I know a few people on here and elsewhere have done this trip, but I thought I’d do a writeup since I think this is a great Class I trip that anyone can tackle.
The Hollyford - Big Bay - Pyke loop is described on the DOC website (http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/southland/pyke-big-bay-brochure.pdf) and in the Moir’s guidebooks. Normally I’d guess it would take about 40-50 hours walking, however you want to split that. With a packraft, walking time is cut down about 20-25 hours, all of which is easy trail or coastal walking since you cut out all of the difficult walking down the Pyke valley and risky river crossings, making it a much more accessible trip. You also get much better views of the Hollyford + Pyke valleys, since the trails are generally in thick bush.
There is a boat ramp at the end of the Lower Hollyford Road for an easy put in. Directly above the road end are the Moraine Creek rapids (IV), and further up the river is more Class II/III water (see http://rivers.org.nz/nz/southland/hollyford/gunns-camp-run + http://rivers.org.nz/nz/southland/hollyford/moraine-creek). From the carpark down though, the Hollyford is a straightward class I float, aside from a short section of class IV(?) rapids roughly two hours from the carpark. I portaged the more difficult upper section of these on the left over rocks - others have mentioned a route on the right hand side also. It’s easy to spot the rapids approaching and pull out - there’s a clear line of rocks on the horizon. Otherwise, you can float all the way out to sea, there is plenty of wood in the water along the way but it is easily avoided. Even though the wind was favorable, I pulled out and walked along the track along Lake McKerrow since I didn’t think my soft hands would be up for a 15km open water paddle, plus my legs were restless by this point anyway. It’s an easy walk all the way to the coast and Martin’s Bay Hut from the lake end, but it’s worth putting back in at the outlet because you get some great views of the coast floating out to the hut right next to where the river joins the sea.
From here it’s an easy walk along the coast and across the marked track to the Pyke valley. I put in right where the track joins the Pyke river, although the river wasn’t very high and there was the odd bit of scraping over pebbles during the first braided section, however within a few kilometers the river narrows and deepens. The Pyke is slower moving than the Hollyford, and the upper section wonderfully clear, making for a relaxing, scenic float. I paddled across both lakes (Wilmot + Alabaster) since it was calm and the walking alongside the lakes sounded slow and messy. I pulled out just after Pyke lodge shortly after Lake Alabaster to join the track back up the Hollyford - walking alongside the final bit of the Pyke before the Hollyford confluence, I did notice a particularly thick section of dead trees in the water.
Times for the sections on the water:
- approx 5 hours from road end to Lake McKerrow
- approx 2 hours from lake end to Martins Bay Hut
- approx 4 hours from track crossing at Pyke River to Olivine Hut
- approx 2.5 hours from Olivine Hut to Lake Alabaster, including paddle across Lake Wilmot
- approx 2.5 hours across Lake Alabaster to Pyke Lodge
I did the trip in 3 days, although I tend to travel in a bit of rush when by myself. As I mentioned, this an easy Class I trip (at least when the rivers aren’t in flood), with essentially no whitewater. Before I started, I’d probably spent less than 6 hours in my packraft in total - I found it a great way to learn and build some confidence, since you get to spend a lot of time in the raft. But it’s also a spectacular way to see some of Fiordland (admittedly I was lucky to have 3 hot sunny days) - as soon as I finished I wanted to do it all over again.
I noticed in the Olivine hut book that a couple from Alaska had come through packrafting in early January - if you’re on here, hi!