Tag Archives: tramp

Key Summit

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Let’s see…  It’s been more than a year since we hiked/tramped up to Key Summit in Fiordland National Park in southwest New Zealand. In may ways, it feels like it was just yesterday and in other ways it feels like I was another person then. Key Summit was one of our favorite hikes for the whole year – outstanding views, great weather and a hike that was “just right” – except for the part where Mom said, “hey, let’s go just a little bit further…” I believe that the “little bit further” parts doubled the length of the whole hike.

 

 

The Key Summit Track follows the route of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s many famous multi-day tramps, for the first couple of kilometers. We had spent the night in Te Anau, I believe, and then drop the road towards Milford. About 45 minutes from Te Anau is a parking area called “The Divide,” and this is the starting point for the Routeburn Track and Key Summit Track. There’s also a bus stop at The Divide for those folks who are looking for transportation to/from the Routeburn Track so that they can hike from one end to the other, and leave they’re vehicle at the other end (or, be picked up by the bus).

 

 

The day that we hiked started out pleasantly cool (hats and gloves weather) and once we got a bit higher and above the trees it was time to open the jackets and air out a bit. I don’t recall the route being all that memorable until you get to the top of Key Summit and then the vistas open up in all directions! SPECTACULAR! There’s not a lot to write about the hike itself. It wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t easy. It takes a bit of effort to hike upward to Key Summit, but once you’re “on top,” most of the hiking is relatively flat. And, like many hikes, it was easier to hike downhill back to the car at The Divide.

 

 

There were a few other hikers/trampers already up on Key Summit, so we weren’t alone. At the main point of interest, there are several beautiful, fragile little tarns (alpine ponds/lakes). You can see for many miles in every direction from atop Key Summit. One of our favorite views from Key Summit was looking across the valley to see Lake Marion, a beautiful lake to which we had hiked a couple of months earlier, a few days before Christmas.

 

 

As noted earlier, someone in our party kept saying “hey, let’s hike just a little farther…”  The additional steps were interesting and gave us a different perspective hiking along the ridge between Lake Fergus and Lake McKellar, more time in the warm sun, and more time to growl – are we there yet? After another mile or two of walking south on a poorly defined track, we came to a knoll and the our learless feeder said that we could return to the car.

 

 

Unlike other postings that I’ve written, the gallery for this one is not extensive – you’ll be able to enjoy it in a few minutes – and, I do hope that you’ll enjoy it. And, I’ve thrown in a couple of other photographs from Te Anau and a nearby waterfall, Humboldt Falls, which is at the end of a long drive in Fiordland National Park.

 

 

‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN signing off…

 

 

Posted in Fiordland, Key Summit, Lake Marian, Milford, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Moeraki Boulders

[landscapephotograph description=”Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand” photoname=”Moeraki Boulders” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/MoerakiBoulders-6c.jpg” photourl=”http://timmulholland.photoshelter.com/image/I0000PavdToOpgxg”][/landscapephotograph]

 

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since my last post.  Time flies when you’re having fun in Australia.

 

 

On the big trip around New Zealand in January, one of our first significant stops were the famous Moeraki Boulders, a few kilometers north of Dunedin on the South Island’s east coast. The Moeraki Boulders aren’t exactly spectacular like a lot of New Zealand’s mountain scenery, but they’re still awe-inspiring in their own way. These boulders (and other similar boulders around the world) are concretions that were formed when minerals (calcite) seeped into the interstitial spaces between mud and sand grains and “hardened.” Don’t ask me exactly why these minerals hardened; similarly, don’t ask me why these concretions are so nicely spherical in shape. Just chalk it up to some of the wonderful geological mysteries of Nature.  (Yes, I know that I’m a guy and that I’m supposed to know everything, but let’s just leave it at that.) I’m not going to write a whole lot this time and just leave you to enjoy the gallery at your own pace.

