Hiking New Zealand’s Dusky Track

The Dusky Track is labeled one of New Zealand’s most strenuous hikes. It is a 3-8 night tramp through the heart of Fjordland National Park. This post is a logistics guide, and you can read more about my slog along the Dusky Track here.

Trailhead Logistics

  • The Dusky Track can be walked in either direction. Most people walk it from Lake Huaroko to Lake Manapouri.
  • Both trailheads require boat access.
  • Real Journeys provide access across Lake Manapouri on their boats that provide access to Doubtful Sound.
    • You can pay for the boat ride at the Manapouri terminal. You do not need to prepay.
    • The ferry costs $48
    • The ferry typically runs 3-5 times a day. I found that not all the ferry times were advertised.
    • Since the ferry runs frequently, it makes a good ferry to end your tramp with so you don’t have time restraints.
    • They offer a bus from Lake Manapouri to Te Anau that leaves after every ferry for $10.
  • The Lake Huaroko ferry is run by Wairaurahiri Jet
    • The ferry operates twice a week on Monday and Thursday 1 Dec through 1 March.  It operates on Thursdays 1 November to 30 November and 1 March through Easter. It only runs on days that they have customers.
    • You should book ahead. They take a maximum of 12 people and will not add extra trips due to hut capacity.
    • If you are using the ferry as your exit point, make sure to book ahead. They do not run the ferry if they do not have customers.
  • Trips and Tramps operates a shuttle service from Te Anau and Lake Manapouri to Lake Huaroko for $55. They also allow you to book a combination ticket for the Lake Huaroko ferry and an open dated ticket for the Manapouri ferry.

Ferry out of the Dusky Track

Hut Details

  • All huts on the Dusky Track are classified as basic and cost one $5 hut ticket.
  • Te Anau is the closest place to buy a hut pass or hut tickets.
  • All huts have rainwater that does not need to be treated.
  • All huts have a wood stove, but often there is not dry wood at the huts.
  • Most of the huts had toilet paper in 2019.
  • None of the huts had gas or cooking stoves.

Lake Roe Hut

Length of Hike

The Dusky Track can be done between three and eight nights.  The conditions make a big difference in how long the tramp takes.  Some segments can be combined.

  • 3 nights
    • Lake Roe, Supper Cove, Kintail
  • 4 nights
    • Lake Roe, Supper Cove, Loche Maree, Upper Sprey (how I did it)
  • 5 nights
    • You need to combine two segments
    • Halfway, Lake Roe, and Kintail are often the easiest huts to skip
  • 6 nights
    • I would skip the Halfway or Lake Roe hut.
  • 7 nights
    • Staying at every hut except for the West Arm hut.
  • You can shorten the track by one night by skipping the Supper Cove hut.

Trail

Conditions

  • Sandflies love the Dusky Track. The Lake Roe hut is the hut with the least amount of sandflies. Hauroko, Halfway, Loch Maree, Supper Cove, Kintail, and West Arm have A LOT of sandflies.
  • The water level can change quickly. It changed over one meter in less than 24 hours when I was there.
  • The mud levels can vary a lot day by day.
  • Mud and water levels can add 50% time for each segment.
  • I did bring trekking poles, and they did allow me to go faster and caught a couple of slips. I used them for about 25% of the trail.

Hauroko Burn Hut to Halfway Hut

  • Be prepared for sandflies when you exit the boat.
  • There is a toilet at the Hauroko Burn hut that can be used before you start the track.
  • The listed time is 4-6 hours. I completed this section in 3:45.
  • There is now a double river crossing that is knee deep in good weather.
  • This segment has about 230 meters of elevation gain and is at 400 meters.
  • This is the easiest hut to skip if you get to a prompt start from the boat.
  • Two wire walks

Halfway Hut to Lake Roe Hut

  • The listed time is 3-5 hours.
  • I completed this segment in 3:25. I did the first two segments from Hauroko Burn to Lake Roe hut in one day. These are probably the easiest segments to combine.  Try to leave the Halfway hut by 4 pm if you are combining them.
  • This segment is steady uphill. There is a good amount of deadfall on the track.  The track is often a stream.
  • The last segment is above the tree line and often pretty muddy.
  • This hut can get cold and often there is not dry firewood at the hut.  If you think you will light a fire, take some wood from below tree line.
  • The Lake Roe hut is at 880 meters and is 14km from the Hauroko Burn hut.
  • Lake Roe is not visible from the trail and is a 15-minute detour up the hill behind the hut.

