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Hollyford Heaven

After a first full day of hiking delight on the Hollyford Track, Mike Yardley ventured from Pyke Lodge to magnificent Martins Bay and the booming surf of the Tasman. 

Awakening from a deep, fulfilling sleep following my first day walking the Hollyford Track, Pyke Lodge was humming with excitement. The day had dawned crisp and clear, and gazing upwards, a mighty giant was flashing its face.

Mt. Madeleine, Fiordland


Typically shrouded in cloud and mist, the highest peak in Fiordland National Park, Totuku, was fully unmasked, strutting its sky-piercing grandeur and snow-dappled peak with the fearless pride of a warrior. This glorious mountain takes its name from the old Maori chief who the early Europeans encountered. Lofty Mt. Madeleine, the national park's bridesmaid, was also flaunting herself in full glory.

 Lake Alabaster

After a loading up for the day with a splendid breakfast, spanning fresh fruit salad, eggs benedict and freshly brewed coffee, Justin led our re-energised group on a leisurely amble to stirring Lake Alabaster, wreathed in whiskers of morning mist, to hear the history of the early Maori who lived in the Hollyford from 1650 to the early 1800s. Our wander to the lake took us through thick rainforest, replete with podocarps including manoao, an endangered species of native white pine that’s regenerating in the Hollyford.

Podocarp forest, Fiordland

The dense rainforest also featured matai, rimu, miro, totara and kahikatea. Justin pointed out the magnificent tree ferns which act like umbrellas in the rainforest, including the mamaku – the world’s biggest tree fern growing 25 metres in height. Lake Alabaster greeted us like a freshly polished mirror, its reflective quality is superlative. The lake was formerly a waka building site, felling mighty totara from the forest.

Tree ferns in the Hollyford


European gold-prospectors ventured into the valley in 1861, the first being David Mckellar and George Gunn. The Hollyford was so named by Patrick Caples, in 1863, after Hollyford in Tipperary. Captain Alabaster, a whaler, sailed around the coast to explore the valley with two gold prospectors, in 1863, and met with the local Ngai Tahu chief, Tutoko. They stayed with the highly hospitable Tutoko and his tribe in Opu, who lent them his canoe to explore Lake McKerrow.

Lake Alabaster reflections

Alabaster showed his gratitude by naming Fiordland’s highest peak in honour of the chief. Tutoko and his tribe left the Hollyford, as the area no longer needed a guardian for the pounamu trails in the area. They relocated to Bruce Bay, further up the coast, where their descendants still live today.  We heard how there was consideration given to creating a road from Hollyford to Queenstown by the government in the 1860s, but it was shelved. The rainforest provided a continuous font of insights, as Justin pointed out some choice specimens including kahikatea, which ingloriously were felled to make butter boxes and clothes pegs.

Forest giants, Fiordland

The prized sightings were the rimu, gigantic gods of the forest, some as old as 1200 years old. As a group exercise, we discovered that it took 13 people to hug the full circumference of its trunk! I also learnt that 63 species live off the rimu tree, including the ubiquitous rata vine, which clings tenaciously to its trunk. Also reliant on this forest giant is our highly endangered kakapo. The rimu seedling is their primary source of food.

Hollyford Swing bridge

Next up, an intimate encounter with the longest swing-bridge in Fiordland, a staggering steel and wire construction strung across the pristine waters of Pyke River.

Click HERE to read how the remainder of Mike's trip with us went.