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

Posted in Dunedin, Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Rakiura

In mid-December, we went on a family adventure and tramped (hiked) across New Zealand along with several of our crazy friends here. Yes, I know that that sounds very impressive, especially something to be accomplished over a weekend with two children in tow, but I’m making it out to be more than it was. Yes, we did hike “across” New Zealand, but it was one of the narrowest possible spots, and it also involved a water taxi taking us from the end of our hike to the nearest town…

 

 

Just a few kilometers south of Invercargill is the town of Bluff, and then south of Bluff is… The Southern Ocean. The first stop in the Southern Ocean south of Bluff is Stewart Island – or, Rakiura, the Maori name for the island. The wikipedia article to which I’ve linked provides a nice writeup about the Maori mythology surrounding Rakiura and the two main New Zealand islands. I believe that Rakiura owes its existence to volcanoes and near volcanoes pushing up the earth’s surface in that area. On a clear day, we can see the mountains of Rakiura from our house in Invercargill. It looks so close and inviting, but there’s the issue of the Foveaux Strait with which to contend. Now, some crazy person or people have actually swam the thirty kilometers or so from Rakiura to Bluff, but that wasn’t our style. We flew out of the Invercargill airport on a puddle jumper and landed on the beach at Mason Bay on the west side of Rakiura. It was a beautiful, clear morning for a flight and the views of the ocean and Rakiura were spectacular. Landing on the beach was breathtaking, too!  When most every other flight that you’ve taken involves taking off and landing at a proper airport, it’s pretty interesting to land on the firm, but softer, sand of the beach with the waves crashing not too far away.

 

 

Flight path from Invercargill to Mason Bay Beach
Flight path from Invercargill to Mason Bay Beach

 

 

As a bit of an aside, the beach at Mason Bay is very long and it’s an excellent place to walk and explore – which we did. One of the more remarkable aspects about Mason Beach is how far up the sides of the hills that the sand extends – a couple of hundred meters up the side of the hills and several hundred meters inland. When we were flying in, I noticed this and was struck by how high and far back the sand extends from the beach and shore. I later learned that there’s a very good explanation for why the sand extends so far inland – a meteorite! Actually, earth scientists believe it was a comet – the Mahuika comet. The comet struck just west of Stewart Island in about 1443 AD and caused a tsunami that was ten times larger than the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. This comet strike and the resulting tsunami wave pushed the sands way up and into Stewart Island. More importantly, there are reasonable hypotheses that the tsunami may have wiped out a significant portion of the low-lying Maori settlements all over New Zealand (which would have been most of them), and a very large tsunami would also help to explain why there is so little evidence of Maori settlement in New Zealand prior to about the 16th century.

 

 

The weather was warm, windy and pleasant on the beach at Mason Bay and we had most of the first day available to explore it. We walked up and down the beach and found many treasures. The most interesting treasures were several pilot whale skulls that we found toward the south end of the beach, and then a minke whale skull at the north end of the beach.  When you lift one of these skulls (or, try to lift) and find out how heavy they are, you realize why it’s better for a whale to enjoy the buoyancy of saltwater.  We also saw our one (and only?) kiwi while near Mason Bay!  It just sort of appeared on the track to the hut in mid-morning, which is unusual since kiwis tend to be nocturnal.

 

 

After a long day of walking, exploring and swimming, we spent a pleasant night camped near the hut and enjoyed a large meal with our local friends as well as the local wildlife – a.k.a., “sandflies.” Sandflies are one thing that we won’t miss at all about New Zealand!

 

 

Hiking path from Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Landing, and then the water taxi route to Oban
Hiking path from Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Landing, and then the water taxi route to Oban

The next morning, we got up at a decent time and slowly started to meander the fourteen kilometers from the Mason Bay Hut to the Freshwater Landing Hut. The track wasn’t particularly difficult.  It was relatively flat and level, with several hundred meters crossing swamps on elevated boardwalks that are basically wide enough for one person. Every so often, there’s a slightly wider portion so that trampers walking in the opposite direction can pass. The weather was quite warm and the winds that we enjoyed on the beach weren’t quite reaching inland.  So, this long of a hike, with backpacks and whining (or, as they say in New Zealand “wingeing” [(Australia, New Zealand, UK, slang) To complain whiningly])  kids, warm/hot weather, a beating sun and not enough drinking water was not exceedingly pleasant. The kids dropped their tiny backpacks early and dad carried them most of the way, at his own pace, leaving mom to enjoy those wingeing kids.

