The magic of Hollyford
We retreat to the land when we grow weary of our thoughts, weary of our routines, weary of our grievances.
We need cleansing, a dropping away of minutiae, something only the land, the bush, the birds can provide - things that remind us of how small our lives are and how fleeting our time.
Only then can the clamour of our brains quieten.
Often just a walk in the park will do the trick, but for a more lasting fix, head to Fiordland National Park.
There you will find endless stands of bush to dwarf you, to make you feel small, insignificant and grand.
There is, however, a small, nagging voice for most people. It whispers: What if I can't cope? What if I find I just can't take another step after a few days?
Fiordland is pristine because it is impenetrable and tough.
How many are capable of trekking for four to eight days, from DOC hut to DOC hut, carrying food, clothing, sleeping bags, spare shoes and the like?
Most of those freedom trampers are young, or more capable than most who work diligently but unmoving in front of a computer.
And so glamping (glamorous tramping/camping) tours have developed, with guides and people who carry your gear to nice lodges, where meals are cooked for the weary but well-heeled.
So popular have they become that, for the big, well-known tracks, the wait to get on one of these limited-edition walks is months or even years.
And they're full of international travellers, who planned their trips to Godzone a long time ago.
But there is a lesser-known track, the Hollyford, that mainly Kiwis know.
And it is just as pristine, just as healing, just as life-changing as any of the others. You can get on a three-day guided walk run by Ngai Tahu, no less, pretty much whenever you please.
They're nice, intimate tours of no more than 16 people.
Plus you get two guides who tell you all about the human history, the geology, the biology, and obligingly point out birds to look for. They'll also tidy up any blisters and warn about sunburn on your ears.
The human history of the Hollyford is a rich bit of theatre, starring a father and son named Gunn. Davey was the elder and he bought a bit of land at Martins Bay and tried to run cattle on it.
That never prospered, but his 30-year love affair with Fiordland began. He would spend the rest of his life in the Hollyford Valley (while his wife and children moved to Oamaru), eventually dying in the Hollyford River, but not before laying the basis for the tracks that are in use today.
And not before landing himself a place in our history, particularly with a heroic run for help after a plane crash in a more remote bit of the Hollyford. Remote being a relative term. His son Murray's camp is accessible by road, but that's about it.
Davey covered a four-day trek in 20 hours and saved two lives, a feat to make even Barry Crump quail.
The Hollyford Valley was incorporated into Fiordland National Park in 1959 and one of the Gunns' mates, Ed Cotter, set about making a business out of the walks Davey had carved.
He introduced boating on a bit of it to bypass a particularly difficult section known appropriately as the Demon Trail. This business eventually became the Hollydhford Tourism Company, which pioneered the glamping tours taken over by Ngai Tahu in 2003.
But do not think you will breeze through these three days. Nothing worthwhile is easy.
The first day is a tough one, since it begins in Queenstown and is a four-hour drive just to the start of a 17-kilometre walk in to the first lodge.
You will be carrying a pack, which can be as light or heavy as you please. At least you can leave those heavy bits of metal that usually occupy your hands - laptops and cellphones - behind, since there is no coverage. This is Fiordland, after all.
The scenery is native beech forest, full of ferny undergrowth. There are streams to ford and birds to spot and dangerous plants to avoid. And there are waterfalls. Spectacular ones, ones that drench you from 50 metres away.
There is biology and natural history and native medicine to be learned, too. While there are frequent stops, you need to be fit, though not a marathoner. Or even a runner. Just a plod, plod, plodder of determination and grit.
At the end is a comfortable lodge with a hot shower, a drink and restaurant-quality food. And some very nice hosts to provide all the creature comforts.
Day two takes in Lake Alabaster and a further-back dose of history, to pre-European times, when Maori travelled this valley to take greenstone out for trade.
The beech forest is left behind for podocarp forest, massive rimu wrapped in rata vines. There is a jetboat ride (and sometimes dolphins), a look at a ghost town, a hike to a seal and penguin colony, and a second lodge with modern plumbing and memorable food.
And more beer and wine. Even T-shirts for sale.
The final day takes you to Martins Bay beach and a look at the McKenzie farm, the people who came before the Gunns, even. Pioneers who lived an isolated existence, but who knew bravery and romance.
And almost the best bit is the last: A helicopter to take you into Milford Sound, with music blaring and your stomach in your throat at the drama of the ride.
Almost. The best bit is the renewed confidence in your abilities, the new lens on your life, the joy in your soul.
Deborah Sloan was sponsored by Ngai Tahu Tourism.
IF YOU GO
The three-day, two-night guided Hollyford Track wilderness experience includes:
- Pre-departure briefing
- Return shuttle transfers between the track and Queenstown or Te Anau
- Friendly, knowledgeable and professional guides
- Wilderness jetboat journey down the Hollyford River and across Lake McKerrow
- Milford Sound scenic helicopter flight
- Friendly professional lodge hosts
- Lodge accommodation with twin-share rooms, hot showers and flush toilets
- All bedding, including linen, duvets and hot water bottles
- General toiletries including towels, soap, shampoo, and hair dryers
- All meals on the track
- Use of backpacks and rain jackets if required
The adult charge is $1895 ($1795 off-peak) and children aged 8 to 14 are $1495 ($1395 off-peak)
For details, go to hollyfordtrack.com
WHERE TO STAY
In a pristine position on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, just far enough from the buzzing tourist hub of Queenstown to pretend you're in a resort, is the spectacular Hilton Hotel.