My New Zealand Trails 'World Heritage Walking Tour' – Part 4

By New Zealand Trails

4 minute read

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Fiordland and the world-famous Milford Track, a helicopter flight to remember and the Hollyford Valley - join Susan and Tom as they continue their New Zealand 'World Heritage Walking Tour'. Today Susan shares days 9 and 10 with us...

My New Zealand Trails 'World Heritage Walking Tour' – Part 4

Days 9 and 10

Today we were hiking on the famous Milford Track, about 10 (I think) years ago, we met Bob and Martha Manning in Queenstown and the four of us hiked the Milford Track, the “Finest Walk in the World” (Rudyard Kipling).  It was a four day guided group walk (plus a fifth day in Milford Sound) staying in lodges.  It’s the longest and most difficult of the three Big Hikes of NZ (although there are many more very nice ones) crossing over MacKinnon Pass on Day 3.  Day 4 is a long (20 ks) but pretty flat walk out to Milford Sound past dramatic waterfalls. This time we started at the end of the track at Sand Fly Point (so aptly named) and walked into Giant Gate Falls (6 miles return), had a tea break and walked back out.  It was lightly raining on us which made the rainforest glisten.  When Pattersons and Mannings hiked the track, we were told every evening by the ranger that it WOULD rain the next day but it never did.  So, this was a different experience for us.


Milford gets over 200 days of rain a year which produce its world-class waterfalls (in both quantity – there are hundreds - and length). This has been a very dry summer even on the west coast but for the rain a couple of days before and while we hiked on the track produced great falls for our viewing. Another very interesting fact about Milford Sound is that all the fresh water pouring down into the sound via the waterfalls produces a layer of freshwater permanently over the salt water from the Tasman Sea.  Although the depth of the freshwater varies with the rainfall, there is a whole freshwater environment which enables freshwater fish and animals to live on top of the seawater environment and fish.

helicopter milford sound

We have been in sandfly country for several days now. They are very similar to Vermont black flies, about the same size with the same kind of prick of a bite.  And some people react similarly with red welts. Both of us get red dots which itch like crazy. I have bare legs hiking which might sound stupid, but Tom wears long pants and heavy hiking socks and his ankles are just as bitten up as mine. Andrew provided us with Okarito Sandfly Repellent which is mostly Citronella and Almond Oil (DEET free), and I supplement that with Vermont Ben’s (with DEET) and still, the buggers win out. I well remember arriving at Sand Fly Point 10 years ago dead tired and in no mood to tolerate the Sand Flies while waiting for the little ferry to arrive to take us over to Milford Sound Harbour.

Last time around we hiked the Milford Track on American Thanksgiving week. Martha and I spent our walking days brainstorming how to acknowledge Thanksgiving with our large group dominated by Japanese hikers (who wear white gloves while hiking! Andrew confirmed that they still do.). In one of our finest hatched plans and presentations, we told the group the story of the pilgrims and Indians, made the correlation between the story and our multi-national walking group, and then led the entire group in singing “It’s a Small World After All.” All the Japanese knew the song and sang along with gusto.


Back to our present adventures, these two days were the most extraordinary days on our tour.  After our Milford experiences, we drove straight to a helicopter pad a short distance away in town. We three clamoured on-board along with Mick, a terrific chap who is head of supplying the huts and lodges on the Hollyford Track. Then our young lady pilot checked everything and up we flew over the Sound and then over the Southern Alps (spectacular but a bit choppy quite close to peaks – poor Tom again) to Martins Bay on Lake McKerrow. It used to be a fiord north of Milford but an earthquake and the building up of sand at the entrance have made it a lake. 

From the helicopter, we jumped with our hiking packs into a jet boat for a speedy ride the length of Lake McKerrow (stopping once right over the fault line of the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates and hearing about the several quakes a day that are felt in this area), then barreling up the Hollyford River to Pyke River confluence where we began our Hollyford Track Hike. 


This track undulates through a Southern Beech forest with giant tree ferns and wonderful waterfalls – a big bang for our hiking efforts. We walked 17km (11 miles) point to point, ending at the usual starting point for the three day Hollyford Track. We were dead tired by the end but got to rest in the van while Andrew had to drive us all the way back to Te Anau, where we showered and celebrated with a late delicious dinner. A truly WOW couple of days. 

End of Part 4.

Overnighting in Fiordland, the Milford track, the helicopter ride is for many people the highlight of the trip. Susan and Tom are on to their final few days now, keep an eye out for their next and final update from their New Zealand Trails 'World Heritage Walking Tour'.

To see the best photographs from Tom and Susan's trip take a look at our 'World Heritage Walking Tour' Gallery.


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