 

 

It only took maybe four hours to make it to Freshwater Landing, but it was a long four hours. The good news is that there’s a nice dock there and it was EXCELLENT and REFRESHING to jump off the dock and into river! After about an hour’s rest at Freshwater Landing, our water taxi picked us up and we made our way to the landing on the south side of Oban. After one last little hike over the hill from the south side to the main part of Oban and finding the ferry terminal, we made a merry retreat to the local pub and enjoyed the incoming rain and libations from the confines there. And, from Oban, we enjoyed the hour-long ferry ride back to Bluff, and then a bus ride back to Invercargill.

 

 

For those of you who might be wondering, would I recommend a trip to Stewart Island/Rakiura?  YES!  🙂

 

 

Enjoy the gallery!

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

Posted in hike, New Zealand, Rakiura, Stewart Island, tramp, whale Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lake Marian

Just a few days before Christmas and a couple of days after Muir arrived (and, he still had a bit of jet lag), we took a day trip to Fiordland National Park with the intent of tramping (hiking) to Lake Marian.  In October, we had hiked to Marian Falls, which was only about a half mile, but we got drenched in the process.  Hiking to Lake Marian has been on our radar ever since.

  

So, we loaded up the car and made the three-hour drive to the trailhead.  One of the nice parts of the hike is that there’s a suspension bridge just as you begin that crosses the Hollyford River and gives you a little early excitement. The hike is “only” about two miles, but it felt like it was a little longer than that.  We were surrounded by the forest much of the time and didn’t realize (until recently – more in a later post) how much of an uphill trudge it was to get to Lake Marian.  Another reason that the hike seemed a little longer is that I was carrying my heavy load of camera equipment as well as food, water and some spare clothes (the weather did seem a bit cool and dodgy that day).  The Lake Marian Track is a very popular route in Fiordland National Park as evidenced by the trail erosion.  And, another factor in the trail erosion were the couple of very obvious rockslides. It’s very easy to locate rockslides on New Zealand’s trails – they have signs that say “DO NOT STOP FOR THE NEXT 200 METERS!”

  

After about an hour of sorta strenuous hiking, all of the sudden we came out into this opening with a very large glacial cirque/bowl that’s filled with a beautiful turquoise lake!  There were only a few other trampers/hikers at the lake and it was absolutely gorgeous place to enjoy a picnic lunch and lighten the rucksacks.  I think that Muir enjoyed one of his first major tastes of New Zealand’s landscape!  I hope that the gallery at the end of this post does justice to Lake Marian.  And, Lake Marian provided a beautiful setting for a very special family portrait.

  

  

After hiking down from Lake Marian, we “forced” Muir to ride to the end of the road and see Milford Sound and he did seem to be a bit impressed.  I was also able to capture one of my favorite photographs (so far) from New Zealand.  This photograph was taken looking west from near the Homer Tunnel entrance and down the Cleddau River Valley:

  

 

  

After enjoying Fiordland, we stopped in Te Anau and enjoyed supper before driving home.  Surprisingly, on the way home, Muir quickly fell asleep – so much for being a high-energy young adult (with jet lag).

  

And, we understand that our friends Jolanta, Asta and Gedis also enjoyed the Lake Marian hike when they visited Fiordland in early February – it’s a truly special place and hike!

  

  

46 S EnZed signing off…

    

Posted in Fiordland, Lake Marian, Milford, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

McLean Falls

In one of my first posts from New Zealand, I wrote about our visit to McLean Falls and other places and displayed some photographs from that trip. Over these past six months or so, we’ve driven past the McLean Falls turnoff several times and hadn’t gotten back. There are so many beautiful things to see in the Catlins that we’ve been spreading ourselves around.

 

In early February, we had guests in our home. Coming all of the way from Madison, they felt the need to visit the Catlins, in part because of our raving about it and hopefully because they had viewed some of my photographs. So, we made the trip to McLean Falls and several other places. But, this trip piqued my desire to get back to McLean Falls by myself and really “work” the area.

