Well Worth the Wait (Part Three) – My First Milford Track Adventure

“On a Mish” #218 Well Worth the Wait (Part Three) – My First adventure on the Milford Track. Fiordland National Park. 4.12.2010. To wake up in paradise is to wake up happy. And to wake up in paradise that happens to be your workplace is an excellent feeling indeed. After years of waiting I was finally on the Milford Track, and after the very short warm up day it was time to go see why Quintin MacKinnon’s track is so popular…

I bid farewell to my new friends at Glade House, and began the journey towards Pompolona Lodge, located amongst the granite skyscrapers in the Clinton Valley. The massive peaks were still hidden by low cloud which left some walkers unsatisfied. However the incredibly clear waters of the stunning Clinton River made up for it.

The side trip on the Wetland Nature Walk gave us hope that the cloud would lift and reveal the incredible mountains of the Clinton Valley that were now all around us.

We made our way to the first of the Department of Conservation huts, Clinton Hut. Here we took the hula hoops for a spin, and I also caught up with the DoC Ranger for a yarn and a cup of tea.

Next was a look up the North Branch of the Clinton River, a deep imposing valley like most other Fiordland valleys. Even though it is very close to the Milford Track the valley is very remote and wild.

We had now entered the legendary Clinton Canyon, a place that makes you feel incredibly small thanks to the towering cliffs that line either side of the valley. After taking in the view we stopped to say ‘Kia Ora’ to the local giant fish that call the Clinton their home. The Trout in the Clinton are monsters, and attract keen fishing folk from all over the globe. Lunch was accompanied by the cascading water of Hirere Falls, the water falling from a point still in cloud.

It is safe to say the next section of track has stuck with me whenever I have to think of the definition of epic!

The sight of the valley, now clear of clouds, had me almost falling backwards when looking at the towering summit of Mt Fisher(1869m) and the other giants that looked down at us from a dizzying height.

The track to Hidden Lake was closed due to avalanche danger, a reminder of the alpine world high above the track. And the lack of trees growing in the area was a tell-tale sign of the beating this location takes each winter.

Ahead in the distance was a rare low point amongst the jagged peaks of Fiordland, and this was the challenge for the following day, Quintin’s famous MacKinnon Pass.

The grandeur of the place was as exhausting as the walking, and the group was happy to arrive at the second night’s lodge Pompolona, for a rest and well earned feed.

The location of the lodge leaves the mind blown until the sun disappears, and the valley goes dark with endless stars replacing the blue sky we had got used to during the day. The lodge is also a great place to meet some of the locals (Kea) as they search for boots that have been left unattended.

We had a great night at the hotel in wilderness heaven, although some maybe had a restless night thinking about tackling the mountain pass the next day.

After saying goodbye to more new friends / workmates at the Lodge we set off into the low cloud, but this cloud would disappear far quicker than the day before and it wasn’t long before we were gazing skyward at the towering peaks of the upper valley.

After popping in for a visit to Mintaro Hut, the second DoC Hut, it was time to tackle the zig and zags track up to the pass. The cloud was now long gone and we had perfect views of the massive cirque that gives life to the Clinton River with its snow melt.

The views on MacKinnon Pass matched or bettered most advertisement brochures and it really enlightened me as to why the track is so popular. The white of the Jervois Glacier below the blocky summit of Mt Elliot(1990m) glistened in the sunlight and the dramatic drop down to the Arthur Valley gave you a real sense of how massive Fiordland really is.

The hike down from the pass was on the steep emergency track, as avalanches were still pouring off the Jervois Glacier down onto the track below, and getting squashed at this point would be rather annoying!

I was welcomed to Quintin Lodge by an old friend from the Routeburn Track who had relocated to the Milford Track, Billy. And together (with clients) we went to visit New Zealand’s largest waterfall, Sutherland Falls(580m).

The sign on the track announcing that you are the same distance away from the falls as the height of the falls seems incorrect due to the fact that the waterfall is still so far away! But once you get closer you realise this is no ordinary waterfall…

Mt Hart(1769m) from near Quintin Lodge

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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