giants, lost lakes and thundering waterfalls. Whilst in the valley, there should be plenty of opportunities to see the friendly local wildlife.
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; we like to think of it as an outdoor museum! Our cousins from the animal kingdom found at Martins Bay are relics from a prehistoric age, a time before humans 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. Often, people have to travel far and wide to catch a glimpse of these stunning and rare 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, Lake McKerrow/Whakatipu Waitai. For bird lovers, it may be the Banded Dotterel nesting on the sand spit which makes your day. There may also be the opportunity to spot the rare native short-tail bat (Pekapeka).
The human history of the Hollyford and Martins Bay captures the imaginations of many visitors. Stories of mountains and warriors, explorers seeking their fortune, treasures of gold, shipwrecks, dramatic rescues and mythical creatures all bring this untamed land alive. There are many tales that began along the Hollyford that are best heard whilst walking the trail.
A bit more about the Hollyford Track
The full Hollyford Track walk begins in the Hollyford Valley, an area nestled beneath the Darran Mountain range. It then follows the Hollyford River, encased by the Darran range, to the sea at Martins Bay. Until recently, it was only possible to walk the Hollyford in the 'Alps to Ocean' direction but over the last few seasons for a limited number of people, it is now possible to walk the other way, from 'Ocean to Alps', combining the Hollyford with Milford Sound and the Milford Track for an unforgettable adventure.
Of all the walks in the Fiordland region, the Hollyford Track is one of the gentlest, whilst still being just as rewarding as its better-known neighbours. Whilst steep climbs on the Routeburn and Milford Tracks may have you huffing and puffing in parts, the Hollyford Track offers a calm walk into the heart of New Zealand’s natural playground, with no steep inclines.
Visiting the Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford Tracks with New Zealand Trails
Walking the full Hollyford, Routeburn and Milford Tracks takes several days. 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 World Heritage Walking Tour. On our Masterpiece, Kiwi Classic and Short South trips, guests get the opportunity to hike on the Routeburn, taking in the sights of the Key Summit trail.
On the World Heritage tour, our Hollyford experience begins with a memorable helicopter flight the length of Milford Sound. We then fly around the rugged Fiordland coast before landing in picturesque Martins Bay. We stretch our legs on a coastal wildlife walk to the Martins Bay seal colony to get up close to view New Zealand Fur Seals in their natural habitat. If we’re lucky, we may even spot the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin. We then hop in a jet boat to journey to the beautiful Martins Bay Lodge, our cosy accommodation for the night. We're the only ones here in this purpose-built lodge on the edge of the Hollyford River. The sound of the waves crashing at Martins Bay sandspit is incredibly calming. The tranquility of Martins Bay is not to be underestimated!
Relax and get to know your friendly hosts while being spoilt rotten in this most remote of settings. For dinner, an array of Kiwi-influenced cuisine is available. If you’re lucky, you might even catch sight of the cheeky native New Zealand Kea in its natural habitat, playing in its favoured Cabbage Tree just outside the lodge. They’re often heard before being seen, listen out for a shrill sound and watch for a flash of rainbow wings.
The following day’s adventure begins with an unforgettable jet boat ride across Lake McKerrow / Whakatipu Waitai 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 travellers. For more information grab your free New Zealand Trails brochure here or get in touch now.
Other articles you may like:
- Routeburn and Milford Track – the best one day hiking options
- Hiking the Milford Track in New Zealand
- Hiking the Routeburn Track
- Small Group Tours - The Unbeatable Way To See New Zealand
- Get your free New Zealand Trails guided tour brochure