Lake Marian, Fiordland National Park

Duration: Full day from Te Anau or Queenstown with return flight
Distance: 2.4km return, 3- to 4-hour hike
Rating: Moderate

Lake Marian is one of those little gems tucked just far enough off the beaten track to remain unspoiled yet conveniently close to the major attractions. Very few of the nearly half a million visitors who drive past it on their way to Milford Sound each year would have even heard of this track, although I think it features one of the best views in Fiordland National Park. All the better for those of us lucky enough to experience it on foot!

If we’re going on a day trip from Queenstown, we’ll leave at 7:30am to travel along the dramatic southern arm of Lake Wakatipu and then through rolling farmland until we reach the second largest lake in New Zealand and the largest on the South Island. Lake Te Anau is located on the edge of Fiordland National Park so from here the views shift quite abruptly. Suddenly we’re surrounded by snow-capped mountains and dense native bush intersected by rivers and streams.

Lake Marian

One of the advantages of a privately guided tour is we can stop whenever and wherever we like along the way, whether it’s to snap a few shots or to sample the local brew. One must-see photo opportunity is just past Te Anau, aptly named Mirror Lakes. On a calm day, they give off the most amazing reflections of the surrounding landscape.

The trailhead is not much further from here. The hike starts gently enough in the Lower Hollyford Valley alongside mountain streams leading to a series of waterfalls. When the trail gets more rocky, it signals the beginning of our ascent to Lake Marian. This area is rich in natural history and local mythology so as we walk underneath a dense canopy of beech, fuchsia and ribbon wood trees, we’ll have plenty of stories to trade in the next couple of hours to take our minds off of the steady climb.

What I love most about this hike is the fact that all is not revealed until we finally emerge above the bush only steps from the banks of Lake Marian. Then…

Boom, there it is!!

Centre stage is an alpine lake surrounded by towering walls of granite, a hanging valley left behind by the ancient glaciers. In the background are Mt Crosscut, Mt Marian and Sabre Peak standing guard in this spectacular natural amphitheatre. It’s a pretty memorable spot to savour our picnic lunch, to say the least, and doubly dramatic with reflections on the lake when the wind is still.

Once we’ve had our fill of gazing at the steep, snow-clad mountains, the return trip back down the trail usually only takes about an hour since it’s downhill.

If you have the time, I recommend staying the night at Fiordland Lodge in Te Anau so you can cruise Milford Sound by boat or take an aerial tour of Doubtful Sound the next day. There are also quite a few other hikes in the area we can explore. Otherwise, I can arrange a light plane to take you back to Queenstown by around 5pm.

Lake Marian, Fiordland National Park