News: The Free­dom Walk revo­lu­tion

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Herb Christo­phers

It seems that rev­o­lu­tions were not that un­com­mon in 1965. There was the Do­mini­can Repub­lic up­ris­ing and the In­done­sian revo­lu­tion and counter revo­lu­tion.

Then there was the less con­tentious ‘Free­dom Walk’ on the Mil­ford Track. It was that sort of ac­tion packed year.

It was rea­soned by some in the New Zealand out­doors fra­ter­nity that, be­cause the Mil­ford Track was in Fiord­land Na­tional Park, there should be no re­stric­tion on ac­cess. Walk­ing the Mil­ford Track up un­til that time meant that you had to be part of a Tourism Ho­tel Cor­po­ra­tion guided trip.

So, a hardy group of Otago Tramp­ing Club mem­bers staged a two pronged as­sault on the track in April (Easter) 1965 to force the au­thor­i­ties of the day to re­view the sta­tus of ac­cess to the Mil­ford Track.

The plan was for some of the group to as­cend Hutt Creek and Glade Pass from the Eglin­ton Val­ley. They would then drop in at the head of Lake Te Anau, be­hind Glade House, and walk through to Mil­ford. The other party went to Mil­ford, plan­ning to do some climb­ing af­ter walk­ing through to Mack­in­non Pass.

Robyn Arm­strong (nee Nor­ton) was one of the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who came over Glade Pass:

“The phrase ‘Free­dom Walk’ was adopted be­cause it was the same time as Martin Luther King was do­ing his ‘Free­dom Marches’ through­out Amer­ica. It’s a loose con­nec­tion but it was a well broad­cast phrase and the name stuck!”

John Arm­strong and his team had come in from the Mil­ford end of the track, but the foul weather put a damp­ener on any ideas of get­ting much fur­ther up the track:

“The Fiord­land rain had the last laugh. We spent a cou­ple of days trapped just three or four hours walk up the track and, in the end, we had to turn around at The Boat­shed and go back out to Mil­ford with our col­leagues, but we had made our point!”

Soon af­ter the Otago Tramp­ing Club trip, the in­fra­struc­ture of al­ter­na­tive huts on the Mil­ford was put in place and those are the fa­cil­i­ties that we all en­joy to­day – Clin­ton, Min­taro and Dumpling Huts.

Of course the guided walks are still very much a part of the scene but, since 1966, there has been the free­dom to choose how you will en­gage with the track.

Robyn and John were re­cently on the 125th an­niver­sary walk of the Mil­ford Track. Their pi­o­neer­ing ef­forts on the Mil­ford Track have opened the way for many thou­sands of people to en­joy the Mil­ford Track as Free­dom Walk­ers. Viva la Revo­lu­tion!

Mil­ford 125th An­niver­sary Her­itage Walk 2013

Robyn Arm­strong and Otago Tramp­ing Club mem­bers get ready to free­dom walk the Mil­ford Track in 1965

Otago Tramp­ing Club mem­bers ar­rive at Sand­fly Point in 1965.

Otago Tramp­ing Club mem­bers camp­ing in the Clin­ton Val­ley in 1965.

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