Fiordland National Park in New Zealand’s South Island boasts both dramatic scenery and a living, breathing personality. With glacier-capped mountains, ancient rainforests and pristine, azure rivers running to rugged NZ coastline, it’s the variance in weather conditions, the endlessly changing skies, the prickle of sun and then the rain on your skin that brings it to life.
We are embarking on a three-day adventure here by tramping New Zealand’s Hollyford Track. I want to call it a trek, but it’s so much more than that, for this is an “experience”. We will explore 56 kilometres of this spectacular wilderness region by foot, by jetboat and finally by helicopter.
By starting on foot we have time to get a real sense of the Hollyford Valley. Bard, our incredible guide, regales us with stories and with his words, every nook and cranny of the valley springs to life. He teaches me some Maori words, like ‘tumeke’ which means ‘too much’. Too much wonder, too much to take in, too much feeling in a place like this.
We meander along the bank of the Hollyford River, bounce our way across suspension bridges and trek into deep forest. I wonder what the ancient trees might say if they could talk. Perhaps they would tell of the Maori looking for valuable green stone, or stories of the Europeans looking to cultivate these lands.
Our first day has been a long one and just as fatigue threatens, we arrive at a stunning homely lodge. Inside we find a delicious meal of venison cooked to perfection by hosts who make you feel like honoured guests. A hot shower and warm bed that night is spectacularly welcome.
We set off again the next day back on the mighty Hollyford River. Crystal clear glacier waters run swiftly down the valley and we hitch a ride on the flow, zipping through the rapids on a jetboat! Without the canopy of the forest, the vast skies open to reveal the mountains in all their glory. Snow-capped despite the sun, they hug and protect this remote area, keeping it isolated from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The kilometres quickly disappear and we are soon back on foot, passing through paddocks of yellow flowers. Bard tells us of the settlers who attempted to farm here, yet failed dismally. I wonder if their hard work was somehow thwarted by the Gods, who intended to keep these lands unspoilt. A pocket of nature’s untamed paradise left for us to explore.
I notice that the air has changed; the crispness of the alpine environment has given way to softer warmth. Briny air fills our lungs as the forest turns into a luscious coastal garden. Almost by surprise we’ve reached the ocean, the sun sparkles across the water and the sand dunes bear no footprints. It’s surreal that just this morning we were gawking up at icy glaciers! Tramping in New Zealand is unique like that; while it’s a relatively small space it boasts incredible diversity.
Our day ends at another luxury lodge and tonight we feast on fresh crayfish and salmon. Bard toasts the Hollyford and we clink glasses. Morning breaks and a helicopter blasts onto the front lawn. We yell our farewells above the whip of the rotor-blades and we’re off, lifting up over Martin’s Bay and scooting along the coastline. Filled with deep gratitude we take in majestic Fiordland one last time and from the best vantage point of them all.
The Hollyford, truly a tumeke experience!
Would you like to go tramping in New Zealand? Drop us a comment if you’ve been on the Hollyford Track too!