Return to the Hollyford track

Wanting to share his love of the outdoors with his partner, Peter Snowdon heads to Fiordland for a guided walk.

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Wanting to share his love of the outdoors with his partner, Peter Snowdon heads to Fiordland for a guided walk.

Hollyford track revisited. Memories of a low altitude journey with impressive bush, coastal and lake scenery made us keen to return. It has been 25 years since we walked the track. In April 2022 Julie (my partner) and I signed up on a guided return trip.

After 45 years of independent tramping and hunting, the idea of embarking on a guided tramp with a bunch of strangers took some getting used to. Our only similar experience was a guided journey down the mighty Whanganui River in 1988.

That decision was a simple one as neither of us had used a canoe and did not own the requisite gear. We do own boots and backpacks so why not head off and independently walk the Hollyford track as many do. The answer was Julie was keen to get back to multi-day walks and the Hollyford guided would be a confidence builder.

The tramp cost $2795.00 each. This included hotel accommodation in Te Anau and meal before we set off – bus transport to start of track – lodge accommodation on track, all meals and a tremendous helicopter flight from Martins Bay to Milford Sound – then bus back to Te Anau. Plus guide services.

Our experienced track guide, Suzanne White says there are several other reasons clients choose to be guided. It keeps walkers in the game longer – experienced older trampers may find the burden of carrying a heavy pack is becoming strenuous and the rudimentary nature of the DOC facilities a little unattractive. This way they can walk lighter and enjoy the comforts of sheets and hot showers.

It offers a chance for experienced trampers and hunters to share the enjoyment of the wilderness. Their partners or families may not be able to do the more strenuous trips, but are comfortable with the notion of a guided walk. It is a safe introduction to tramping for Kiwis or visitors not familiar with our back country. And it is ideal for those who don’t have walking companions.

I was keen to have someone else organise the logistics. Just bring your boots, a change of clothes, toothbrush and credit card. Simple. Others organise you and take care of the details.

A group of 15 walkers and two guides were our companions over the three-day journey. It proved an ideal group size as it gave a chance to get to know some of the fellow walkers, which included several farming couples from Waikato/King Country. I was surprised to learn some guided groups on the Milford Track are 50 in number. I can see scale altering that experience significantly.

The guided experience gave us the comforts of a lodge, hot showers and flush loos. Carrying minimal gear was a joy. These were the things I had imagined I would enjoy the most. And while these were a treat, it was the knowledge that was imparted by the guides that was the unexpected standout feature.

The track is chock full of history, flora and fauna and geological highlights. Our guides were engaging and at the same time were aware that sometimes people just wanted to quietly enjoy the place and space. This delicate balance was maintained over three days, no mean feat!

Layered with history – Sandspit area Martins Bay.

Guides Kyle, Suzanne and Claudia skilfully helped us build our levels of understanding of the locality. We learnt of early European interaction with Maori, the background to the failed Jamestown settlement, the way the massive 2000 floods changed the landscape, the story of pounamu and chief Tutoko and of resilient farmers and early tourism.

This all greatly enhanced the appreciation of the trip. You can learn this stuff from reading and research but it resonates more when delivered in the context of the place. Stories of the difficulties of isolation told alongside the remains of a homestead hearth and within sound of the roaring Tasman Sea leave a lasting impression.

Downsides? Guided walking means operating to a set timetable. Be ready to depart at a certain time and not mess around keeping others waiting. Don’t be that guy who is lacing his boots when the others are ready to set off! But timetables were understandable and, in a group, you need to consider others.

Highlights! The Martins Bay sandspit and understanding some of the human settlement history of that particular area, which can only be accessed by boat (freedom walkers won’t see this area). Lying in a cosy bed with sheets and soft pillows listening to red deer roar and morepork call. The sunset at the Martins Bay Lodge beside the Hollyford River.

This was not the challenge of doing independent tramping, but challenges can be found in other trips. We reflect on the Hollyford guided walk as one of the best journeys we have done together.