 

So, a few days later, I dropped the kids off at school and dashed over to McLean Falls. The weather was in my favor – overcast with a slight chance of rain. Excellent lighting for a waterfall and forest where bright sun light can create a lot of high-contrast problems (and opportunities) for outdoor photographers. It takes about an hour to drive from Invercargill to McLean Falls, and then maybe another fifteen minutes to walk up to the main fall. I’m one of these photographers who likes to enjoy these kinds of places all by myself – just like everyone else. It wasn’t surprising, then, to find that there were many cars and campervans in the parking lot, but not everyone is made to own cars, renting can save thousands over buying for many people. And, when I made it to the top, yes, there were several people milling about. This kind of shooting requires a little patience as people move in and out of the places that I want to shoot, as well as some other creative techniques to manage how these people appear (and don’t appear) in my final photographs.

 

It was an excellent, gratifying day at McLean Falls. The weather was pleasant and humid, with hints of threatening rain, but only threatening. There were other visitors milling around the area of the Falls, but there weren’t so many people that it was difficult to shoot. At the top of the McLean Falls walk, you can stand away from the Falls and take in the whole of the Falls. Or, you can be a bit more adventurous and climb some rocks and get closer to the base of the top, and tallest, waterfall. Further down, there are four or five cascades of various height that require some climbing (and slipping) to get into a decent position for a nice photograph. The following gallery provides some flavor of the McLean Falls Conservation Area – quaint, simple, easy and beautiful.

 

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

Posted in Catlins, McLean Falls Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Mt. Burns Tarns

Like many of our weekends, we were off hiking recently – this time to the Mt. Burns Tarns.  A tarn is a small pond or lake that sits on the side of a mountain and they are formed by glacial activity, freeze-thaw conditions and erosion by ice.  Photographers and hikers are drawn to them because they tend to be a little remote, they’re very picturesque and they’re also very relaxing and serene.

 

 

Unlike in the United States, a great deal of New Zealand’s more remote country is not very accessible by land vehicles.  These Kiwis like to tramp!  But, the Mt. Burns Tarns are easily accessible from the Borland Road in Fiordlands National Park.  Borland Road is basically a utility service road so that the electric company can keep track of its transmission line pylons from the Manapouri Hydro station up and over the Hunter Mountains as the line works its way south and east towards Invercargill and the Tiwai Aluminum Smelter.

 

 

Driving to the Mt. Burns Tarns parking area on the Borland Road is pretty straightforward.  But, once the hike starts, it’s fairly vertical.  The hiking is through mounds of tussock grass along the ridge of a hill; it’s a long kilometer from the car park to the beginning of the tarns and even longer when your kids are whining.  But, once you get up to the tarns, the views are wonderful!

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

 

Posted in Fiordland, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Catlins IV

Here’s another post about The Catlins!  It’s nice to have this pleasant area so relatively close to us, starting less than an hour to the east of Invercargill.  There are hikes in the forests, hikes to waterfalls and a lot of coastline to explore, along with the wonderful small towns and cafes.

 

 

Our goals for this trip were to go to Matai Falls and hopefully to Cathedral Caves.  Well, Cathedral Caves was still closed because of lambing season and the higher winter/spring tides, but we did get to enjoy Matai Falls.  Matai Falls is about a twenty-minute walk from the car park, and it’s worth the bit of effort.  It’s character is that it’s smaller than some of the other waterfalls and more intimate.  It’s sorta tucked into it’s little valley rather tightly and pleasantly.

 

 

After Matai Falls, we drove over to Nugget Point so that Asta could enjoy her first taste of it.  The weather wasn’t as nice as the first time that we were there, but Asta got the idea.  We also managed to see some New Zealand Fur Seals, and that’s always a treat.  And, again, we enjoyed the small communities along the way!!!

 

 

Enjoy,

 

 

46 S. EnZed signing off…

 

 

Posted in Catlins, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Catlins II

This is a long overdue post about our second trip to The Catlins, which was seems like ages ago now, with all that we’ve been through and done.  In reality, though, it was “only” two and half months ago – my how time flies when you’re having fun!

 

 

This trip to The Catlins was just a day trip and again in typical New Zealand weather – some sun, some clouds, some rain, some wind.  Our first stop was a pleasant little waterfall called Purakaunui Falls.  The hardest part was driving on the various backroads to get to it; it was only a short walk from the car park.  Again, another pleasant gem of a waterfall in New Zealand!  All of the rain here does provide some benefits!

