The Lake Marian track is a stunning, quiet alternative to visiting Key Summit. If you fancy stretching your legs before (or after) your boat tour at Milford Sound, you should definitely consider this hike. The walk includes a wobbly swing bridge, an amazing waterfall and a hike through pretty beech forest. It culminates with a visit to an incredibly pretty, bright blue lake, surrounded on all sides by almost vertical mountainsides.
Marc and I wanted to walk a little near Milford Sound, but I found it very difficult to choose between this and the Key Summit day hike. In the end, I chose Key Summit, mostly because I just love making it to the top of mountains. As I mentioned in my previous post (read it here if you like the sound of it!) the Key Summit hike was much easier than we expected, so we ran down the mountain to make time for this second hike to Lake Marian!
Now I have been on both walks, I think the walk up the Lake Marian track was my favourite of the two. Even if it was slightly harder.
Lake Marian Track Map
Lake Marian Track – the basics
Distance: 6.9 km (there and back)
Height: 695 m (elevation gain is 480 m)
Time: Around 3 hours. It took us just over 2.5 hours, but we were walking quite fast.
What to bring: You’ll want walking boots, and hiking poles if you have them. If it’s a hot day, bring a bikini or swimming costume so you can swim in the lake. Remember this is the Fiordland, so don’t forget to bring a waterproof coat and bug spray! (Read through the 10 essentials.)
How hard is it: The path is very easy for the first 20 minutes up to Marian Falls. However after that, the path is a bit rough and full of tree roots. There were some sections with very large steps but as most of the elevation gain is quite gradual, so it’s not too bad. I did find this walk much harder than the super-easy hike up to Key Summit (but that might partly because we ran down that mountain right before we started this walk!!)
Getting started – walk to the gantry
You need to drive a short way down the Hollyford Track, just off the Te Anau-Milford Highway. The walk starts at the Lake Marian trail car park (you can find it on google maps here.) Right at the start, you need to cross the Hollyford river on a swing bridge. I loved that you can see through the wire down to the river, but this might be a little scary if you are afraid of heights or wobbly bridges.
While you’re on the bridge, you can see some gorgeous views of the surrounding beech forest and the bright-blue Hollyford river. After this, the first section of the walk is very easy on wide, well paved walkways.
Marian Falls and the Gantry
Once you’ve walked for 10-15 minutes, you’ll start to hear the roar of Marian Falls. The gantry is a long wooden platform where you can view all the rushing water. You’ll be able to get a really good view as soon as you arrive at the playform. This was REALLY cool. It is a fantastic place to take photos.
This is less than 20 minutes walk from the trailhead, so you can just pop up to here if you don’t have time for the whole hike.
Marian Falls is more like rock-filled, white rapids than a waterfall. What I mean is, it is a long, winding, collection of small (but epic) waterfalls, rather than one big drop.
This is one place where you won’t be able to chat much! The waterfalls are sooo loud that we had to wait until further up the track before we could talk to each other!
Lake Marian Track
Once you get past the waterfall, the Lake Marian track gets a little harder to follow. This part of the hike gets quite a bit steeper as you ascend through the gorgeous beech forest. But it is still really fun! I love it when hiking tracks use tree roots like little steps! You just need to be careful not to trip!
There are plenty of ferns at the base of the trees, so you need to watch out for triangle-shaped markers to find your way through the forest. You can’t always see an obvious track on the forest floor.
After a while, you’ll reach an avalanche clearing. I don’t think this would be a good walk early in springtime! The sides of the mountain were very steep, and when you see how much space has been cleared by avalanches, you can see it’d be a bad idea to hike here when snow might smother you!!
Anyway, there was no snow in the middle of the summertime! So we took this chance to look back over to Key Summit, where we had just been.
We thought we might be quite close to the lake when we reached the first large avalanche clearing. We weren’t! It was a bit less than halfway up to the lake! If you make it to this point and feel exhausted, slow down a little, as you still have quite a way to go!
But do keep going! After another 45 minutes walking uphill, you might be rewarded with views of the surrounding mountains. We had been exploring on a pretty rainy day, so we didn’t actually see the views…but we could sort of see the shape of the mountain through the mist!
This is your reward for hiking for over a hour. Not bad eh!? Lake Marian is a beautiful greeny-blue colour, even on a grey day. I think it must be even more beautiful under a blue sky! The sides of the surrounding mountains were all incredibly steep, which makes the area feel enclosed and protected.
A perfect place to relax
There were a few other people at the lake while we were there, but it was one of the quietest hikes from our time in New Zealand. Compared to the Key Summit track and the busyness of Milford Sound, this is a quiet, pretty place to relax.
The effects of sandflies
We were covered in bug spray on this walk after I had been bitten a few times by bastard sandflies on our walk on Boyds Creek Track the previous day. I don’t know if you have ever been bitten by a sandfly, but if they swell up, it is soooo itchy! Climbing a mountain earlier in the day, followed by this hike meant my bitten ankle had fattened and swollen up to cankle-like proportions. The water in Lake Marian is very cold, even in the middle of summer. So, I used the cold water to bathe my poor sandfly bite while munching some really tasty Kiwi chocolate.
Heading down again
As always, I found it much harder to descend the Lake Marian track compared to hiking up. You have to be extra careful to look out for the track’s markers. And climbing down the tree roots can be more difficult than pulling yourself up! Still, you always have gravity on your side for a return journey, which makes things a little less exhausting. I really enjoyed it despite my tired knees.
We met quite a few people who were just starting their walk as we finished, so they must have been planning to hike down in the dark(!) I personally wouldn’t recommend that now I have seen the uneven footing!
Anyway, it took less than an hour for us to return down the track. The roaring waters of Marian Falls welcomed us back to the easy final section of the walk.
Marc and I both really loved this hike. We may not have chosen the best day weather-wise, but the trail up to Lake Marian is definitely worth the effort. If you are planning a trip to Milford sound and fancy stretching your legs, give this a try, especially if you prefer quiet walks or fancy a swim in a cold lake!
If you are interested in our other adventures on the way to Milford Sound, you can read more about them here:
- Te Anau Glowworm caves – We booked this through real journeys
- Lake Mistletoe – a really quick walk on the drive down to Milford Sound
- Boyd Creek Track – a quiet, but stunning hike through mossy forests
- Key Summit Day Hike – the first peak on the famous Routeburn track
- Milford Sound Boat Tour – The main event in Milford sound was sooo pretty!