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Lake Marian Track is an incredible, short day-hike along the road to Milford Sound. Taking only 3 hours to complete, the hike includes views of waterfalls as well as the stunning Lake Marian. This blog is a guide to the track including our own personal experiences.
The road to Milford is arguably as beautiful as Milford Sound itself. Boasting incredible valleys, mountain peaks, and countless trails to explore, you could literally spend days on this short 120-kilometer-long (75 miles) stretch of road!
But if like us, you don’t have days to spend getting to Milford Sound, you will need to pick and choose wisely where you want to spend your precious time.
There are a ton of different stops on the road to Milford from Te Anau and lots of different hiking trails – but if you’re going to pick one trail in particular, then I recommend making time for the hike to Lake Marian.
About Lake Marian Track
Where is the Lake Marian Trailhead?
As I said before, the hike to Lake Marian starts along to road to Milford – between the town of Te Anau and Milford Sound. You’ll find access to the Lake Marian track from the Hollyford Road turnoff (the same place as Gunns Camp), approximately 38 kilometers (24 miles) from Milford Sound.
Hollyford Road is well signposted and can also easily be found using Google Maps.
Drive on Hollyford Road for 1 km (0.6 mi) and you will reach a parking lot. Park there and you will see the signs for the Lake Marian Track. You’ll know you’re headed in the right direction if you cross a suspension bridge almost immediately.
Related Read: Have yet to stop in Milford Sound yet? Make sure to learn where to find the secret Milford Sound Swing!
What makes the track to Lake Marian so special?
Lake Marian is a gorgeous turquoise lake sitting in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks and waterfalls. It is simply stunning – and that alone is what makes it so extraordinary.
The walk itself is also noteworthy. At the beginning of Lake Marian Track, you will cross a river on a suspension bridge and then only a few hundred meters later find yourself walking on a platform right next to waterfalls!
From there, it is all hiking uphill through the forest. Once you have climbed and climbed and climbed, you will turn one last bend, and low and behold, in front of you is a huge valley and Lake Marian! Simply spectacular!
How long is Lake Marian Track?
Lake Marian Track is approximately 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) long for a return trip. You walk along the same trail to and from Lake Marian.
Allow approximately 3 hours to complete the hike, however, if you like to take lots of stops for photos or maybe even swim in the lake (if you can brave the cold water) then allow a bit more time!
Related Read: Exploring Milford Sound on a boat cruise is the best way to immerse youself in the setting.
How difficult is Lake Marian Track?
Lake Marian Track starts off very easy. In the beginning, it is flat, well maintained, and suitable for all fitness levels. However, after the waterfalls there is a sign posted that warns that ahead is a steady incline with a rocky path – this sign is right!
The majority of Lake Marian Track is uphill and involves climbing over rocks. It isn’t easy by any means and you will definitely need good footwear to complete it.
When it has been wet, the rocks can be slippery and there are also some very muddy sections. Expect to have to climb over tree roots or on top of large rocks at times.
It isn’t the easiest of day walks near Milford Sound, but if you are up for the challenge, then it’s totally worth it!
Related Read: Learn what it’s like hiking the Kepler Track, you’ll hike through the fjordland mountains, forests, waterfalls, and glacier valleys!
How to Add Lake Marian Track to Your Milford Sound Itinerary
Lake Marian Track isn’t short! At three hours long (not including the drive there, the drive to Milford Sound and back, and the other amazing stops along the road) it’s very hard to do it all in one day.
I have three recommendations of where to stay in order to enjoy all this stunning area has to offer:
To help plan your trip through Milford Sound be sure to check out my article on the ultimate road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Although it starts in Queenstown, it lists the best attractions you should stop at and gives you a great timeline to go off!
1. Stay in Te Anau
Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound, in fact, you can make the journey to Milford Sound in as little as 1.5 hours. From the start of the Lake Marian Track, it is only an hour’s drive!
So if you spend a night in Te Anau before and after you visit Milford Sound you’ll have to time stop at many of the stunning places on the road to Milford Sound, hike the Lake Marian track, do a cruise in Milford Sound (and watch the sunset) before returning again to Te Anau. Just be sure to start your day early to give yourself plenty of time!
I have personally tried and tested this and although a long day, I loved it! In winter you’ll need to be prepared to drive back in the dark, but in summer you’ll have daylight until around 9:30 pm.
You can view and book your accommodation in Te Anau online in advance to avoid missing out on the best places to stay!
