To truly come alive sometimes means to immerse yourself in natature and find yourself sitting on a rock after scrambling up and down a steep bank trying to find a trail and realize how fragile life can be, one slip and it could be all over. It’s mixed emotions of fear and a brain that seems to only think in ‘what if’s and how will I ever…’ The purity of all this is, that all else becomes irrelevant, your Iphone, your new car, the house you are living in and all other life comforts. And once you sit down on this rock with your head in your hands and breathe, a deep breath you will move forward again, the only thing that counts is staying alive.
This almost sounds like a repeat story of 7 years ago when I got lost in the Hollyford Valley, looking back at it, I was lucky to get lost 7 years ago. If I had made it to the Pyke valley under the extreme weather conditions 7 years ago I would not want to think of the trouble I would have gotten myself into, so lucky in being unlucky.
The Hollyford is a challenging walk. The first bit to lake Alabaster hut is the easy bit, but once you get onto the trail it becomes pretty slippery, the trail has been blasted out the mountain and it mainly rocks and big boulders. It’s a south facing trail with little to no sunshine and all the rain means the rocks are very slippery, which makes every step a guess if your boot will cling to the rock, or slip right or left.
If you’re a fit walker your first stop would be Lake McKerrow hut, which sits on a nice little island and the bottom of lake Mckerrow, there is a fire place in the hut and with all the drift wood on the beach it is not hard to find fuel for a cosy evening. The next day depending on your fitness level you can either go to the Demon Hut, or the next one, Hokiro Hut, which took me 6 hours to get to, but I’m a fast walker.
There was so much rain that night that I was not even sure if I could make it to Martins bay the next day, lucky the rain stopped in the morning so the water in some of the creeks had dropped a fair bit and on the big streams there are some long wire bridges. There is something very exhilarating about walking waste deep through rivers and knowing there will be a hut with a fire place at the end to warm you up and dry your socks. It warms up your heart.
The walk to Martins bay did not take very long, once you are out of the bush line you will follow the beach and the grass fields, you can smell the ocean. Martins bay is where you will get to see seals and if you are lucky penguins. It’s a great hut and its very easy to spend a few days here, but if you plan to walk back but don’t want to walk the trail again, you can go to the Martins bay lodge and book a jet boat back, which will get you to back to the nice part of the trail past McKerrow hut.
Now from here the wilderness really starts, it takes a day to walk to Big Bay and if you plan to go to big bay, I would say, don’t follow the markers that say big bay, but make your way to the northern beach at the seal colony and walk on the beach the whole way. There will be lots of seals for about 1km of your walk, so take it slow if you don’t want to die of sudden heart attack when one of those big bulls roars at you from behind a rock, or die by bad breath, their breath smells like a can of sardines fermented for a month. A tip if you like mussels, once you get to the actual main beach, big bay, the 3rd last big rock in the water is covered with massive green mussels if the tide is out and there are some pots in the hut big enough to cook them in. Yummy!!
Don’t count on getting any sleep in big bay, unless it’s winter. I successfully hunted 200 mosquito’s and gave up the count after that. I felt like a flight deck carrier being dive bomb by high pitched fighter mozzies. So get yourself a $20 mozzie net and bobs your uncle.
I had to wait a day for the weather to clear before heading into the Pyke valley. This was going to be a long day, the Olivine hut is a about 10 hours away if your fast, I have read reports of 15 hours. And I will stay, if it rains, stay in the hut!! The Pyke is wild and if you don’t have a locator beacon and enough experience you will get yourself into big trouble. Once you reach the Pyke from Big Bay, you will follow the river and I mean you will walk through the river bed for a bit till you reach the Pyke River. When I got close to the Pyke I could see some hunting gear, gps units, solar showers and smelly boots drying in the sun. This is a good hunting area, so if your lucky, you get treated to bush taka, paua fritters, coffee and chocolate and a bit of banter. This is what I love so much about going into these areas. On so many occasion I have been treated to a stiff drink and venison fillet. If your vegetarian you still get a stiff drink as that is just barely or fermented potatoes.
The route from here to Olive is challenging! Most parts are ok in good weather conditions, just the entrance to the trail at the northern end of lake Wilmot can be a bit tricky to find, with a gps it should not be an issue at all.
If your lucky, and the last party who did the walk did it anti clock wise, then you will find the cable cart just before Olivine hut to be on your side, if not, role up your sleeves and pull this rusty wire 100 meters across and then back to the other side with you in it. It’s an experience! Once you get to the others side there is a welcomes committee of sandflies, drooling from the heat you are radiating. You will be radiating so much heat, that if Stevie Wonder was a sandfly he could find you in the dark. Lucky, your only 200 meters away from the hut, dinner time!
Another long day ahead, pretty much a lot of the same of the previous day, thick bush and small trails, overgrown markers on some spots and the occasional loss of trail due to being in deep thought, hey after 7 days in the bush you will start to develop a ‘Wilson’ syndrome. If you want to leave Olive after torrential rain, please don’t. If lake Alabaster is high you will find you might have to swim parts, as the trail literally goes along the water front, so save yourself two hours by trying to find the trail. There are No markers and the old trail is from 20 years ago and you can just imagine how overgrown that one is. By all means, if you have a machete and feel like doing a good deed, open up the old trail, you can sporadically see the old marker and random flip flop, wondering if its only a lost flip flop or if there is somebody down that cliff.
If you are looking for a bit of wilderness and have 7 to 8 days up your sleeve, the Big Bay – Pyke route is a great experience, though at times but the scenery is stunning.