Fiordland National Park
Our New Zealand adventure had started just days earlier in Christchurch, but now we were way down south. After lunching on the shore of Lake Tekapo, hiking through Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, crossing Lindis Pass, and indulging in food, views, and fun in Queenstown — it was now time to explore Fiordland National Park.
Our first stop in Fiordland was the historic and eclectic Gunn's Camp, where we were to make ourselves at home by the fireplace in the cosy riverside cabins.
On the Road to Gunn's Camp
As the temperature dropped and the daylight faded into evening, we made a quick roadside photo stop to admire the glacial valley before driving on to Gunn's Camp in the Hollyford Valley.
Gunn's Camp is located about 40km from Milford Sound, in Fiordland. It was established as Henderson's Camp in 1938, during works on the construction of the Hollyford Road toward south Westland. This project was interrupted by the second world war. The road was never completed, and the idea of now constructing a road all the way through to the west coast is a topic of ongoing debate.
In 1951, the camp was purchased by Davey Gunn, who came to local notoriety years early thanks to his efforts to summon help after a light aircraft crash at Big Bay on New Zealand's west coast. It was 1936 and Davey is said to have journeyed 97km in 20 hours, with a broken rib, to fetch help. As a result, four survivors of the crash were rescued.
Davey ran cattle and guided tours in the Hollyford Valley, and used the camp now known as Gunn's to accommodate people visiting the valley to partake in his guided walks and rides.
On Christmas Day in 1955, tragedy struck: Davey drowned in Hollyford River. His body was never found. There is a memorial to Davey near the junction of the Pyke and Hollyford rivers, it reads: "He lived with nature in this valley for 25 years and all who passed this way knew him as 'Davey' the trampers friend".
Following Davey's death, Gunn's camp was taken over by Davey's son Murray who ran the camp until his retirement to Te Anau in 2005. Murray Gunn died in 2014, and Gunn's Camp is now run by the Hollyford Museum Charitable Trust.
Located on the banks of the Hollyford River, there's no phone reception, and limited power... Gunn's Camp is all about rustic charm and getting back to nature. But that doesn't mean you're without some creature comforts: there's hot showers, a kitchen, and cosy fireplace where you can kick back and settle in.
Bridge to Lake Marian Track
Heading toward Milford Sound on the Hollyford road from Gunn's Camp, just before joining the highway at Marian Corner is the beginning of the Lake Marian track. After crossing this swing bridge over the river, this track passes a series of waterfalls before climbing to the alpine Lake Marian located in a hanging glacial valley, surrounded by mountains — this walking track is about 3 hours return, according to the Department of Conservation. The walk looks like a real beauty, but with Milford Sound calling, it was onward for us... though not before a few quick snaps to remind me to come back. Adding Lake Marian track to the 'next time' list.
Kayaking Milford Sound
Milford Sound (actually a fiord) is a must-see destination for those travelling New Zealand's South Island. And what better way to experience its grandeur than from the water? We spent a few hours paddling our way around Milford Sound with Rosco's, enjoying guided commentary as we passed the spectacular Lady Bowen falls, and marveled at Mitre Peak. As the larger cruising boats passed by in the distance, there was something quite special about slowly bobbing around the fiord in tiny kayaks — an intimate and tranquil way to experience the natural beauty of Milford Sound.
Hiking Key Summit
From a morning on the water, to an afternoon on a mountain — we were off to hike Key Summit. The Key Summit track takes about 3 hours return, and makes up part of the Routeburn Track, a popular multi-day hike.
After walking through the forested, mossy, tree-cover, the track climbs and offers sweeping mountainous views across Fiordland National Park.
From the top we could see where we'd been earlier in the day, and where we'd have been had we walked across that swing bridge off the Hollyford road... there it was, off in the distance, the glacial tarn: Lake Marian.
Hiking the Kepler Track
My favourite thing about morning hikes is the light. On the morning we set out on a section of the Kepler Track, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. And after a couple of days of rain, the sunshine was a welcome sight!
Fiordland is enchanting. After only a few days, the sprawling pocket of wilderness in New Zealand's south west corner has me charmed and I'm already making plans to return. Next trip I reckon I'll do a deeper dive into Davey Gunn's life and times and hike the Hollyford Track.