2. Stay in Te Anau and at the Milford Lodge
Option two is, in my opinion, the best option when it comes to seeing all Milford Sound has to offer. It works the same as option 1 but instead of having to drive back to Te Anau, you spend a second night at the Milford Lodge.
If you’ve rented a campervan or car you can get a powered campsite at the Milford Lodge for only $70 NZD a night. They also have dorm beds and private accommodation that range in price (some are very expensive!)
If you do decide to go with this option you could also just leave from Queenstown.
3. Camp along the road to Milford
If you’re driving around in a campervan or motorhome another option is to camp along the road to Milford Sound. This way, you’re as close as possible to both Lake Marian Track and Milford Sound!
In all honesty, I don’t know much about this as I haven’t done it, however, you can find more information about the camping spots in Fiordland National park here.
I do know that there are plenty of places to camp just none after the Homer Tunnel. Please note, you should book these in advance and do not freedom camp in the national park, you will get a ticket!
What to book before heading to Milford Sound
If you’re heading off to Milford Sound after hiking Lake Marian Track then be sure to have your Milford cruise booked in advance before you arrive. A cruise is one of those must-do activities in Milford that you shouldn’t miss.
Below are some of the top-rated cruises you can do in Milford Sound! Be sure the check the times of the cruises and make sure you have enough time to stop at the places you want to stop at and of course hike the Lake Marian track. (If you’re unsure, leave a comment below and I’ll be more than happy to help you plan this epic road trip!)
My favorite cruises in Milford Sound are the Nature Cruise and Sightseeing Nature Cruise. However, the Encounter Nature Cruise does start at 9:45 am which is a little early if you plan on hiking the Lake Marian Track before (you could hike it after though!)
What should you bring on the Lake Marian Track?
There are a few things that I would recommend bringing along with you for the Lake Marian Track hike. They would be:
- Good hiking footwear. Good grip on the shoes for the slippery rocks and waterproof would also be a great idea for the muddy sections.
- Rain gear. The weather can change in an instant in Fiordland National Park, so even on the sunniest of days bring your rain jacket just in case.
- 750ml of water per person at least. The Lake Marian Track is a bit of a climb on the way there so you’ll find yourself getting thirsty pretty quickly.
- Camera. The views of Lake Marian are stunning – you will absolutely want to take photos.
Our Experience and Overall Opinion
We once saw a beautiful photo of Lake Marian on Instagram and then decided that we wanted to check it out for ourselves. Without any research, we planned to do it on our way to Milford Sound.
When we arrived we saw the sign saying it takes three hours to complete the hike. We were a bit surprised as most of the hikes along the way to Milford are very short and can be completed in under an hour, but we wanted to see Lake Marian so we had a quick bite to eat, filled up our water bottles, and headed off.
As I said, the beginning portion of the Lake Marian Track is easy and beautiful! We stopped many times to photograph the waterfalls. It’s after the waterfalls when the serious hiking started.
We were hiking in the middle of spring and although it wasn’t raining at the time, there had been tons of rain prior to making the rocks along the trail slippery. The trail took a bit of time and effort (and a few water breaks to catch our breath) but we eventually made it to Lake Marian – and it was definitely worth it!
Daniel, being hot and sweaty, decided that jumping into the freezing cold glacier-fed lake was a good idea. The few people sitting around the lake watched and laughed at him as he jumped into the water and jumped back out just as quickly.
We took a few photos and relaxed a bit before making our way back down to the car park. The way back took much less time than the way there.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the hike to Lake Marian. It was challenging but not too hard, and the views at the end were so rewarding!
The little gem is often missed by visitors, in fact, we skipped it on our first trip to Milford Sound. I am so glad we decided to do it this time around though, was such a stunning lake and a good way to spend a few hours one afternoon.
Related Read: You might have heard of Milford Sound cruises but did you know that you can also kayak in Milford Sound?
Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand
The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)
You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.
You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!
Personally, we have rented a campervan from a company called Mad Campers before and had a great experience. Mad Campers is for budget travelers and they offer 1 and 2 berth campervans that are very comfortable and perfect for a road trip in New Zealand! You can read our full Mad Campers review for more info!
We also have a discount code for our readers. Use DTRAVEL5 at checkout to get 5% off your campervan rental with Mad Campers!
The only downside to Mad Campers is that they have limited inventory, so they might already be sold out for your travel dates. In that case, your next best option is JUCY. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suite your budget and travel style. You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.
Kiwi Motorhomes is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer luxury motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates. Check out our full review on them as well as more info specific on renting a motorhome in NZ in our guide!
Kiwi Motorhomes has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DEST5 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental!