UNO owners Jenny and Mat get a taste of ancient Aotearoa on the Hollyford Track.

WORDS JENNY RUDD / PHOTOS SUPPLIED

Having just become a citizen of this fine country, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my Kiwiness than by going tramping, the cornerstone of New Zealand’s DNA. My husband Mat and I chose the Hollyford Track 3-Day Wilderness Experience for the meditative joy
of walking in the beautiful South Island, sandwiched between nights in the plush luxury of top-of-the-pile hotel QT Queenstown.

Any joy had to be put on hold, though, when on our way south, Mat nearly got us arrested by airport security. Differing opinions on the definition of a flick knife had a newly qualified security guard’s finger hovering over the red button, and there was a lot of blinking and sweating, but after it was determined that we were only carrying a regular camping knife, we happily ended up in the Koru Lounge, not Rimutaka Prison. Arriving in Queenstown, we checked into the glorious QT (keep an eye out for the floating fire in the lobby) and headed off for a 5.30pm briefing at The Spire hotel, where we met the other members of our group and our guides, Pam and G.

And they’re off!

DAY ONE – 19.5km: The Hollyford Track team picked us up (and three days later dropped us off) at the QT in a comfy bus (you can also get collected from Te Anau), all set for our two-night, entry-level tramp. The experience in our 10- person group ranged from Rachel, whose training involved walking from her place to her mum’s house less than 5km away, to Carmel and Max, who had just arrived home after hiking the entire Welsh coastline. Our walk started with the first of many swing bridges and a few pleasant hours in the peaceful half-light of the bush. We watched the rain that had followed us in the bus that morning turn to snow atop the mountains to our left.

We paused now and then while G fed and educated us on edible plants and told a few dad jokes. Over the course of our expedition, he also shared the incredible story of Davey Gunn and others who settled here in the 1900s. We stopped to eat lunch in the long grass, leaning
on our rucksacks with fresh rolls and fruit in hand, warming our faces in the sun.

By the end of the day, the trickling waterfalls and streams around us had merged into the deep, shingle-lined, fast-moving Hollyford River. We spent our first night at Pyke Lodge, where in the warmth of a roaring fire, we dined like royalty on barbecued venison, roast vegetables and lemon tart.

Mt Madeline reflected in Lake Alabaster.

DAY TWO – 15km: At Lake Alabaster, the view is classic Fiordland: still, slate-green pools of water at the foot of jagged, snow-capped cliffs. G shared how in the 1800s, the government spread stories of supposedly scary indigenous people in the region to keep pioneers away from the gold. Because the area is still largely uninhabited, we saw what the pioneers saw and lived in – a hard but beautiful land. We took one look at the start of the Demon Trail and said a silent thank you for the jet boat that was to take us across the lake to rejoin the track at a sci-fi riverbed – a grey gravel plain stabbed with the splintered trunks of dead trees.

Lunch on day two was an experience that will stay with us forever, but I won’t ruin the surprise – you’ll have to live it yourself! As the hours passed that afternoon, we noted that although the scenery on day one had hints of alpine Austria, the views on day two were wholly West Coast, especially those across the bluff with a seal colony gathered on the rocks jutting into the ocean.

Martins Bay Lodge.

DAY THREE – 8.5km: Full of bacon and eggs, we grabbed our warm kit from the drying room at Martins Bay Lodge and took the jet boat out to walk the sandbar at the mouth of the Hollyford – a Jurassic experience. It’s strange to have sand walls rising up on either side of you, but with evidence of slow change all around us, G’s geology lesson was easy to grasp. 

At the end of our three days of walking and boating, we helicoptered down the coast to Milford Sound having experienced much more than a walk – this trip was an amazing way to learn about the history of the region and see it from land, water and sky. Back at the QT, Mat and I poured ourselves drinks in our designer room, took in the magnificent view across to the Remarkables and relived three wonderful days of adventure in pure luxury.

Some of our many highlights included the local history: we were fascinated by the saga of the families who tried to settle here. The wildlife was also up there: we saw seals, eels, penguins, deer, bats, falcons and dotteril. Our accommodation took everything up a notch: the hosts at the lodges were so welcoming, we enjoyed three-course meals each night and slept in super-cosy beds. And as if all that wasn’t enough, helicoptering out was the icing on the cake. What a way to see the land you’ve just trekked across – a dramatic conclusion indeed.

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