 

 

A little further down the road, we made our way over to Jacks Bay, Jacks Blowhole and Penguin Bay.  Now, if you’ve had the dark pleasure of watching the recent/new movie Two Little Boys, then you’ll recognize Jacks Blowhole.  And, if you haven’t seen the movie and you’d like to see a different side of southern New Zealand and Invercargill that I can’t (and won’t) show you, then I’d encourage you to get out and see it if you have the opportunity.  (Or, just try to download it from Netflix or iTunes.)

And, finally, I tried to do some “artsy” photography while at Jacks Bay, enjoying the sand and water drainage patterns (and, a sheep’s mandible in the sand).

 

Enjoy,

46 EnZed South signing off…

 

 

 

Posted in Catlins, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Milford Track

Many years ago, (ten to be exact), a beautiful young woman started a life-long conversation with a man. One of the early parts of the conversation was how this woman wanted to move to New Zealand someday and work there for a while. Well, this man, who was quite smitten, thought that moving to New Zealand with this woman would be pretty cool, since he enjoyed travel, adventure and this woman. And, it also struck this man that moving to New Zealand might be a GREAT opportunity for him to pursue one of those things on his bucket list, namely, hiking the Milford Track. He had pretty much assumed that this particular item on his bucket list might be pretty remote until he met this woman…

 

As the conversation continued, it morphed into a long-term relationship, a.k.a., a marriage. And, this couple morphed into a family. Their roles changed in that relationship and he became a chef/chauffeur/shopper/stay-at-home-with-the-sick-kids-dad/trophy husband/landscape photographer. And, this beautiful woman morphed into She Who Must be Obeyed (as well as She Who Reads This Blog)…

 

Eventually, this family actually moved to New Zealand! And, this man had birthday. And, with her great magnanimity, She Who Must be Obeyed granted this man a long weekend off from his family chores (as long as he filled the freezer for her before he left) so that he could walk the Milford Track…

 

Or, something like that…
_______________________

 

So, on the last weekend of October 2012, I had the great fortune of realizing a long-held dream of walking/hiking/tramping the Milford Track. I don’t remember when I first heard about the Milford Track or having some desire to walk it, but it has been for many years.

 

Topo map of Milford Track; route is in red

The Milford Track is one of nine “Great Walks” in New Zealand, along with hundreds of other formal tramping routes – some long, some short. The Milford Track is the most famous of these Great Walks. It’s a 53 kilometer walk up the Clinton River valley in Fiordland National Park, over the MacKinnon Pass, and down the Arthur River valley. The prime hiking season on the Milford Track is roughly November through January because the weather is better and school is out for late December through January. Hiking the Milford Track requires a permit from the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) from late October through April, and only forty permits are granted for each day for independent trampers. (The other option is one of the fifty spots each day that Milford Track Guided Walks offers, although the price is a tad bit higher [$2000]– and the food and lodging significantly better!) Currently, the Milford Track is completely booked for independent trampers from November through January (summer season) – a sign of its popularity. As much as I wanted to go when the weather might be better, the only bookings available (in mid-September) at a time that also was convenient for Asta was for me to go in late October. You also can enjoy the Milford Track the rest of the year, but at your own risk; DOC leaves the huts open and that’s about it.  During the prime season, you can only walk from Glade Wharf to Sandfly Point, another difference between “in” and “out” of season.

 

The Milford Track was originally scouted through the rain forest by Maori’s looking for a route to the sea. In the late 1880s, explorere Quintin MacKinnon formalized the route in the young country of New Zealand. The purpose was to establish a route from inland New Zealand to the Tasman Sea with the hope that this would turn into a trade route. That never really came to fruition due to many different difficulties, but it did become a famous hiking path. Around 100 years ago, in an article that appeared in the London Spectator, the poet Blanche Baughan declared the Milford Track to be “the finest walk in the world.”

 

“This is truly the “region of the perpendicular” – the mountains are split right straight down from their summits to within a few hundred feet of sea level. The other valley-side, perhaps half-a-mile from its fellow, is equally steep and just as precipitous; and presently, as the track ascends, as the trees lessen both in size and number, and the frowning white-tipped walls begin to draw together above the canyon, you realise that you are walking at the bottom of a gigantic furrow of the earth.”

