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Backpack the Dusky Track

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand



52.2 miles

Elevation Gain

4265.1 ft

Route Type



Added by Erik Nilsson

Rugged, remote and spectacular hiking in the heart of Fiordland National Park. The track encompasses varied landscapes, taking in deep valleys, alpine tops while crossing two mountain ranges, huge lakes as well as a coastal fjord.

The Dusky Track is a tough and extraordinarily beautiful multi-day hike in central Fiordland. The trail is a one-way hike, with both the northern and southern terminal usually being accessed by boat. 

The southern terminal is situated on the northern shore of the large and deep Lake Hauroko. 

The Northern terminal comes out on the Wilmot Pass Road, located a few kilometers west of the power station on the West Arm of lake Manapouri. Both trailheads have huts, in case you miss the ferry. 

The hike is normally done from south to north, due mainly to the frequent departure of ferries from the north, with multiple boats departing daily from the power station during high season. Ferry crossings from the southern end run a few times a week on a schedule, but only if the crossing has been pre-booked. Meaning that if unlucky, you could get stuck at the south end for a long period of time, without being able to contact anyone about ferry crossings.
At the time of writing (April 2017) the southern ferry costs 99$ and the northern costs 44$.

This is not a first-time hiking destination. Trampers should be prepared for tough trail conditions. Very steep ascents and descents need to be made. Tree-fall often block the path and 3-wire bridge crossings are common. Torrential downpours leading to difficult (non bridged) river crossings and waist-deep mud on the track are not uncommon in this region. Rivers may swell and become impassable, and remain so for several days at a time, at which point hikers will simply need to wait it out. You will need to be self suficiant, especially during shoulder seasons, as it is likely that you will see few (or no) other people for many days. A personal locator beacon would be advised, especially if hiking alone. Being able to navigate off the topographic maps of the region is also advisable, particularly if planning on doing any side trips off the trail. 
Worth remembering is that this is the center of the universe for sandflies. Bring your strongest deet, and be prepared to cover up!

If hikers walk between huts every night, which is a comfortable days walk, the trail will take 8 days to complete (this is assuming you do not have to wait for swollen rivers etc). It is however possible for strong walkers to put in longer days and hike two hut distances in one day on some stretches of the trail. The entire track is no longer than 84km, it is however rough under foot and going is often slow. Note that track times will take longer in poor weather conditions. Hut tickets/passes must be purchased in advance. All huts are standard DoC huts, and therefore only cost 5$ per night. All huts also have some form of fireplace. 

Day 1, from southern terminal: Lake Hauroko to Halfway Hut, 4-6h

The trail sets off following the Hauroko Burn with nice views of the river along the valley floor. Most of the day is flat walking, however, the track climbs slightly after crossing the main river, before descending again, and eventually reaching Halfway Hut. 

Day 2: Halfway Hut to Lake Roe hut, 3-5h

The track continues up the Hauroko Burn until it reaches the top forks of the river. From here the track climbs fairly steeply for about 500 vertical meters to above the bushline. Snow poles mark the way to Lake Roe Hut from here, which is actually situated by lake Laffy. Lake Roe is a further 500m due east, and a 20 minute climb. 
Hikers setting aside a day for side trips from Lake Roe Hut will be well rewarded. On a fine day the views from close by Tamatea Peak are breathtaking and well worth the scramble up. The tussocked hills west and south-west of Lake Roe are also easily gained. In less favorable weather these should not be undertaken. 

Day 3: Lake Roe Hut to Loch Maree Hut, 5-7h

The track follows the tops along the Pleasant Range. This is a very scenic section of the trail, with many beautiful small tarns, and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the Dusky Sound. From the end of the range, hikers descend very steeply for almost a thousand vertical meters down to Loch Maree. The final obstacle of the day is the river crossing just 5 minutes before reaching Loch Maree Hut. The crossing is bridged, but during heavy rain even this can get flooded, leaving hikers either to wait it out, or turn back to the last hut - not something you want to do after just climbing down from it. 

Day 4: Loch Maree Hut to Supper Cove Hut, 6-8h

From Loch Maree Hut the track heads due west, following the Seaforth River all the way to the Dusky Sound and Supper Cove. 

Loch Maree was created some time in the past centuries by a giant slip, as a result many stumps from the old trees that once stood there, now stick up from the lake like a giant pin cushion. This section of the trail often follows the banks of the river and is generally low in the valley, meaning that after heavy rain, the whole trail can become flooded and impassible. Hikers should be prepared to potentially get stuck at Supper Cove for a day or two. 

A rule of thumb is; if the trees sticking out of the lake or not visible, the valley will be flooded and can not be walked. 

Upon reaching Supper Cove the hut is yet another 1.5h away. The track quality deteriorates from here on, it is therefore preferable to walk along the shore, or wade in the sea when possible. This is only feasible within 30 minutes either side of low tide. Low tide charts can usually be found at Loch Maree Hut as well as Supper Cove Hut. Try to time accordingly!
Good fishing can be had just off the rocks by the hut. Many fishermen leave their reels at the hut, for others to use. People I met on trail pulled up a shark and loads of blue cod just meters off the shore here. Be prepared for a sandfly invasion. 

Day 5: Supper Cove Hut to Loch Maree Hut, 6-8h

Return the same way you came, back to Loch Maree Hut. If possible, try to time departure to coincide with low tide, for a more enjoyable route. 

Day 6: Loch Maree Hut to Kintail Hut, 4-7h

On a dry day, this part of the trail is mostly flat and easy going, apart from one particularly boggy section near the the head of Gair Loch. On a wet day however this part of the trail will quickly become very soggy and is prone to flooding. 

Keep an eye out for Blue Ducks in the river rapids as there seem to be many of them around here.

Day 7: Kintail Hut to Upper Spey Hut, 5-7h

This is another day of climbing. The track starts of flat for a little ways before starting it's 850m vertical climb to Centre Pass. Sections are very steep, and when looking back down the valley you will have superb views of Gair Loch, Tripod Hill and surrounding mountains. On a fine day it can be well worth taking a side trip from the top of the pass up to the summit Mt. Memphis which is marked with an old trig. This is an additional 350m of climbing and will take about 2-3h return. The climb up is fairly straightforward. 
After this, a fairly short and somewhat less steep section of trail climbs down 450m to the hut below. 

Day 8: Upper Spey Hut to Wilmot Pass Road, 4-5h

The final day of hiking is also the shortest and easiest one. The track passes through some boggy sections but apart from that, it is easy to navigate. It is mostly flat or downhill, and going is pretty quick. 
Upon reaching the end of the track, follow the graveled road east for about 45 minutes before reaching the ferry terminal!

Come prepared for this hike and you will be richly rewarded! It is a beast, but truly my best hiking experience to date! Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did! 

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