Sunday 4 May 2014
I took last week off to walk the Milford Track with some family members (plus a few days in Queenstown). The Milford Track is the most famous multi-day "Great Walk" in New Zealand and you have to book months in advance to do it during the regular season. It deserves every bit of its hyping as the finest walk in the world.
This three-night, four-day walk can be done "guided" or "independently". You pay a lot of money for the "guided" version and in return you stay in lodges with clean sheets, hot showers, and catered meals. For a lot less money the "independent" version has you staying at fairly standard (but slightly fancier than average) Department of Conservation huts, which means no showers and you carry your own food and bedding. We did the independent version. With both versions you must walk in the westward direction and stop for three nights in the designated hut/lodge each night. Each DOC hut has a resident ranger, and they're all brilliant to talk to.
You start by taking a boat to the north end of Lake Te Anau, then walking for just over an hour to the first hut. It's such a short distance you can carry whatever luxuries you can consume on that first night --- sausages, bacon and eggs were popular items amongst our fellow trampers. Then you work your way up to the end of the Clinton Valley, cross Mckinnon pass on the third day, and walk down Arthur Valley to Milford Sound to be transported by boat to the village of Milford itself.
The scenery is, needless to say, astonishing --- mountains, lakes, trees, rivers, waterfalls, and all that. The environment is pristine; every stream and river is crystal clear where not colored by beech tannins, and all are perfectly drinkable. There's fascinating wildlife --- trout, keas, wekas, black robins. The weather is highly variable --- sunshine, rain and snow are all quite common and we had them all in our four days (very little snow though). Having rain near the beginning of the walk, like we did, is excellent because it powers up all the streamlets and waterfalls.
One curious fact is that the Mckinnon Pass area was first explored by Europeans specifically to find a route for tourists to cross overland to Milford. Almost immediately after the pass was first crossed, tourists started using the Milford Track, often in rather appalling conditions by today's standards. For many years there was no road out of Milford so track walkers arriving in Milford generally had to walk straight back out again.