Dusky Trail conditions

Lake Roe Hut to Loch Maree Hut

  • The listed time is 5-7 hours.
  • I did this segment in 4:15
  • The start of the section is slightly uphill to the Pleasant Hill saddle at 1060 meters.
  • This is arguably the best segment with stunning views to Dusky Sound.  I would try to do this segment on a clear day, but you often can’t choose your weather on the Dusky Track.
  • The grass above the tree line can be very slick. It is best to stick to the track
  • At tree line, the trail starts going downhill, straight downhill. You trail cutters missed the memo about putting in switchbacks. You will be grabbing tree roots and chains in sections.  I did this section in the rain, and it was doable, but can be a little slick

  • At the bottom of the hill, you will pass a three-sided shelter.  This shelter is to use if the Seaforth River is too high. There are a ton of sandflies, and staying at the shelter would be miserable.
  • The walk wire is 50 meters from the hut.
  • There is a ladder with 19 rungs on it.  You can gauge how high the water is by counting the number of visible rungs.
    • I crossed when the water was past the second rung.
    • There was debris in the walk wire when I crossed.  The water can get really high.
    • The log book does mention people that have had to swim across or spend the night in the shelter.
  • The hut is a good five-minute walk past the bridge.  Be prepared for sandflies.
wire bridge on Dusky Track
The ladder on the other side of the bridge can be used to determine how deep the water is

Loch Maree Hut to Supper Cove

  • The listed time is 6-8 hours.
  • It took me 6:20 going to the hut and 5:30 coming back.  The weather conditions made a big difference in the time.
  • I combined two segments and went from Lake Roe to Supper Cove.  This was my longest day, and I was tired after the day.
  • Loch Maree to Supper Cove is 14 kilometers.
  • Over 1/2 of the people I encountered on the trail did not go to the Supper Cove hut.  I strongly recommend going to the hut.  It was one of my favorite portions of the Dusky Track.
  • There are stumps on Loch Maree. When I did the outward leg, most of them were covered, and the water came up to about 10 centimeters from the trail at some places. 24 hours later on my return journey, the water had dropped about a meter.
    • You should assess if the water is rising or falling before you do the Supper Cove segment.
    • The segment is passable as long as some of the logs in the lake are visible

Faint Dusky Track trail

  • The last portion of the segment has a low tide and a high tide route.
    • The high tide route is pretty miserable.  It is a lot of scrambling and some decent elevation gain.
    • There is updated information about the low tide route in the Loch Maree hut near the registration book.
    • The sand has shifted, and the low tide route is not really passable now.  It can be passable during a spring tide, at the low tide period.  The one person I talked to that was able to cross the low tide route went up to mid-chest.  I attempted it about 30 minutes after low tide, and it was not passable.
    • You can pass it via the shoreline, but there is a good amount of mud.  I do not think this way is any easier than the high tide route.
Dusky trail
This is where the high tide and the low tide trails diverge. It is very easy to see where they diverge.
  • At low tide, you can dig clams from the cove.
  • There is a segment that has multiple tracks, and it very easy to lose the trail.  The track in this section follows right next to the river.
  • If you do not do this segment, you can go to a cool waterfall by a swing bridge that is about 15 minutes from the Loch Maree hut.
  • Going to the hut and back to the Loch Maree hut in one day would be a really long day.  I chose to make the return journey from Supper Cove to Loch Maree hut as a single segment day.  It was great to be able to hang out at Supper Cove for half of a day.
  • You could go from Supper Cove to Kintail hut in one day.  If it is extra muddy, it will be a long day.  If it is good conditions, it will be very doable.

Supper Cove

Loch Maree Hut to Kintail Hut

  • The time listed is 6-8 hours and 12 kilometers.
  • I did this section in 4:45 and I had good conditions with only thigh-high water in the river crossings.  I combined this segment with the Upper Sprey segment.
  • Multiple river crossings do not have walk wires or bridges.
  • This segment can get really muddy.
  • The Kintail hut is located right before a walk wire.  When I was there, the sign for the hut was missing, and it was easy to miss the turn for the hit.
  • This segment is a drag and not the most exciting one.

Kintail Hut to Upper Sprey Hut

  • Official time listed as 5 to 7 hours.
  • I did this segment in 4:30 and combined it with the previous section.
  • This segment is only 7 kilometers but involves a lot of up.  It starts at 280 meters and goes over Centre Pass at 1051 meters and ends at 480 meters.
  • The saddle is above the tree line and had a good amount of mud, but it was not very deep.
  • There are two segments of chains to help with the steep segments.
  • Part of the trail between Centre Pass and the Upper Sprey hut has been redone and is in great shape.  When you get close to the hut, you are greeted with a wonderful raised walkway.

Upper Sprey Hut to West Arm

  • Official time listed as 4:45 to 5:45.
  • This segment took me 4:30.  This segment took longer than I thought it would.
  • The last 30-45 minutes is walking along the road to the port. The West Arm hut is located along this road.
  • The trail follows the river for a good portion, and at the end, it veers away.
  • There is one area where it is very easy to lose the trail. The trail continues along the river, but it appears to go up a creekbed.
  • You can walk into the ferry terminal and onto the boat.  Just check in with one of the staff. They will have you fill out paperwork.  If you have prepaid, you can give them your ticket, if not you will pay at the end of the ride.Dusky Track walkway

Overview

  • The trail is awesome.  The times that I have listed are based on a fast solo tramper with some days of great conditions and others that were pretty bad.
  • I never encountered more than five other hikers at any hut.
  • Be prepared for wet feet from day one.
  • The sandflies are pretty terrible.  On the low sections of the track, it is impossible to stop without being swarmed by them.  There are signs on some of the hut doors to shake the sandflies off before you enter the hut.
  • Check out our guide on New Zealand trail etiquette, although you will not be encountering a lot of people on the Dusky Track.
  • Enjoy your tramp and be safe.

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