MILFORD TRACK

Walking the Milford Track.

In the early 1990’s I was convinced, by a New Zealand friend, that I should walk the Milford Track.

The Milford Track consists of a 50 km walk conducted over four and a half days. The walk traverses some of the most pristine and unique country in the world.

Visitors to the South Island of New Zealand can undertake the walk, guided or unguided. If guided, all food and luggage is transported by New Zealand guides, and meals and hot showers are provided in substantial lodges.

I chose to undertake the walk unguided,  meaning that I would carry my own pack, containing clothes, survival equipment and food. It would be necessary to cook one’s own food in the huts provided at the end of each day’s walk. And there were to be no hot showers!

The motto for those walking the Milford track is “take only photographs and leave only footprints.” And this edict had to be accepted by all.

I was dropped in the town of Te Anau by my New Zealand friend, with only enough money for a motel room for the night and no mobile phone. I recall that the temperature was at least 40° that day, and I was entirely alone.

I had no clue what was to follow.

On the morning the walk began, I decided that I should have a walk to ensure that my boots were comfortable. I decided to walk to a local dam, without knowing how far it was. Ultimately a three hour walk, before the start of the Milford Track, proved  to be  less than ideal.

Day 1

About mid morning, we were taken by launch from Te Anau, the length of a mountain-lined lake and deposited on a wharf at the start of the track.

The flat walk to the first hut was only a a few kilometres and allowed us to become accustomed to our packs and boots.

The walk traversed the edge of a crystal clear stream, where large salmon could be seen swimming, just meters away from us. Some of the walkers carried fishing rods in the hope of catching their dinner.MILFORD CREEK

The huts were clean and functional, consisting of dormitories of double-deck bunks and rudimentary gas cookers.

Though I had met some of the walkers on the launch,  it was not possible to chat to most walkers, until we got to the first hut. Most were friendly international visitors and New Zealand locals, but it soon became obvious that a group of American college students were going to be a rowdy distraction. That night, in the dormitory, little sleep was possible because of the racket made by the students and their incessantly, beeping watches.

Day 2

Rising early for the 15 km walk, I breakfasted and set off. The walk was relatively flat and for much of it, by the river. I walked alone, and  being January, I wore only shorts and T-shirt, as the trail meandered through pristine bush, and rising terrain.

Though the walk was unguided, there were two guides, posted at the front and rear of the group to ensure safety. One of the guides advised me of a special place to take a photograph of the river. He advised me to leave the track and to look back, down the river.

I did divert and took that photo, and still treasure it as probably the best photograph I have ever taken.

MILDFIRD RIVER

I arrived at the hut for the second night by mid afternoon, and was entertained until dinner by a group of local children and their parents. Unfortunately the college students were a distraction, until the New Zealand children proved to be of superior intellect and sense of humor, to them.

Days 3 and 4

Wanting to avoid the college students, I set off early on day three.

It was a magnificent walk along a deep rift valley, with vegetation varying from dense forest to an almost lunar landscape.

MILFORD CHOPPER

I walked alone that day and arrived at and the next hut before lunch. When I arrived a Squirrel helicopter was dropping provisions and equipment to a distracted Ranger.

MILFORD CHOPPERGiven the time of  day, I told the Ranger that I proposed walking on to the next hut. He told me that I could not, as it was dangerous and that there would be no bunk available for the night.

Nevertheless, needing to avoid the college students, I pressed on, but  unknown to me, that walk was to be very difficult.

The first hour or so was spent walking up a steep mountain to the summit of McKinnon Pass. There, one is greeted by the most beautiful view of snow-covered mountains and icy lakes.

MILFORD MCKINNON

Needing to press on, and still in light clothing, I started a six hour descent to the floor of the next valley.

Descending thousands of steps, I slipped and almost fell over a precipitous cliff of scree. Holding a small tree with one hand, whilst dangling over the almost vertical slope, I managed to release my pack, throw it up onto the track and follow.

Having been warned not to proceed alone, I knew that I could not recount my adventure to the Rangers.

At the foot of the arduous mountain, as instructed by my friend, I diverted to visit the Sutherland Falls. That was one of the highlights of my walk.

MILFORD STHERLAND FALLS

Before I reached the next hut it was necessary to traverse some very steep ground, some of which was supplemented by bridges around the sides of cliffs. The rain that fell that evening did not assist the walk.

I arrived at the next hut, at 9pm, victorious and steaming. I was greeted by a Ranger who had received a  radio call from the previous hut, warning of my departure. He was preparing to begin a search. .

Because of my filthy condition, I decided to wash in the local creek. Big mistake. The water was about 1° and it was, I can assure you, a brief rinse.

When I returned to the hut I found a new group of walkers who wanted to hear about the Aussie who had walked two days of the Milford Track, in one. In fact, there was a bunk available for me, and I was able to get a good night’s sleep after walking for about fourteen hours.

Day 5

The last day was relatively flat, through the dense undergrowth and later, beside a river leading to Milford Sound. I walked with a female “Dude” ranch manager from California. Ultimately we arrived at the edge of Milford Sound, hours before the others arrived.

MILFORD LEON

We sat in the bush and discussed life on opposite sides of the planet.

Conveyed across Milford Sound by launch, I arrived at the Visitor’s Centre, a day early and with no money or phone. My New Zealand friend, upon hearing that I was early,  assumed that I had been injured and flown out by helicopter.

My early arrival took some explaining.

All these years later, my experiences on the Milford Track still represent the greatest solo adventure of my life.

Leon Davis