There’s more than one way to enjoy the best of Fjordland National Park. While the multi-day Milford Track is the most popular route – there’s also several short hikes you can do along the Te Anau – Milford Highway on a day trip.
- Cross swing bridges over ice blue water
- Take in the mountain views from picturesque Lake Marian
- See beautiful scenery along the way including Mirror Lakes
If you only have time to explore one area along the Te Anau – Milford Highway, make sure it’s Lake Marian.
This is the scenery I came to New Zealand for. The wilderness around this area is breathtakingly beautiful as you cross suspension bridges spanning azure water, wind through majestic beech forest and take in the views of the surrounding mountains.
The hike to Lake Marian is marked as 3 hours return but you can do it in 2 hours if you’re of reasonable fitness. The trail starts 1km down the Hollyford Road, off the Milford Highway.
Head across a swing bridge over rapids before joining a flat gravel path leading to a boardwalk bordering a fast running series of cascades.
Follow the orange triangle markers – at some points along the path it can be a little hard to follow the trail as it heads along dry creekbeds and around trees. You’ll spot the markers on trees and steel posts along the trail.
It’s a peaceful walk along rocky terrain past large beech trees and at some points you can hear the roar of the cascades. From Lake Marian, you get expansive views over the clear water of the lake and across to the surrounding mountains.
After you’ve conquered the Lake Marian trail, turn left from the carpark and head down to Humboldt Falls. It’s a gravel road down to the falls and it will take you about 15 minutes to drive. The road has some potholes but is accessible by a 2WD vehicle. It’s less than a 30 minute return walk to the falls.
Key Summit Trail
If you’ve got the time, consider doing the Key Summit trail. The hike will take you about 3 hours to complete and has views across mountain ranges, valleys and over to the other side of Lake Marian. The trail starts from The Divide carpark and follows the popular multi-day Routeburn Track at the start.
The Key Summit trail is a switchback gravel trail with a steady incline. There’s several lookout areas along the way and up the top over the Hollyford, Greenstone and Eglinton valleys.
At the top, there’s also a nature walk over a series of wooden boardwalks past alpine lakes and shrub land.
Another place to see along the Te Anau – Milford Highway is the Mirror Lakes viewpoint located just off the highway. Stop here early in the morning to see the reflections of the Earl Mountains on the lake.
Also check out The Chasm – a roaring canyon in the rainforest formed by the Cleddau River.
- Insect repellent for sandflies
- 2-3 litres of water
- Swimming gear (in summer months)
How To Get There
From Te Anau, get on the Te Anau – Milford Highway and follow the signs to Milford Sound. You’ll see clear signage for each of the hikes listed along the highway.
Start your day early before the tourist buses start heading along the Milford Highway. It took me under 2 hours to drive the road to Milford Sound leaving at 7.00am but my hostel said you can add up to an hour if you head in with the tour buses. For this itinerary, I went and had a look at Milford Sound before turning back and doing the hikes along the way back to Te Anau.
Beginner to Intermediate. Some of the sights mentioned are merely viewpoints or very short well-marked trails. The Lake Marian and Key Summit hikes are on well marked trails but are steep in sections.
Distance / Duration
All the hikes listed come be done in a day trip from Te Anau. Here are return times and distances for this itinerary.
Lake Marian: 2-3 hours
Humbolt Falls: 30 minutes
Key Summit: 3 hours
The Chasm: 30 minutes
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