Hiking on History – Pass Creek Track

“A Mish a Day” #229 Pass Creek Track. Fiordland National Park. 4.5.2014. Working in tourism has given me the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Fiordland National Park. I feel very fortunate, as many people travel from all around the world to experience planet earth’s last lost world. The massive area contains so few humans, that to some it will be the least populated place they will ever visit. Thanks to the rugged nature of the entire park, plus the added feature of 6m to 10m of rain each year and you have yourself a rather inhospitable environment. As good a job as Fiordland does with keeping people out, it still remains one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations, and thousands flock each year for a tiny taste of untouched paradise…

For the few (unfortunately) who take their time to explore all that the famous Milford Road has to offer, the rewards will be worth the extra effort. There is a small scattering of ‘Freedom Camping’ sites along the road, but for a real traditional Milford Road experience I recommend a couple nights at Gunns Camp. I have spent many nights in the idyllic location in the heart of Fiordland, usually requesting ‘Pops Hut’ due to its historical appeal, and cosiness. On one visit to the area at the end of the 2013-2014 hiking season, I arrived at Gunns Camp with the intention of finally hiking the Pass Creek Track. The track is an important link between the Hollyford Valley and the Greenstone Valley, and was used by early Maori to access Whakatipu Ka Tuka / Martins Bay, then continue on to Piopiotahi/Milford Sound via the furious Fiordland Coastline. May is usually not a busy time for the crew at Gunns Camp, and I spent the night chatting with the camp’s very dedicated guardians.

An early-ish start had me making my way up the Lower Hollyford Road from Gunns Camp towards the start of the Pass Creek Track. Starting below 300 meters above sea level, there is a lot of uphill to get to Lake Howden, which sits high above the Lower Hollyford Valley at 683m. The hiking up to Lake Howden is easy going uphill travel, and the ground-track is very obvious due to years of use. The peace and quiet of the forest is a great change from the very busy Routeburn Track, and as I got closer to the track I started to hear the voices of the other hikers enjoying one of New Zealand’s premier hiking tracks. I followed Pass Creek to where it becomes a steep gorge above Lake Howden, and I enjoyed lunch beside the crystal clear water. The day had started with low cloud, and as I made my way back towards Lake Howden I could see the clouds slowly parting, revealing the mighty peaks behind. This was enough motivation to continue on up to Key Summit (919m), a must on any trip to the area. The track up to Key Summit was surprisingly quiet, and I wasn’t having to stop every five steps to let people pass me, like in the height of summer when the Routeburn Track is at its busiest. The effort to get to the top of Key Summit was rewarded with mist swirling around the mighty peaks of the Darran Mountains. After taking a few photos, and soaking in the epic view I began the trek back down to Gunns Camp. Unfortunately Gunns Camp was nearly completely destroyed by a landslide. As of yet the fantastic place oozing with history has not reopened, and it will take a huge effort to fix up the damage caused by the landslide. Fingers crossed they can get back on their feet again and I can have many more missions starting from Gunns Camp…

Mist clearing at Key Summit

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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