Jack Austin takes us on a jour­ney on the finest walk in the world

The finest walk in the world!

Adventure - - #209 - By Jack Austin

Known as “the finest walk in the world”, peo­ple come from far and wide to em­bark on the Mil­ford Track so much so it’s just about im­pos­si­ble to book a spot at one of the huts dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son with all spots sell­ing out within the first day of book­ings open­ing. Pop­u­lar­ity for this walk is ever on the in­crease, and with good rea­son, the scenery is sim­ply sublime whilst the trail, a 53km 3-4 day walk is steady, easy-go­ing and tremen­dously well-graded.

Gla­cial carved val­leys, an­cient forests and cas­cad­ing wa­ter­falls wher­ever you look, the Mil­ford Track is the real deal if you’re look­ing for a track to tick off your bucket list. The weather in Fiord­land is ever-chang­ing and most likely of­fers some of the most un­pre­dictable con­di­tions New Zealand has. How­ever, even the wettest and most over­cast wont dis­ap­point your jour­ney along this fa­mous trail, for the wa­ter­falls grow more pow­er­ful and mul­ti­ply in num­bers on the sheer moun­tain faces; a sight to be­hold.

My jour­ney be­gan in Te Anau downs, where the Mil­ford boat shut­tle will take you on an 1hr 15 min boat jour­ney along Lake Te Anau un­til you reach Glade Wharf, the be­gin­ning of the trail. An im­por­tant fac­tor to know about the Mil­ford track is that it can only be walked one way, start­ing at Glade Wharf and fin­ish­ing at Sand­fly Point in Mil­ford Sound.

From here we set out and im­me­di­ately I re­alised how well the trail was graded, no doubt due to the hard­work­ing DOC rangers who main­tain the track. Walk­ing through the an­cient Beech for­est which seemed an age old, moss cov­er­ing ev­ery tree in sight yet ,an eerie quiet­ness set about the place. Walk­ing along the Clin­ton river, I can only imag­ine this is what New Zealand would have been like be­fore man set foot here. A short 5 km stroll will bring you to Clin­ton hut, the first of 3 De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion huts you’ll find along the track. We stopped here briefly for a snack be­fore we pressed on, our aim to get to Min­taro hut be­fore night­fall.

Thus far, the weather had played ball, with blue skies greet­ing us as we had ar­rived at Glade wharf and re­mained for our short jour­ney onto Clin­ton hut but with dark clouds clos­ing in, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the renowned Fiord­land rain was to fall. A con­sis­tent driz­zle set in as we crossed avalanche paths, grad­u­ally climb­ing as we fol­lowed the Clin­ton river. Sheer fiords flanked us on both sides, loom­ing over us like gi­ants. No doubt the nu­mer­ous avalanches that oc­cur here are due to their ver­ti­cal faces and the icy cold that sets in here dur­ing the win­ter sea­son. A change in the veg­e­ta­tion told us that we were edg­ing ever near to Min­taro hut, leav­ing the vast an­cient beech forests be­hind. On our way we came across sev­eral lakes and shel­ters in­clud­ing ‘Hid­den lake’, which sits at the base of a low-trick­ling wa­ter­fall.

As the rain be­came heav­ier, we were glad to see the hut in sight, sit­ting right be­low a loom­ing peak a short walk away from Lake Min­taro, the source of the Clin­ton River. As we had done the ex­tra leg and not stayed at Clin­ton hut, we opted to stay at Min­taro for 2 nights, a great chance to check out the sur­round­ings.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing was clear for a brief mo­ment, so we took our op­por­tu­nity and won­dered down to Lake Min­taro. From here you get a real per­spec­tive as to what’s around you as well as head of you. Sheer faces sur­round­ing on all sides, my gaze moved to­ward a pass in the moun­tains, now known as Mck­in­nons pass. Dis­cov­ered by Quin­ton Mckin­non in 1888, the pass of­fers a route from Te Anau over to Mil­ford Sound. Af­ter ob­serv­ing some of the spec­tac­u­lar scenery at lake Min­taro we packed our gear for the day, head­ing back along the trail we had come here on to in­ves­ti­gate some of the wa­ter­falls that had formed as a re­sult of the con­tin­u­ous rain.

We were glad we didn’t head over the pass that day as it was noth­ing but heavy rain all day, but as mis­er­able as that sounds, it’s the rain that brings Fiord­land to life. The dark clouds turn the Fiords into shad­ows and all around you can hear the crack­ing of huge vol­umes of wa­ter plung­ing down the faces of the steep peaks.

That night we got the fire go­ing, dried out the days clothes and set about get­ting our gear ready for our early rise the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

We set out at 6 hop­ing that if the weather would clear we might wit­ness some ma­jes­tic sun­rise from on-top of the pass; it wasn’t to be. Atop the pass, the clouds teased us with views of the snow-capped peaks en­com­pass­ing us, yet just as quick as they ap­peared, they dis­ap­peared. It was snow­ing when we came to Quin­ton Mck­in­nons me­mo­rial, a tes­ti­mony to both him and Ernest Mitchell who trudged through this val­ley in 1888 and dis­cov­ered this pass. The stone ma­son who built this me­mo­rial died a month later from what is be­lieved the harsh work­ing con­di­tions he en­dured whilst build­ing it!

We walked on, snaking along the pass un­til we came to Mck­in­nons pass shel­ter, a tem­po­rary/emer­gency shel­ter which in win­ter, pro­vides a much-needed time out from the harsh con­di­tions you can ex­pect there. We waited here a while to see if

RIGHT: Gi­ants Gate Falls : A chance to take front row seats to one of the Mil­ford Tracks true won­ders.

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