Sunday, 6 April 2014

Hollyford Valley

After setting up camp at Cascade Creek our first foray up the Milford Highway was to explore the 18km Hollyford Valley Road which leaves the Milford Road at Marians Corner.

It was a gorgeous day and our first stop was 3kms down the road at the top of Lake Gunn (where a small DOC camp is located) The reflections were perfect. Our camp is located at the other end of the lake through the forest. This camp was always full when we passed in the evenings, full of sleeper vans & motorhomes parked side by side in a small dirt carpark area & on the gravel foreshore. The sandflies were also very active.

At the top of the Hollyford Valley is The Divide, the lowest east-west pass in the Southern Alps and the start of the Routeburn, Caples & Greenstone tracks. The Key Summit walk also leaves from the carpark; we’ll do this on another day.

Travelling over the top of the pass and steeply down the other side and you soon get an idea of how spectacular the scenery is going to be from here into Milford. Jaw droppingly spectacular! We stopped at Pop’s View, a lookout just over the top (I saw Pop’s Cabin at Gunns Camp and suspect there is a connection) This is looking up the Hollyford Valley with the Humboldt Mountains behind.

In the other direction is the soaring Darran Mountain range with the Lake Marian hanging valley taking centre stage. East Peak is in the foreground and Mt Crosscut at the rear. You can’t see it but at the top of the valley is the alpine Lake Marian- we get to see it when we climb Key Summit. At the end of this post you’ll see photos from the Marian Cascade.

We turned into the Hollyford Road at the bottom of pass and drove right through to the lower end wanting to walk to Humboldt Falls first before slowly making our way back up the road exploring as we went.

The Hollyford Track, a 4 day tramping track, starts at the end of the road and ends at Martins Bay on the wild West Coast, this track is unusual in this area in that it has no alpine areas so can be walked year round. There’s a "short" (4-6hr return) walk to the Hidden Falls along the track but I decided to cheat and just take the reward of the swingbridge at the very beginning of the walk, it crossed the Humboldt Creek just as it joined the Hollyford River. There were others too, here just to walk back & forward over the bridge.

A 30 minute return, short steep climb from the carpark leads up to the impressive 200 metre high three tier cascade of the Humboldt Falls. Although David thought we should have been able to get much closer! He wanted to feel the spray in his face.

Not too far down the road was another swingbridge where we saw the same group of people checking it out. This one crosses the Hollyford River & is at the beginning of the Moraine Track. The track looked quite difficult, was narrow & very muddy with rocks & roots, I don’t think too many people walk it.

The Hollyford River was stunning with it’s glacier fed, aqua blue, ice cold, crystal clear (any more?) water tumbling over the white grey river rocks and boulders.

The next stop was to see who this historic grave sign was for. Along a short track and right on the edge of the river was the gravesite. I wonder where he came from & where he was going, and more importantly who found him. It would have been tough going exploring through the dense bush & crossing the multitude of rivers & streams all those years ago. At least his final resting place was in a beautiful location.

We stopped for a short visit at the quirky & slightly eccentric Gunns Camp, the Settlers Museum was closed. Gunn’s Camp was originally a roadman’s camp during the construction of the Milford Road. Davey Gunn bought the camp in 1952 and it passed to his son, Murray who ran it for 50 years. It’s now run by a charitable trust. Murray Gunn’s signpost brought a smile to my face especially the pointer at the bottom to himself & the one to heaven.

Murray obviously had a great sense of humour, there many signs of it around the buildings; a stand-alone gate with a sign “Sandfly Reserve, a bed spring on a tap labelled “spring water”, up ended gumboots(wellingtons) in a patch of grass with a sign “Last Irish sky diver to land here”, a computer mouse caught in a trap, the H Bomb mussel float, the list goes on.

Apparently Murray had a standard weather forecast for campers “Fair to fine with rain probable”- pretty accurate I would say!  Deer stalkers would occasionally shoot his horses by mistake so he wrote on the side of them with white paint, ‘Horse’. On the other side he’d write ‘Cow’. He said that was because most of the people coming into the valley were city slickers & couldn’t tell the difference. I wonder if he disposed of his dead horses in the bog down the road….

Just past the camp were the signs that a massive landslide had happened recently. In fact it was mid September last year, it covers 2 hectares and is up to 3 metres deep in places.Higher up the mountain side it was amazing to see how narrow the gash from where it had all come was. It would have probably been contained, as it came down, by a solid rock canyon higher up and then fanned out as it moved down to the gentler slope.

