Wow! It’s wild, it’s rugged, it’s remote, it’s spectacular – and in a day and a half it feels like you’ve been to another planet!
We witnessed the full force of typical south-west coast weather for our sojourn into the
Hollyford region but it just seemed to add to the mystique of this corner of New Zealand. And our local Hollyford guides didn’t bat an eyelid; ever the consumate hosts, entertaining us with stories, good humour, an encyclopedic knowledge of all things botanical, historical and geographical, and all the while keeping a subtle eye on our well-being.
So it started with a midday helicopter flight over Milford Sound. We took off into a headwind
with the sleet pelting against the glass bubble around us. Impressed with the pilot’s psychic ability to avoid every towering cliff around the Sound while visibility was zero and thunder cracked overhead, we suddenly forgot the practicalities as the clouds parted and a view stretching beyond the horizon unfolded below us. A carpet of untouched, unspoilt rainforest draped across mountains while the sea smashed against a rugged, rocky coastline. There is no sign of human habitation although we were to learn that several pioneering families temporarily braved this inhospitable land in days gone by.
A brilliant rainbow greeted us on landing at secluded Martin’s Bay, as if deliberately orchestrated to have us believing we’d found the pot of gold. We enjoyed a picnic lunch that
appeared out of nowhere and was set up in a thoughtfully designed tent to protect us from the elements. The afternoon was spent exploring the forest, the estuary and the coast on foot. The high water mark, some six feet above our heads, from a massive flood several years earlier reminded us once again of the power of nature and how privileged we were to be visiting this place. Out on the rocky coast, a close encounter with some New Zealand Fur Seals was a special moment. Add to that the incredible bonus of watching rare Fiordland Crested Penguins snuggling together in a sheltered corner (there is a narrow Nov/early Dec window in their seasonal schedule when they visit these shores) and we are convinced we have indeed found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Martins Bay Lodge is our cosy home for the evening, after the wild west coast weather closes in
again and chases us indoors. Discretely located, with hot showers, comfy sofas around an open fire and delicious gourmet meals prepared onsite by our hosts this is the perfect indulgence. Enjoying a glass of wine while the rain beats on the roof, we have exclusive use of the lodge. There is no evidence of human habitation beyond our cosy cocoon and once again we feel privileged to have access to this remote corner of the universe.
In the morning the river in front of the lodge is mirror-like with a light fog hovering magically a few metres above the surface. Bird calls have already heralded the dawn, even though the sun hasn’t made a full appearance. We’ve enjoyed more fantastic food for breakfast and are skimming along the river in a jet boat to the confluence of the Pyke and Hollyford Rivers. Our guides cheerily tell us that rainforest is so-called for a reason (ie. it’s wet) as we step off the boat to begin walking on the Hollyford Track. We meander along the track of easy gradient, enjoying the brilliant lushness and vibrancy of the colours that the rain has emphasised throughout the forest. The smell of dampness is pungent yet refreshing. Waterfalls spill over crevices in rock walls or
plummet from high cliff tops, colourful fungi pop out of the mulch beside the trail and many different fern varieties beg for our attention. Our own thoughts during the 18km walk are meaningfully interspersed with interesting facts about the birds and plants we are passing. A picnic lunch along the way keeps our appetites satisfied, and before we know it we find ourselves at the Hollyford Road End where our vehicle meets us. It is a strange sensation emerging from the wilderness, back to cars, roads and other people. It’s like emerging from another world that you can’t explain; like trying to describe a dream to someone .. and we’ve only been immersed for a day and a half.
You really have to be there to understand!
By Janet Oldman