Swinging in the Trees (Part One) – Monkey Creek

“On a Mish” #72 Swinging in the Trees (Part One) – Monkey Creek. Fiordland National Park. 26.2.2016. Hiding in plain sight is the best way to describe Monkey Creek’s location. Tucked away in the upper reaches of the Hollyford Valley, most will never know of its existence. Many of the side valleys in the area are just a blur to most as they speed past enroute to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound. The hiking from the Milford Road is world class, and over the years I have slowly ticked off each track, and I knew eventually I would run out of tracks and have to turn my attention to the many small valleys that line the side of the road…

Along with the incredible views, the Milford Road also takes you to an elevated area around the famous Homer Tunnel. Due to heavy glaciation most valleys in Fiordland sit at a low altitude, and access to places above the treeline usually involves an uphill slog, which also involves a lot of bush bashing. I wanted to avoid fighting forest as much as possible so I went straight to the Upper Hollyford Valley for possible future missions. My eyes lit up when I saw only a small patch of forest between the road and the open reaches of Monkey Creek.

The incredible Upper Hollyford Valley

Starting at one of the most scenic car parks in the world, the first job was to escape the masses of buses, people and the Kea that roam the car park in search of windscreens and mischief. Joining me was my girlfriend at the time and we did wonder what the state of the car would be when we returned the next day, a situation only possible in the land of the only alpine parrot on the planet. Having large packs and tying up hiking boots is a rare sight at the small car park, and our presence was noticed by the well dressed tourists who briefly stepped out of the air conditioning to taste the freshest air around.

The easiest way for us to get to the base of the climb into the valley involved crossing Monkey Creek near where it meets Whakatipu Ka Tuka / Hollyford River. Icy water then the bush and scrub of the subalpine Fiordland forest is a good way to warm up, and in places we were swinging from the trees like monkeys (like how the place got its name). After some climbing, the forest thinned and we could see an obvious gully leading to the open ground above. The going changed from bush bashing to rock scrambling. Our progress was slowed when we had to negotiate our way over a jumble of red mossy moraine and the sharp edges of recent rockfalls.

As we made our way over the jumbled mess, the valley burst into life with the sound of a rockfall. Not an unusual thing to hear in alpine parts of Fiordland, but it does send shock waves through the body, and you frantically scan the area to make sure the rocks aren’t heading your way. This area of what can only be described as the opposite of smooth, flat ground seemed to last a lot longer than desired. Major concentration was needed as each step was onto a possible ankle-twisting loose rock, and even though we were reasonably close to a road, this is not the place to want to be injured in.

Finally we reached the forgiving tussock meadows in the upper valley, and the reason we had come here became very, very obvious…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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