It was sad to see so many huge mature trees dead & dying, their roots smothered by the concrete like material. It looks like the landslide just reached the Hollyford River before petering out. I’m sure the road would have been closed for a good number of days isolating Gunns Camp.

Our final stop was at the Lake Marian Falls & the Lake Marian walking track which is a three hour return walk up quite a steep & difficult track. Remember the hanging valley photo back at the beginning? That is where the track heads to. We decided we’d do that walk later in the week if we had the time (and the inclination) and just walk the short track to the waterfall this time.

There was yet another swingbridge, crossing the beautiful Hollyford River and then a short walk through the rainforest with its emerald green fern & moss carpeted floor up to the Marian Falls or Cascade as I’ve seen them also called. A narrow gantry hugs the rock wall to the top of the cascade and then the track continues on up to the lake.

Marian Waterfall


  1. Hi Shellie, I'm enjoying so much your photos and stories of your trip. The Hollyford Valley is one of our favourite places and we are off down there for a week and the end of this month. Just thought I'd tell you the story of Donald Keith - the Historic Grave by the river.
    He was a shepherd up in the mountains above the head of Lake Wakatipu, originally from the island of Bute in Scotland. In the April he met up with a Mr Dewar, postman from Queenstown who was to deliver some mail to Martins Bay. They headed over into the Hollyford Valley from Kinloch, taking 4 days to get that far. However on the fifth day it started raining, like only Fiordland can, and they were held up at the Hidden Falls River (no swing bridge back then) due to the high water levels. Things went from bad to worse at that point, Donald's gun broke and his dogs ate the last of their food. They decided to go back up onto the tops as the rivers & creeks would be narrower and easier to cross. However the weather was against them and after strugglling through the bush and above the bushline for several days Donald came down with hypothermia. Mr Dewar then decided the valley was the best option after all and carried Donald back down into the Hollyford Valley and into the shelter of the bush. As luck would have it a passing local had just built a 'footer' or wee cairn containing food supplies for his return journey. The two travellers were then discovered by a couple of surveyors from Otago University who managed to catch up with the local, the party then being discovered by members of the search party that had been sent out to find Mr Dewar - they'd been gone 16 days by this stage. As Mr Dewar was fit enough to travel he was taken back to Queenstown via Te Anau while it was decided tolet Donald recover from his illness before taking him down to Martins Bay and back to civilisation that way. Unfortunately Donald didn't manage to pull through and succumbed to his illness a week or so later. He was buried at the site of the footer, where the two had made camp in such desperate circumstances. Mr Dewar was said to be 'much saddened' when he heard the news of Donald Keith's death.
    Sorry it's such a long story - it's an interesting piece of history and shows just what hardships our early pioneers had to endure at times. And they certainly don't make Posties like they used to!
    The original newspaper article makes for an interesting read with all it's 1880's phrasing and language, here is a link to one of the articles in the Otago Daily Times;

    Regards, Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa and great to know you're following along in our travels. Thanks so much for filling in the gap re the grave, how very interesting, and so sad. Seems so impossible that they were out in that terrain just to deliver mail. I know I should have used Mr Google but sometimes data is on short supply so thanks once again, much appreciated. Best regards Shellie. PS, have a great week at the end of the month, where do you stay?

  2. Hi Shellie, we stay at Gunn's Camp in the Hollyford Valley and use that as our base. Our goas this trip are a walk to the Hidden Falls hut on the Hollyford track and a trip up to Key Summit. Last year we walked up to Lake Marian, what a pity you didn't do that one - the lake is truly stunning.
    Regards, Lisa

    1. Yes if we'd of been there longer Hidden Falls & Lake Marian would have been on "to do" list. We should have done Lake Marian but got put off after we met a young couple at Cascade who said they found L.Marian twice as hard as Key Summit which we did find tough in the heat. Happy travels.

  3. Thanks for the information re. Donald Keith's sad demise. My husband and I came across his grave today after hiking at Lake Marian, and wondered who he was, and how Fiordland had claimed him. The terrain is tough enough with modern kit and the luxury of a car to drive in and out. Those early pioneers were hardy, determined folk !

    1. Hi there and thanks for commenting. I'm pleased that you managed to find out a little more on the gravesite from my blog. It was such a beautiful resting place and such a sad story. They sure were hardy souls.
      Hope you enjoyed Lake Marian. Were there any mermaids there during your visit? We have since climbed to the lake- my blog is here, and so is the mermaid ;)
      Thanks again.


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