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  April 15th
Milford Track Day 3

McKinnon Pass We had been warned by the warden the previous night to expect today to be the toughest, both physically and a poor weather forecast, which had not exactly filled everyone with joy before going to sleep. In particular those who were suffering from some nasty blisters - my feet were fine but Connie's toes were starting to get hammered (half a box of band-aids helped ease the suffering).

McKinnon Pass We headed off early again at 8am (the second to leave again) and headed up the pass. You climb about 700m up twelve zig-zags (we were told eleven by the warden but I think that was her cruel joke) to the summit at 1100m. It is suggested to take two hours with a backpack, one hour without (such as if you came up the previous day) - I brought out the whip and flogged us up the slope in about an hour 10 mins to try to get to the top while the weather was still clear. The weather was intermittently showers and fine periods, nothing too unpleasant and wet weather gear keeps you dry. Fresh snow had dropped on the surrounding mountains and it was definitely getting cooler when you stopped! We arrived at the summit at just after 9am, and immediately ran around snapping off photos while there was a break in the clouds as we could see it closing in again. We remained at the summit for about half an hour, long enough to see the fabulous views be replaced by incoming snow/sleet.

McKinnon Pass McKinnon Pass McKinnon Pass

Arthur River Falls As others were starting to arrive at the top we took the opportunity to bug out and start the descent. We had been warned that this was the most difficult part - you descend 1000m in just 3.5 miles on terrain which consists of wet slippery loose rocks providing very uneven footing. It is hard work on the knees and even more difficult for anyone suffering from blisters - Connie soldiered on without complaining superbly. To make life more difficult, when it rains the track gets overrun by literally hundreds of waterfalls, requiring wading through water. We were very fortunate to get through without any serious rain or avalanches - there are several 'no stopping' areas.

Arthur Falls Descending was made more tolerable once we reached the Arthur River, which offered a superb series of rapids and waterfalls. After about 2.5 hours from the summit we reached Quinton Hut, which is a temporary stop where backpacks can be left safe from the keas for the side-trip to Sutherland Falls. This trip takes about 1.5 hours return but is well worth the effort - at 580m it is the largest waterfall in NZ and either the 3rd or 5th largest in the world (I have seen conflicting literature, can anyone help clarify which is correct?). We were told by the warden that the falls can be walked behind from the left - myself and another guy gave it a go and succeeded, but only by getting absolutely soaked through with icy water in the process (the force of the descending water blown sideways got us wet within 20m of the fall itself). What a rush though - the force of the water has to be seen and heard to be believed.

Sutherland Falls The last leg is just an hour of more descent to Dumpling Hut for our last night on the walk. By this stage it had started raining but I was so wet from going 'behind' the falls it didn't make a difference! Dumpling is another new hut of similar style to Clinton, and we gratefully changed into dry clothes and settled in for another session of cards. Be warned that there are no drying facilities, so wet clothing will most likely stay wet.

While many people were celebrating a fantastic days walk (and the mere fact of making it for others) we were met with the grim news that the weather was going to seriously pack in that night. There was even a possibility that we would not be able to leave early in the morning as the water levels may be too high. Certainly that sobered some of us up - particularly those looking forward to a hot shower the next night!

Dinner became a shared feast by many (eager to lighten their packs), we munched our way through soups and two-minute noodles. I would have to say that given that neither of us had done anything like this before we did pretty damn well, the only regret being the block of chocolate that got left in the car (which proved to be an incentive for a return to civilisation).

April 16th
Milford Track Day 4->Milford Sound

Mossy Tree Once again the gods smiled on us and the weather proved to do its worst during the night but calmed down enough to make a start as planned. Today we were one of the last to leave - everyone had been warned that they should try to reach the last checkpoint Sandfly Point by 2.30pm as the boat only comes at 2.30 or 3.30. Any stragglers would simply miss the boat, and as it was another 6 hours or so walk on a miserable day most people decided to leave very early.

McKay Falls The morning ritual of backpack stuffing and sleeping bag rolling completed, we headed out into the drizzle. The packs were definitely feeling lighter, although the Nikon camera/tripod wasn't! Having said that, I have absolutely no regrets about what gear I took (Nikon F100, 28-105 zoom, Bogen tripod with joystick style head, plus my Olympus P&S). The only real regret was that I did not take more pictures, however as (a) I was experimenting with a new camera, that (b) had been dropped and was possibly suspect, the fact that (c) I was shooting slide film for the first time and (d) taking a picture with the Nikon required removal of my pack while (e) it was drizzling often enough to make it difficult to keep camera gear dry and (f) I didn't really know what I was doing!

McKay Falls Today was pretty much a slog day with the way the weather was, and the requirement to be there for the boat at that time. The highlight for me was McKay Falls which I had been visualising a photo of for weeks. Here we met up with several others we had become friendly with over the walk and formed a human train that charged on through the track. It is perhaps the least scenic day as far as variety, although in saying that the weather did not help. Lake Ada was spectacular with thousand year old trees in it's depths surrounded my snowy mountains, but we pressed on.

Lake Ada Lunch at Giants Gate also became a short affair as it was turning very cold and by stopping moving we were losing body heat rapidly. Giant's Gate Falls (just after the rest stop area) is actually a pretty impressive sight with water charging out of a hole in the rock, however there was so much rain and spray it was too risky for a photo (and I suspect we were all 'waterfalled out' by then).

At around 1.30pm we arrived at Sandfly Point - which despite its name and reputation failed to yield a single bite, no doubt due to the cold and wet. In fact perhaps the advantage of going in April was that being colder there were fewer as they only seemed to bother us on other days when you stopped for lunch. Even then, the appropriate spray meant they ceased to be a problem, although Connie did have some nasty itchy rashes afterwards (I hear it depends on your blood type). We simply sat in the hut awaiting the boat, and such was the nastiness of the weather that everyone made sure they were there for the early boat to leave across the Milford Sound to the boat terminal.

Our first sight back in civilisation for four days - and I thought the track had finished up in Tokyo. All around us Japanese and other Asian voices jabbered away, hundreds of them and not a single english person in sight! Obviously Milford Sound is a standard part of the tour bus itinerary - it was enough to make me want to turn around and go back into the bush.

Milford Boat Whilst everyone else disappeared to make their way back to Te Anau on the bus, or stay the night in Milford Sound, we awaited our overnight cruise. The one thought on our minds (other than looking forward to that hot shower) was that we didn't have any clean clothes to get changed into on the boat - and there wasn't even a shop at Milford Sound to go buy something (although Connie did score a souvenir t-shirt).

We boarded our boat, and after the initial formalities the cruise started. Our first step was not to listen to the dialog and watch the fabulous scenery out the window but charge straight for a long long hot shower... after which the great meal and cruise aspects were far more appreciated! The weather had by now turned appalling (which meant some very spectacular waterfalls emptying into the Sound) so a sheltered spot was found for the night. Connie also got introduced to another NZ favourite which she fell in love with - the pavlova dessert (with kiwifruit of course!).

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  Last Updated June 22nd, 2002