 

As for my journey on the Milford Track, it was a medium-difficulty hike/walk, wet, fun and the views at the top of MacKinnon Pass were spectacular! The Milford Track begins at the north end of Lake Te Anau at Glade Wharf. There are no roads that get you to Glade Wharf. You can hike seven kilometers from the Te Anau-Milford Sound Highway to Glade Wharf or take a Real Journey’s ferry boat there.

 

When you book your walk through the DOC website, you are automatically booked into each of the three successive DOC huts along the Milford Track – Clinton Hut, Mintaro Hut and Dumpling Hut. DOC wants you to keep moving along the track and not stop for wet weather (which is quite common). Additionally, the DOC booking service helps you by assisting your booking for:

• a bus from the DOC office in Te Anau (the nearest town) to Te Anau Downs (the site of the ferry service that gets you to Glade Wharf),
• the ferry to Glade Wharf,
• the ferry at the terminus to get you from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound, and,
• bus service back from Milford Sound to Te Anau (if needed).

 

My day began in Invercargill from where I took two TrackNet buses and a couple of hours to get to Te Anau. I arrived about fifteen minutes before my bus to Te Anau Downs was to depart. This gave me time to pick up my DOC permits for the Milford Track. While picking up my permits, I was told that it was likely that a portion of the Track would be closed on my second day due to concerns about avalanches and that I also needed to purchase a ticket for a helicopter shuttle over that portion.

 

As an aside here, I was perturbed with this idea that I needed to be protected from avalanches. I’m an American who likes my time alone in the very wild wilderness! In America, it’s the policy (I believe) of the National Park Service, US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that if you get yourself into trouble, then it’s your responsibility to bail yourself out. They’ll assist with your rescue, etc., but you’ll pay for it!!! When I took my American Environmental Policy class in grad school, one of the books that we read was Joseph Sax’s Mountains Without Handrails. Again, if you’re going to be in the outdoors, then you’d better be prepared to deal with those risks. Darn nanny state of New Zealand, trying to protect the reputation of its tourism industry. Yes, I’ve been told to stay off of certain trails by the National Park Service because of grizzly bear sightings, and I did. More later…

 

We (there were 23 trampers who made the trip this day) finally arrived at Glade Wharf at mid-afternoon under a grey sky. Rain was in the forecast and it’s about a five kilometer hike to Clinton Hut. I decided to hoof it with the hope that I’d make it to the hut before the rain. The walk along the Clinton River was relatively flat, pleasant and uneventful. And, yes, it did begin to rain just before I got to the hut.

 

The huts along the Milford Track are pretty basic and spartan. They consist of two or more bunkrooms (a total of forty beds with mattresses) and a common room with communal cooking and cleaning facilities, and nice toilet facilities. Bring ear plugs – everyone else snores, those mattresses can be noisy and folks are getting up at all hours to go to the latrine. No hot water or showers – that’s what the river is for. Drinking water comes from the sky – collected rain water or stream water. During the tourist season, DOC provides propane for cooking, so it’s pretty easy to take care of your cooking needs and you don’t need to bring your own stove. Each kitchen area held several sinks and two-burner stoves. The common room also held several tables, benches, chairs and a small wood stove. These spaces were decent with the 23 of us and I’m glad that I didn’t have to share all of this with forty people! The first people to arrive each day usually fired up the stove, but it still took several hours for this room to warm. As you might expect, it’s common courtesy to clean up after yourself and it appeared that everyone on my trip was quite courteous. ☺ Since the Fiordlands “enjoy” about seven meters of rain a year (yes, that’s not a typo) and there’s a 70% chance of rain on any given day, these huts have lots of overhang areas, outdoor drying lines and pegs/hooks for hanging clothes and boots. Now, that doesn’t guarantee that your clothes will be dry by the next morning, but they will be less wet. And, hanging your boots on the pegs protects them from being chewed/stolen by the keas.

