If you get a thrill from exploring remote river valleys surrounded by snow-capped peaks and serene lakes, then the Hollyford-Pyke Route is for you. It's not for the faint-hearted, but if you're an experienced walker and don't mind putting in the long hours required to hack through the bush, the rewards are great.
The Hollyford-Pyke Route consists is made up of two parts, the Hollyford Track and the Pyke Route. It's important to note the different names, because in New Zealand a 'track' is a maintained walking path that may be challenging and tough, but at least it gets looked after by the Department of Conservation, and if you're a decent walker and have the right equipment, you should be fine. A 'route', on the other hand, is another story, and is unlikely to be maintained. The path might disappear for miles on end, maps might be out of date, markers might be non-existent, and if you're unlucky, as you probably will be on the Pyke Route, you might get all three at once. Tracks might be challenging, but routes are another story altogether.
The Hollyford Track is a delightful 58km one-way walk from the road end to the sea at Martins Bay. You can arrange to be picked up at the far end and flown or boated back to civilisation, but if you don't have the means to hire transport, you have to walk back the way you came; sure, walks always look different when you're walking the other way, but retracing your steps is never quite as interesting as striking out for the first time. The Pyke Route, then, offers an alternative; it starts at Martins Bay and loops back round to Lake Alabaster, leaving you to retrace just one day of the Hollyford Track to get to the road. The Pyke is not for novices, but the views are incredible.
Whatever the route you decide to take, you won't be disappointed. Even though the Hollyford area is not far from Milford, the number of walkers is tiny compared to the queues for the Milford Track. That alone makes this a pleasant alternative to its more famous neighbour; if you like getting away from it all, the Hollyford-Pyke is hard to beat.
This is a walk in two parts, the second of which is completely optional. The first part is the Hollyford Track, which takes you to Martins Bay, and the second is the Pyke Route, which loops round from Martins Bay back to Lake Alabaster. Don't try the Pyke Route unless you know what you're doing, as it can be very dangerous, especially in nasty weather.
The Hollyford Track runs from south to north along the Hollyford River and Lake McKerrow, finally reaching the sea at Martins Bay after 58km of well-signed tracks. The walking is not too difficult, though it can be very slippery when wet, and there are plenty of well-appointed huts along the way; on its own, the Hollyford Track is a spectacular walk. Add in the Pyke Route, though, and you have a very special experience, because the Pyke Route wanders through some stunning and very remote scenery. The route leaves Martins Bay and follows the coast east to Big Bay, before heading inland along the Pyke Valley to Lake Wilmot, the Barrier River and finally the Olivine River. It then loops back to the eastern end of Lake Alabaster, which you can walk alongside to get back to the Alabaster Hut on the Hollyford Track. Here's the itinerary I took:
|Hollyford Track||1||Road End to Lake Alabaster||19.5|
|2||Lake Alabaster to Demon Trail||14.7|
|3||Demon Trail to Hokuri||9.6|
|4||Hokuri to Martins Bay||13.5|
|Pyke Route||Martins Bay to Big Bay||15*|
|5||Big Bay to Olivine||20*|
|6||Rest Day in Olivine||-|
|7||Olivine to Lake Alabaster||25*|
|Hollyford Track||8||Lake Alabaster to Road End||19.5|
Please note that distances marked with an asterisk are estimates. At the time I measured the whole Hollyford-Pyke Route at about 138km, with the Pyke Route accounting for 60km, but I don't currently have the maps to hand to check the figures for the individual days on the Pyke Route. It's also worth noting that on the Pyke Route, distances are pretty irrelevant; the 20km stretch from Big Bay to Olivine took me 14.5 hours, and the 10km from Olivine took seven hours, which is a huge amount of time compared to any of the Hollyford Track sections.