Image of the August 2013 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
August 2013 Issue
Home / Articles / Wild Trips

An unmissable lake

An icy Lake Marian is a must-see diversion on the drive to Milford Sound. Photo: Edith Leigh
3hr return
Turn onto the Hollyford Rd just past The Divide on the Milford Rd (SH94) and park at the Lake Marian car park

 Lake Marian, Fiordland National Park

Deep in the Darran Mountains, sheltered in the bottom of a hanging valley, Lake Marian beckons as we climb steeply in a misty drizzle.

As we pop out of the tree line and stand at the top of the boulder moraine surrounding the lake, it is everything, and nothing, like I remembered it.

The lake is a mirror, with dizzyingly perfect reflections of the sheer mountain-sides surrounding it.

Its edge is crusted with plates of ice, as thick as a hand span and which refuse to crack when we step on them.

Low cloud hugs the mountain tops adding a heavy, waiting broodiness to the atmosphere and hiding Mt Crosscut, Mt Christina and Sabre Peak at the head of the valley.

The tantalising calls of a family of kea echo around the rocks, as a flash of red can be glimpsed soaring above us.

There is little to do but pile on layers and down jackets, clamber up onto a big flat rock, pour a cuppa from the thermos and soak it all up.

For reward to effort ratio, Lake Marian cannot be beaten.

The three-hour return track skirts Marian Creek, which tumbles from the alpine lake towards the Hollyford River. Boardwalk hugs the cliffs and hangs out over the Marian rapids, before the track leaves the roar of the creek behind and climbs steeply through thick beech forest. Near the top of the valley, the beech trees shrink, their branches drowning beneath thick layers of moss, and the understory is coated in waist-high ferns.

I first visited Lake Marian on a school trip when I was about 11-years-old. Since then I have brought many friends up here and the lake never looks the same. It has been at least 15 years since I was last here and my memories of it are of achingly blue skies and a daring, breath-stealing swim.

But I have never seen it like it is today, so still and icy. We have it to ourselves for a blissful half hour, before another group of trampers appears at the tree line.

As they scramble down the chunky moraine towards us, we reluctantly pack up for the fast hike back to the car.

Anybody travelling on the road to Milford Sound should put Lake Marian at the top of their ‘to do’ list.