 

A major feature of these huts is that they are staffed by a DOC conservation warden during the hiking season (late October through April). Our wardens – Peter Jackson (yes, that’s his real name), Ed Waite and I didn’t catch the last warden’s name – were all very knowledgeable, experienced, fun, pleasant and informative. If you need serious help, they’ll get it for you via their telecommunications system. One of their major roles is to share the upcoming weather forecast with you. And, it seems that they’ll leave you to enjoy your experience on your own, if you wish. But, as we heard, their main role is to ensure that you have a safe experience.

 

At Clinton Hut we were told that it was likely that we would be partaking of the helicopter shuttle on our second day. The plan was that we’d leave as a group so that we’d arrive at the shuttle point en masse. (Again, a bit of seething on my part…) So, on Day Two, we faithfully departed at 8:45 am (a late start by my standards) in the rain. Yuck!

 

I haven’t spent that much time hiking in the rain, but I do remember not enjoying it. This time, I was better prepared (this is New Zealand). I wore my water repellant (not water proof) boots, gaiters, rain pants and raincoat. Other hikers wore shorts and ponchos. Frankly, I don’t think that it made any difference. You got wet from the outside (rain) and the inside (perspiration). I was as wet as anyone else at the end of the day. The contents of my backpack were mostly dry, thanks to many large plastic bags. Most importantly, while my feet were damp/wet, they also were warm. My boots allowed water to slowly soak in, and my two pair of socks and gaiters allowed my body to warm the bit of water that was getting in. My boots also dried decently during overnight – not bone dry, but decent enough. I do think that the hikers who wore less clothing were colder than me.

 

The other thing about hiking in the rain along the Milford Track is that the track is very well maintained and it’s frequently the lowest point in the forest. Since it’s the lowest point, the rain water pools in the track and you end up walking through major puddles. The puddles may be shallow or ankle deep, even with the drainage that DOC carves into the sides of the track. And there are frequent streams to cross that might be more than ankle deep. When the rain hits those glacially carved valleys, underlain with all of that solid granite, the rain really has only one way to go – downhill and overland. While hiking in the rain is not really that pleasant, you have to just grin and bear it. The pleasant side of the rain in Fiordland is all of the beautiful waterfalls and streams!

 

On our second day, rather than hiking the entire 16 kilometers and climbing about 400 meters, we walked about ten or eleven kilometers to an area called The Prairie. Before we arrived at The Prairie, we were joined by a DOC conservation warden, Grizz Hamish, who coordinated our helicopter shuttle. At The Prairie, Grizz called in the copter, had us pile our backpacks at the landing zone, and then helped us get into the chopper about six at a time. The last load of hikers brought along the backpacks in a net dangling from the chopper. The flight was short and exhilarating, leaving us at the Mintaro Hut helicopter landing pad. (Each hut has it’s own helicopter landing pad, just in case.) Since we arrived at Mintaro Hut a couple of hours earlier than we normally would have anticipated, there was a lot of time to dry out and better get to know each other.

Preparing for the helicopter shuttle

 

One of the features of such a hike is the people whom you join. The group of folks on my hike was very nice and mostly young (by my standards) and about two-thirds male. About a third of our group was from Germany, while the rest were from France, Australia, Canada, Japan, England, South Africa and Argentina – plus the lone American. With everyone mingling in the communal room, it was a great chance to talk together, play cards, share a cup of tea or coffee, share life stories and so on. I have to say that I put a LOT of energy and research into preparing for the walk, but very little energy into considering the social aspects of the hike (that’s me, the introvert). But, enjoying each other’s company was really one of the better parts of the Milford Track and a very much underappreciated part of the experience.

 

On the third day, we received the good news that the weather was expected to be fine and mostly sunny, and that we should have a very good walk heading over MacKinnon Pass. But, we also had heard that one of the best side trips of the Milford Track, the walk to Sutherland Falls, was closed due to a major landslide caused by all of the rain – bummer. While a few people took off early, most everyone else slowly ambled on about 8:00 am. The first kilometer or so from Mintaro Hut was relatively flat. And then, you start up the switchbacks to the Pass. It takes about two hours to get from Mintaro Hut to MacKinnon Pass. Those two hours aren’t easy, but they aren’t tough either. MacKinnon Pass tops out at a bit over 1100 meters and I wasn’t sucking wind like happens on big hikes in the Rocky Mountains.

