While the Milford Track is probably one of the most famous, if not the most famous, of New Zealand’s walks, there are a number of other equally impressive tracks to choose from. This page will give you a brief introduction to these walks and some history behind them. If you require more information go to our links page where we list other sites you might be interested in.
The track follows close to a major fault zone which throws together both metamorphic and sedimentary rocks.During the Ice Ages, the last of which ended some 10, 000 years ago, huge glaciers carved out the rock. The Hollyford glacier was so large it curved around the southern end of the Darran Mountains and flowed 50km north to Martins Bay.It overtopped the main divide at Key Summit and two lobes flowed to the south – one to Lake Wakatipu via the Greenstone valley and the other to Lake Te Anau via the Eglington Valley.
When the glaciers retreated they left the distinctive U-shape main valleys, smaller hanging valleys, crique basins and residual glaciers like Donne Glacier on the eastern face of Mt. Tutoko. Beech is the dominant forest tree, with red beech around the start of the Routeburn Valley on sunny, forest-free sites.
Mountain beech occurs at higher altitudes within the Routeburn Valley. Silver beech competes best on the wetter Hollyford faces along with broadleaf and fuschia. A feature of the beech forest is the abundance of ferns, mosses, lichens and perching plants. The track passes through several avalanche paths colonized by ribbonwood; one of New Zealand’s few deciduous trees. Above the bushline between Lake Mackenzie and the Routeburn Falls are snow tussock grasslands, and herbfields with mountain buttercups, daisies, and ourisias. Bog communities; with sundews, bladderworts, orchids, daisies and bog pine occur around tarns on Key Summit. Riflemen, bellbirds, robins, yellow crowned parakeets, yellowheads, tomtits, fantails and wood pigeons are common bush birds.
Towards evening, native bats and moreporks (small owls) may be seen and heard. Blue ducks and paradise ducks live in the valley.
In the sub-alpine zone look out for rock wrens, New Zealand Falcons and the mischievous mountain parrot, the kea. Introduced animals include white tail deer in the lower Routeburn Valley, red deer throughout the forested areas and chamois about the mountaintops. Possums, rats, and stoats are widespread.
Rakaihautu, legendary leader of the Maori canoe Uruao, is said to have named the Great Lakes while exploring the interior of the South Island. During a period of wet weather his party found a large and beautiful lake, which they named Te Ana Au, meaning cave of rain, and just south of it another lake which Rakaihautu named Roto Ua, the lake where rain is constant.
Today we know Roto Ua as Manapouri, a corruption of Manawa Popre (lake of the sorrowing heart), the original name of North Mavora Lake. People seeking food from the forests, lakes and rivers of the area followed these early explorers.
Evidence of seasonal Maori occupation has been found around the bays of both lakes and in the valleys which provided a link to the Fiordland coast. Assisted by Maori guides, European explorers Charles Nairn and William Stephen found the lakes in 1852. Richard Henry, Fiordland’s first Ranger, lived at the Southern end of Lake Te Anau for many years and often explored the Kepler Mountains. The range was named by surveyor James Mckerrow after the famous 17th Century German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Early tracks up into Mt Luxmore were cut by run holder Jack Beer to provide summer grazing for his sheep. The Kepler track was built with funding from the New Zealand Tourist and Publicity Department and opened in February 1988 in time for New Zealand national park centennial celebrations.