Where do you even start in this amazing place? First off, there are three Great Walks on one road. There are plenty of trails to spend overnighters or just day hike. There are heaps of roadside pull over spots for a quick picture as the drive into this place is amazing on it’s own. This area is amazing and planning a quick trip to Fiordland can be difficult and overwhelming at times. We had an awesome time in the six days we spent in this outdoor playground. So we thought we would make your life easy and share our itinerary to hopefully help you get together a game plan for one of New Zealand’s best National Parks.
Day 1: Kepler Track Overnighter - If you’re as unprepared as we are, in the New Zealand’s busy season, you’ve most likely found out that A: Great Walks are all booked out and B: They are overpriced and really aren't geared towards the budget traveler. We found a way around this anomaly and decided to do the Kepler Track our own way. Because after all, there shouldn’t be so many rules on how one should hike a nature track.
We learned from friends that the Kepler Track is really only amazing above tree line from Mt. Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut. So, what we did was booked a campsite at Broad Bay and walked from the Control Gates car park at about 8am to Broad Bay. We got to the campsite in less than an hour. We set up camp and packed our day bags (Which we packed inside our overnight packs) for a long day hike. From Broad Bay Campsite, it’s a fairly easy climb about 3.5 hours up to Mt. Luxmore Hut, where you can stop and have snacks or eat lunch, and even check out the Luxmore Caves, which are 10min away from the hut. From here, it’s about an hour hike to Mt. Luxmore summit. It’s only a 10 minute hike up to the summit, off the track, you should definitely do it, if the weather is nice. From Luxmore summit to Iris Burn is where you really start to experience the greatness of this Great Walk. With amazing views over Te Anu lake, this is a hike that was worth the all day effort of hiking. From here, if the weather permits, you can continue on to the emergency shelters, which we highly recommend to get the full Kepler experience. Just remember you have to walk back to Broad Bay, so don't walk too far.
We ended up doing about 36km in one day, but it saved us from paying $54NZ per night to stay in the two huts. And most importantly, it also saved us 3 days of being on the trail. Also, if you wish to hike the whole circuit, we recommend parking at the Rainbow Reach car park, hiking to the Iris Burn Campsite or even the Hanging Valley emergency shelter, if you go later in the day no one will catch you and it’s an awesome place to stay the night. From here, walk the best section of the track and then down to Broad Bay Campsite. Plan on hitching back to Rainbow Reach car park. You shouldn’t have a problem hitching a ride since so many people access these tracks all day. Also, you won't miss anything but 10kms through bush from Broad Bay to Rainbow Reach.
All in all, we paid $18pp at the Broad Bay Campsite. If we were to pay for the 3 Great Walk Huts we would have paid $54pp/pn, and been on the trail for 4 days. Although this is a long day walk, its on a Great Walk track that is suitable for the elderly and inexperienced hikers. If you are a frequent hiker, this long hike won’t be that difficult, especially since you’ll only be carrying a day bag for 90% of the kms.
Day 2: Lake Marian and Milford Sound- Wake up at Broad Bay, pack your shit up and hit the short 50min track back to the carpark. Hop on the Milford Highway in the car and into the Fiordland National Park. If you need supplies, Te Anu is your last chance. There is actually a lot more to offer in Te Anu than I expected. Grab your supplies and hit the last bit of cell service in town and head to your next stop, Lake Marian. There are plenty of roadside stops along the Milford Highway and each one is a short 5 min walk to a scenic vista or a waterfall, or something amazing.
Lake Marian is located on Hollyford Road, its the first stop on the road it will be clearly marked with a classic Green and Yellow DOC sign. The hike to Lake Marian is pretty easy, sometimes steep and root climbing but, takes about an hour to get up there. Lake Marian has to be one of the most amazing alpine lakes I’ve ever seen, especially after only walking for one hour. If you have nice weather, you’ll definitely have to swim in the pristine blue glacier melt water. The hike out of Lake Marian is quick and is about 45min out.
