"Hiking the Milford Track" Milford Sound by eireger
Milford Sound Travel Guide: 206 reviews and 703 photos
Traversing the heart of New Zealand’s wild fiord country, the Milford Track has long been described by many as “the finest walk in the world”. Since Quentin Mackinnon pioneered the route in 1888 everyone from hardened trekkers to novices sporting their first pair of hiking boots have taken up the challenge of the Milford track.
Our group met up in Queenstown and travelled by coach to Te Anau where we had lunch. The “walk” started, like many in New Zealand, with a three-hour very scenic boat trip in brilliant sunshine to the head of Lake Te Anau. From the jetty it was just a short 20-minute hike to our first lodge, Glade House, where we were greeted with afternoon tea. We then set out with our guides to do a short nature walk to explore the surrounding area
The next day the real walking began with a six-hour hike to Pompolona Lodge. After leaving Glade House in bright sunshine, we crossed a suspension bridge across the Clinton River and entered the beech forest. A mile along we came to the site of Mackinnon’s first hut which he built in 1889. For the next few miles the old packhorse trail was flat and wide then began to climb as it entered the west branch of the Clinton Valley. It’s easy to see why it was named the Valley of the Perpendicular by pioneers as the rock walls tower up to 4000ft above you. The track continued through lush beech forest until interrupted by the rubble of a huge landslide, which fell in the early 1980’s so large that it blocked the Clinton River and formed the lake called Dead Lake around which the track now passes. After lunch we came to a clearing in the trees and got our first view of the Mackinnon Pass over which we would climb the next day. Further on we left the forest and entered an open area called the prairie where we were treated to great views of the permanent ice fields crowning the mountain tops. Back into the forest again where shortly after we reached our lodge and a well earned hot shower.
An early start the next morning in drizzly rain. Shortly after leaving the lodge, the track gradually began to climb into bush which had a devastated look caused by the snow avalanches in the area in the springtime. We then passed by a small lake named ‘The Mirror’ before climbing the ‘Practice Hill’ leading to Lake Mintaro at the top. Beyond the lake we crossed another suspension bridge over the upper reaches of the Clinton River, and then headed up the first in a series of long zigzags which stretched over two miles, eleven zigzags in all. The weather began to clear as we approached the pass and when we reached the top all the effort was worthwhile with brilliant views of the surrounding mountains. The pass is marked by a cairn constructed in 1912 as a memorial to Quentin Mackinnon. There are a small number of mountain ponds (tarns) dotted along the top of the pass and the area, in sharp contrast to the beech forest, is a haven for flourishing alpine wild flowers. We had to hold on tight to our sandwiches, cameras etc. as the New Zealand alpine parrot, the cheeky Kea, also flourishes here!
After lunch the track edged its way around the base of Mt Balloon and down the 3.5 miles to Quentin Lodge. Most people in our group agreed that this downhill section contained not only the hardest walking, but also some of the most scenic views, from towering rock cliffs and moss covered forest to alpine glacial fed streams and a cascading platform section. We were all pretty glad to reach the Roaring Burn swingbridge just outside the lodge. However, after a cup of tea and a short rest, some of us die-hards took the 1 ½ hour round trip on foot to the mighty Sutherland Falls, the worlds fifth highest waterfall dropping 540 metres.
Our final day on the Milford Track brought heavy rain as Milford lived up to its reputation as one of the wettest places on earth! After a final glimpse of the Sutherland Falls in the distance the track descended down a rocky hill known as Gentle Annie. The track then flattened out as we entered lush green rainforest. After awhile the track came into the open once again for a straight section known as the Race Course as the early pack horses used to try to pass each other along it.
After crossing the Arthur River by swingbridge, we reached Mackay Falls, a stunning waterfall in one of New Zealand’s wettest areas. Situated next to it was Bell Rock, a huge hollowed out boulder that you can stand inside. Leaving the falls we passed through another open area under the shadow of Steep Hill before re-entering the rainforest.
After lunch the track skirted alongside Lake Ada, with Mt Ada towering above on the far shore. The last two miles to Sandfly Point, where the track ends, were wide and flat, this part of the track being built by 45 convicts over an 18 month period from 1890. We were glad of the hut at Sandfly point as a refuge from the elements and the sandflies while we waited for the ferry to take us to Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most famous fiord and a marine reserve. Our last night was spent in Mitre Peak Lodge in Milford Sound village where we had a great slap up dinner to celebrate our achievement. The food was so good and so plentiful on the trek that by this stage I was resigned to the fact that by the end of the holiday, after completing three more hikes I was going to be going home Fit ‘n Fat!
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