 

Tim @ MacKinnon Pass

The view from MacKinnon Pass is spectacular – I’ll just let my photographs speak to that. The sun was shining, the clouds were blowing through, and the temps were pleasant. There also was a bit of fresh snow from the day before. And, atop the Pass is a memorial to Quintin MacKinnnon.

 

MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track

This slideshow is best viewed full screen.

As I was hiking to MacKinnon Pass, and standing on top of it, and then heading down the other side, there was a nearly a constant clatter of rockslides and the occasional small avalanche. Maybe that helicopter ride wasn’t such a bad thing after all… I’ve come to understand that avalanches in the Fiordlands are different from the avalanches in the Rockies that I’ve seen on TV. In the Rockies, the mountains are basically these large cones that snuggle up to each other. The avalanches run down their sides and then pile up in chutes where the mountains overlap at their flanks. Here in New Zealand, the mountains are packed a bit tighter. And, not all of the areas between the mountains are “gentle” slopes but there are quite a few U-shaped glacial valleys. The snow piles up on top of the mountains. When there’s enough snow and/or rain, the snow lets go and moves as an avalanche – no different from what happens in the Rockies or many of the mountains here. The difference in these glacial valleys is that the snow then slides off of the top of these mountains and over the lip of valley – and then descends nearly vertically (and quickly) to the valley floor. An avalanche in these glacial areas is basically a big dump. The avalanche happens nearly directly above you, where you’re not looking, and it falls straight down. The avalanche lands with a big WHUMP and blast of wind that knocks everything around it down. If you’re lucky to not be hit by the falling snow, then you likely won’t escape/survive the wind blast – at up to 300 km/hr. Plants don’t get a chance to grow very tall in the areas where the avalanches are common. So, again, maybe that helicopter wasn’t such a bad thing after all…

 

After about thirty minutes on MacKinnon Pass, shooting and shooting the mountain scenes, I headed onward. While I was quite pleased with myself that I’d climbed the 500 meters up to MacKinnon Pass and enjoyed its beauty, I now had to get down the other side. Here’s the part that they don’t really tell you – you now have to go down about 1000 meters. Oh, and because of the avalanche danger, a part of the main Track was closed and we had to use the emergency track, which is steeper, not as well maintained, etc. Oh my aching legs!! Even if the path to Sutherland Falls had been open, I don’t know if I would have wanted to do it because I was tired enough climbing down from MacKinnon Pass. It’s a fourteen kilometer trip from Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut, but there’s also the 500 meters up and 1000 meters down. It took me about seven hours that day. Everyone at Dumpling Hut was moving slowly and sorely, but enjoying the warmth of the sun. A little splashing around in the river helped to rinse off the day’s sweat, at least ‘til the those pesky sandflies showed up.

 

On the last day, the eighteen kilometers to Sandfly Point are pretty tame, especially after being at MacKinnon Pass the day before. There are a couple of very nice waterfalls – Mackay Falls and Giants Gate Falls. There’s also Bell Rock, right next to Mackay Falls, which is a former streambed grinder that appears to have fallen from someplace much higher and come to rest upside down. But, your muscles are sore and you’re ready to get back to civilization. Everyone was up and out earlier than usual, in part because they were hoping to be on the 2:00 pm boat from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound. If you miss that ferry, then there’s a 3:00 pm ferry. This was the warmest day of the trip, pleasantly so, and no rain. Finally reaching Sandfly Point is a very nice goal and everyone was smiling when they wandered in, happy to be finished.  And, this blog post ends about the same as tramping on the Milford Track – unceremoniously, with a smile, and you’re glad to be done with it…

Tim @ Sandfly Point, the end of the Milford Track

So, was this the “finest walk in the world”? Well, no, but it’s a very fine walk, and I’m not going to start an argument with the New Zealand tourism industry’s PR people… 😉

 

Which Great Walk should I do next? The Routeburn Track sounds pretty interesting and it’s shorter… And, maybe I can take my girlfriend with me, that is, if she’s still talking to me…  Oh, and anyone wanna take care of the kids for us?

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

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