From here, you’ll have to make a decision on where you want to stay for the night. You have already passed the last DOC campsites so if you're more of a rule follower, you’ll have to head back to the campsite. We decided to head to Milford Sound for sunset and astro shots for the night. We ended up sleeping in the Milford Sound car park and had no trouble, they even have nice toilet facilities open 24 hours (with outlets an outlet for charging in the toilets)! We stayed up till about midnight getting photos and making sure a pesky ranger didn't come around to ruin our fun.
Day 3: Milford Sound to Gertrude Saddle - You will definitely want to book ahead to jump on a boat ride on the sound. Since we are on a budget we picked the cheapest option, a $45, 9am cruise with Go Orange, it actually came with a free snack as well. We recommend jumping on a boat because you really can’t grasp the size of Milford until you get out and onto the sound. It was a 2 hour cruise packed with info and peppy tour guides. We really enjoyed it and would recommend it 100%. After the cruise, we had lunch in the car park and fought with sand flies for a few more hours before we packed up and headed to Gertrude Saddle.
On the way to Gertrude you can stop at The Chasm waterfall for a quick 15 min stop over. From here, carry on up the road to the Gertrude Valley car park. We pre-made some snacks before the hike.
The hike is 3.5km to the saddle and worth every step. It’s more of a activity than most tracks as you have to scramble up granite and use a rope to climb some sections. It’s actually a really fun track. The view at the top are some of the best in Fiordland, you can see Milford Sound from the top as you look across massive glacier cut u-shaped valleys. It was by far one of our favorite hikes of our trip. We spent a lot of time up at the top and headed down pretty late in the afternoon. We had initially planed on camping on the saddle, which we wish we had done and highly recommend hauling your gear up there for a cold but unforgettable experience overlooking Fiordland’s best treasure (if the weather permits). We cooked dinner in the car park and ended up sleeping there as well. We saw plenty of campers heading up to the saddle for an overnighter so we figured no one would know if we were in our car or not.
Day 4: Key Summit to the Hollyford Track - We woke up in the Gertrude Valley car park and actually ran into some friends from our travels. They highly recommended heading to Key Summit, and then an overnighter at Hidden Falls Hut on the Hollyford Hut. We took their advice and we were glad we had ran into them because we weren’t sure of what to do with the last beautiful sunny day.
The Key Summit Track starts from the Divide Car park just above Hollyford Road. The track starts along the Routeburn Track and is a Great Walk. So, the trail is a pretty moderate to easy climb to the summit. It takes about 3 hours, round trip, with stopping and hanging out. Once you reach Key Summit, the hike isn't over. Pass all the people who think they are done and follow the track that leads up the ridge to the real summit where you will get an amazing view of Lake Marian and the surrounding peaks. This track really surprised us. Once we reached the false Key Summit, we weren't that impressed until we saw a trail out the back that no one was taking. It’s an easy walk up a ridge to a far superior view of the area.
After we headed down the track, we packed up our bags once again and headed for the Hollyford Track just below us. The trail starts at the end of Hollyford road about 10 min down a dirt road. This easy flat track crosses 15 Bridges 5 Waterfalls and 2 Boardwalks through amazing temperate rainforest for about 2.5 hours. We really wanted to walk the Milford Track but A: Couldn’t afford it and B: Couldn't book it. However, we feel the Hollyford track is a great substitute to the Milford track. At the end of the 2.5 hour easy track, you’ll find yourself at the very nice serviced Hidden Falls Track. The hut is cost $15. So, a green serviced hut pass or a backcountry hut pass covers the cost. We wished we had more time to continue on this track to a few more of the huts in this area, as they are very well kept and in amazing shape and lead all the way to the Tasman Sea and back. We think that the DOC thought this trail would be more popular but, we ended up having the entire hut to ourselves and it was amazing.
Day 5: Hidden Falls Hut to Te Anu - After a nice night at the Hidden Falls Hut you can either continue on the Hollyford Track our head back to the car park. We were completely out of supplies so we opted to head back to the car park and back to Te Anu to get some much needed groceries to continue our journey. The Hollyford Track looks like an good hike just to do a few easy nights out in the Bush along the pristine Hollyford river and looks like it has some amazing fishing opportunities.