The Lake Marian Track in Fiordland, New Zealand deserves its own blog post.
What makes Lake Marian so special?
All across New Zealand, there are many lakes. The famous ones like Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Lake Taupo, Hooker Lake and Lake Matheson are all fairly accessible.
You just park your car at the designated car park. And there will usually be a marked trail that takes you to a lookout point at the lake after a few minutes’ walk.
But not Lake Marian:
Unlike the other well-known lakes in New Zealand, Lake Marian is an alpine lake. That means it’s up on higher ground in the mountains. For an alpine lake, it is considered an “easy” one to get to.
How to get to the Lake Marian Track
The track is situated between Lake Gunn (16 minutes’ drive) and Gunns Camp (30 minutes’ drive). There is a small carpark in front of the starting point.
And just in case you’re thinking of doing the Lake Gunn walk too, don’t bother unless you don’t mind a lot of mud!
The lake is better viewed during the drive to Lake Marian instead. In my opinion, anyways. You can take it from us because we did both walks in one day.
- Te Anau: 88.2km (1 hour 13 minutes’ drive)
- Milford Sound: ~32km (39 minutes’ drive)
- Queenstown: 258km (3 hr 16 minutes’ drive)
- Wanaka: 312km (4 hours’ drive)
- Invercargill: 244km (3 hours’ drive)
Note: All distances and times are based on Google Maps
How long does it take to do complete the Lake Marian Track?
The DOC signboard recommends a return duration of 3 hours. That appears to be true if you exclude the initial part of the walk. Which is more like a hike, than a walk actually.
We definitely took more than 3 hours.
Be warned, the Lake Marian Track can get quite muddy!
How to prepare for the Lake Marian track
We went on the second sunny day in a rare streak of sunny days in Fiordland. And it was still muddy in places. We’re not sure if the trail is even doable on a rainy day.
Be prepared with a waterproof jacket, waterproof pants and hiking shoes/ boots. And don’t even think of attempting this hike during heavy rain. It could be very dangerous.
Also, bring ample food and water. The hike might take longer than you expect.
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What is the Lake Marian track like?
The first part takes you across a swing bridge and past a few waterfalls with an easy boardwalk. The latter are worth seeing even if you don’t intend to do the whole hike.
From then on, the trail goes past slippery rocks and steadily climbs uphill through trees. There are no man-made steps.
Just tree roots and more rocks (surprise surprise). All the while, you can hear the faint sound of the waterfalls back at the start of the trail.
Tip: Leave at least half a day to do this hike. And tell somebody at your campground that you’re going to Lake Marian. There have been people stranded up there after dark.
About half way through the trail, you get to an open space with some bush (or should I say tussock?) and rocks. The climb goes higher still. And you will soon find yourself back under the cover of trees again.
There is at least one large fallen tree that you have to climb over (or under in my case because I have short stumpy legs).
And other smaller obstacles. See pic below.
If you keep going, you will notice you can’t hear the sound of the stream/waterfalls anymore.
Not there yet though:
You’re close to the lake when you see big ferns on the ground and less trees.
Somewhere here, there is a typical New Zealand long drop toilet.
And yet more mud. You might see some ice in the shadow of the ferns. Be wary of falling trees. We heard a tree falling down somewhere ahead as we descended down to the lake.
And presently, you will reach the lake.
The whole area in front of the lake is covered in boulders. Be careful if you want to make it all the way down to the lake. Surrounding the lake are snow-covered mountains. The lake itself is a deep aquamarine color.
We ran out of energy at that point though. Instead, we sat down and ate our sandwiches. There were only two other people besides us. They left soon enough and we had the whole place to ourselves.
It was really tranquil there if not for the sound of trees crashing down somewhere up in the mountains. We got a little worried about the possibility of an avalanche.
Anyways, daylight was running out for us:
Not wanting to have to scramble down the trail in the dark, we left as fast as we could down the same way we came from. I would say it was only slightly easier than going up.
And you really have to watch where you place your feet.
You’re probably wondering:
Do you have to be fit to do this trail?
The hike would definitely be easier if you are fit. I’m not. And I struggled with this hike. Ached the next day, in fact.
We took around 4.5 hours to complete the hike. We met a family that took the same amount of time too.
Which is why we think the recommended return time doesn’t include the first portion of the hike.
Final note on Lake Marian
Is Lake Marian worth seeing?
It’s honestly not the prettiest lake we’ve seen in New Zealand. Maybe it is during sunrise… we can’t say since we saw it at midday. I think its beauty lies mostly in how remote it is.
But if you have at least average fitness and think you won’t have another chance to see an alpine lake up close, then consider doing the hike.
Just think twice if it’s been raining recently and if you’re short on time to complete the hike!
Accommodation near Lake Marian
Note: Currently closed for repairs due to flood damage in 2020 (Last update 5 Feb, 2020)
We stayed in Gunns Camp. Which we highly recommend. The elderly couple who run it are lovely and very thoughtful.
What We Like About Gunn’s Camp
The spacious lounge (with a fireplace!) and kitchen are really comfortable. The bathroom facilities are modern and warm.
As for entertainment, there are plenty of books, puzzles and games in the lounge. The nearby bank outside the camp is worth checking out to see some glowworms for free too.
If you find yourself needing petrol, they sell it at their camp. They have a small shop (which is also the reception). And a museum dedicated to the history of the camp (free entry).
Things To Note About Gunn’s Camp
Don’t expect sophisticated laundry facilities (they do have a manual tub thing), working Wi-Fi or phone signal though.
There are however, a lot of sandflies so be prepared.
The dirt road in may be a struggle, depending on your vehicle. Our Toyota Estima made it on a non-rainy day.
Lake Marian track is certainly stunning. But the hike and your schedule is something you should definitely consider before you go!
If you do plan to go, make sure you are fully prepared (read this post again for good measure) and that you tell someone that you are going there! Just in case.
Is Lake Marian on your New Zealand bucket list? Leave a comment below.
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