Walking the Milford track has been on my bucket list for quite a while, so when my younger son Jason suggested we book in and do it together over the Summer holidays, I jumped at the chance. Together with my son and my wife Ann our first morning looked doubtful. It had rained all night, no surprise here as this area gets about 8 metres of rainfall a year! As we boated up Lake Te-Anau the clouds gathered and it got darker. It was no doubt raining hard up ahead. As if by magic, the rain stopped falling just after we landed at the start of the track. Steam was rising from the Clinton River as we made our way up the valley. The rainforest was dripping and so green and peaceful. It’s so lush it is hard to take in. World heritage and a privilege to be amongst it all. Our first night’s camp was just above the Clinton River at about 100 metres altitude…..and we had packed a celebratory dinner of Venison steaks and vegetables covered in gravy!
The morning of the second day was magnificent. We made an early start as we had to cover quite a few kilometres to get ourselves further up the valley. The track meanders alongside the River and the rainforest just gets better and better. Small side trips to see some lakes and wetlands are magnificent. the valley closes in and we start to see some wonderful waterfalls streaming down the sides of the mountains. We wonder at what any rain will do to these streams if it starts (expect rain any day at any time we were told) Every time we stopped for break or just to take it all in, trout would jump in the river. At one spot I counted 14! Towards the end of the day we started to climb, as this second day we have to reach 500 metres. tonight we start to eat our packed rations…cooked of course but not like the night before! After dinner a wander out to lake Mintaro and catch the sun as it hits the side of the mountains…simply stunning. What a place, valley, rainforest, mountains…and as much as you can take in.
The morning of day three was bright and sunny. We left early again…another big day ahead, this time a climb to over 1100 metres, a walk along the ridge line and then a decent down 1000 metres on the other side into the Arthur River Valley. We arrived up at Mackinnon Pass late morning and spent time here marvelling at the magnificent view. 360 degree views, unbelievable. Lord of the rings country and the broken clouds and light just made it all that much better. The descent was on a narrow pathway with rocks and scree and many stops for photography! The summer flowers were all out in bloom and the Alpine daisy in particular was impressive. The pass is sheer magic with tarns scattered about and I spent a lot of time working my way around it all to shoot plenty of frames. The descent works its way down through a narrow gorge and is named the Roaring burn. Water is forced down through narrow granite openings and rainforest and it seems to go on forever. Sheer magic. At the bottom the track levels out and there is an opportunity to leave your back-pack in a hut, grab a hot cuppa and trek on a one and a half hour return journey to see the highest waterfall is New Zealand. Its amazing! 580 metres in three drops straight off the top it seems of a mountain and plunges straight into a pool right in front of you. Try and get a photo here with mist and spray all over you! Its wipe shoot and wipe again….but definitely worth it! arriving late into camp three, tired and ready for our daily rations! By this time our son Jason is affectionately called the food nazi. The ranger gives his daily talk and run-down on procedures and reminds us all to stow all boots and other hiking gear away securely, otherwise the Kea’s will tear them to bits and cart some pieces off. Something you don’t want to happen to your hiking boots!
The previous evening the Ranger updated the weather report and advised all the hikers not to leave before 7am the next morning until he got the latest weather update… in a word it was overdue to rain and there is always the possibility of flooding ( no-one does this walk without at least one day of rain) It started about midnight. It rained and rained and…rained. We awoke to rain and looked out to the mountains shrouded in heavy mist with waterfalls teeming down on every side. The ranger came in while having our breakfast and said okay to walk. We geared up without delay. It’s rather fun to walk in the rain, especially knowing that it is the last day and a warm bed and hot meal is waiting at the other end. I felt sorry for the poor hikers coming over the pass behind us though! We got views and sunshine…. they will get a good soaking, slippery tracks and no views! Our walk was the final 18 kilometres and I have never experienced anything like it. the rainforest was soaked and the creeks and streams were literally roaring with water. We had to wade on many occasions through metre deep gorges and our boots were squelching after 30 minutes. Water everywhere and to experience the waterfalls and effect it had was mind-blowing. It was extremely hard to get the camera out and so not many images were made this day…. The experience was enough… Wonderful and something I will never forget. When we arrived at Milford sound, it decided to stop and my last couple of images are of clouds and mist lifting slowly above the water and enshrouding the mountains. Unforgettable!