Working on the Milford track

“Working in Paradise” The Milford Track. Fiordland National Park. 2012-2013. After a few false starts I finally got a chance to guide/hike for the first time The world famous Milford Track. I always have a lot of respect for the Milford area, as with the discovery of Sutherland Falls in 1880, lead to big claims of having ‘The Worlds Highest Waterfall’ and very poorly estimated to be over a mile high! Even if terribly inaccurate information it still started the first wave of tourist, and then with the eastern connection of MacKinnon Pass in 1888, people could now make their way to the waterfall on foot. Also for Maori the area
is very special, as it is the location of the Teardrop Greenstone, Tangiwai or Takiwai. I first hiked the track in 2010 and then again in 2011, and both times I was treated to 5 days of sunshine on a track that is famous for serve rainfall. In 2012 I said good by to the Routeburn Track after 124 trips and joined the Milford crew, hoping to see some rain. The season actually turned out to be quite dry until New Years Eve when savage lightning and thunder was followed by at first a good 21inches of rain of 24 hours and then 7 days later 23inches in 24 hours! The first storm I hiked with clients from Glade House to Pompolona Lodge during a strange lull in the storm, with misleading patches of blue sky, as we made our way through patches of waist deep water. We got to the lodge with the group just as the rain returned, and we had to delay our leaving time the next day and walk as a group over MacKinnon Pass. The second storm we had battled the last section of the track to Sandfly Point, to then be transported over the high seas of Milford Sound to get to the dry comfortable Mitre Peak Lodge. The rain hammered down all night and the road out of Milford was closed and the guided group was now going to be transferred by helicopter over the mountains and through the storm to Knobs Flat.

What a flight! We had three choppers flying in a line through the steep sided valleys looking for a clear pass to sneak over. After a few failed attempts at MacKinnon Pass the choppers headed up Joes River which had so many waterfalls it looked like each side was just one complete wall off water. As grand as the place was we weren’t on a scenic flight and still had some of the most mountainous terrain IN THE WORLD to travel through. I was in the second of the three choppers and watch the lead machine fly sideways over Marshall Pass and disappear into the gloomy darkness of the Fiordland storm. Jumbled pilot chatter informed our pilot “she’s all good” and over we went in cloud, and then screaming(some of us literally) our way down into the North Branch of the Clinton River before the last challenge of flying over Dore Pass. Knobs Flat is just over the Pass and we were on the ground and quickly out so the pilot could go and do the whole routine in reverse to pick up another load. After a few hours of stop and go we finally had all of the group on the coach at Knobs Flat and we were heading home for Queenstown, with the entire group(guides included) asleep within five minutes of leaving. Experiencing ‘The Milford Track’ is a must, and is truely more than just a A to B hiking adventure. Starting with crossing Lake Te Anau towards the unknown, pure, untouched wilderness. Then to wander up past the beautiful little lakes and the magnificent, steep walled mountains of the Clinton Canyon. Now the challenge of the zigzags up to MacKinnon Pass, which are rewarded(hopefully) with views of the next valley, The Arthur. After a visit to over half a kilometre of vertical torrent that are the awe inspiring Sutherland Falls, it off in the direction of Sandfly Point and New Zealand eye watering tourism gem, Piopiotahi/Milford Sound.

MacKinnon Pass from Pompolona Lodge

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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