The Finest Walk in the World
I have walked the Milford track twice – once with my son, David, and the second time with my brother Colin and his wife, Sue. The track is billed as ‘the finest walk in the world’ and while this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, it is still a bloody good walk!
On our first trip, we were really pushed for time and to be able to get to the starting point on time, we chartered a plane from Aspiring Air to fly us from Queenstown to Te Anau. It felt very special getting off the plane from Christchurch and having a pilot waiting for us to fly our personal flight.
The first day of this walk requires a boat ride from the starting point at Te Anau Downs Station for nearly two hours to the beginning of the track. The first day’s walk is on a wide and well graded track to Clinton Hut. On the way, we passed the guided walker’s hut (complete with washing on the line) and over a swing bridge. Because we were on the first boat, we reached the hut in time for lunch and spent a very pleasant afternoon looking at the river, the scenery across to Dore Pass and some nearby wetlands boardwalks.
The huts on this track are very comfortable. None of the tent and simple style of walking that we are used to in Australia. These huts have bunks (with mattresses), cooking stoves, a communal cooking / eating area, heaters and even flush toilets. Talk about roughing it!
On the second day, the walk gently climbs to the head of the Clinton valley to Mintaro Hut. On the way, there are a number of stream crossings including one major stream where there is a shelter known as the ‘Bus Stop’. This is provided in case the river is flooded and you have to wait until it drops and you can cross it safely. On the first trip, we had beautiful weather and this stretch was a joy to walk. Most of the day is spent in a glacial valley where you can look up to the top of the valley walls 1 kilometre above. On our second walk we had 3 inches of rain fall as we walked this section of the track. Needless to say, we were soaked and it was rather scary with some of the creek crossings being thigh deep torrents. We were the last people to make it through the creek at the bus stop on this day – others having to wait until late afternoon before it was safe to cross.
The third day of the walk involves a climb over McKinnon Pass. This starts with a climb up a zig-zag track up 500 metres until you reach the top of the pass. At the top, the environment is distinctly alpine – tussock grass and other alpine vegetation. On my first walk this section of the track it was clouded in and we took shelter in the hut at the top for a hot brew and lunch. This is a third generation hut – the previous two having been literally blown away in winter storms. On the second walk, the weather had cleared and the view from the top was spectacular. We could see all the way down the Clinton Valley from where we had started and onwards to the Arthur Valley where we would walk onwards to Milford. After a steep descent of 800 metres past Moraine Creek we reached Dumpling Hut which is situated just past the turnoff to the Sutherland Falls, the fifth highest waterfall in the world. On the way we could hear a couple of loud explosions like cannon fire as clumps of remaining winter ice fell down the valley as small avalanches.
The final day is an easy walk down the valley to the very aptly named Sandfly Point. This took us through a humid rainforest, passing plenty of waterfalls and scenic valleys. We crossed a number of swing bridges as the river widened further down the valley. At one place along the track we saw one of the rare Kiwis (a flightless bird) that inhabit the area. By early afternoon, we were on the little ferry for the short ride across Milford Sound to the main wharf and tourist area. We stayed for a night at the backpacker’s accommodation and then returned to Queenstown.
All in all, the track covered 33 miles or 51 kilometres. It is a walk to be remembered!