Completing the Milford track was never part of our initial agenda however completing the Kepler Track ignited a desire to experience more of New Zealand by “tramping” around. After a little smoozing over with Jenna I managed to convince her that completing the Milford track this time of year would be a better option than the other activities we had planned for the next 4 days. She eventually agreed to go talk to the Department of Conservation office about the avalanche risk which is the main deterrent this time of year along with the colder temperatures. After modifying our tramping plan to avoid avalanche hazards (subsequently adding 15 kms and doubling the vertical ascent) we were ready to go.
The Milford track is regarded as one of the most beautiful walks in the work and is extremely popular during peak season. Completing this during the off season while there was still some snow on the track greatly appealed to me. However, I soon found out why it was not a popular time of year to tramp the track. Day 1 was rainy – rain that didn’t quit for the entire 6 hours it took us to walk to the first Hut. Despite the rain though, I rather enjoyed the walk as brief breaks in the cloud cover revealed incredible glimpses of the snow-capped mountains, and crazy waterfalls.
|Jenna suited up to tackle the elements|
Jenna’s wet feet, cold hands and sore knee quickly spoiled the extreme weather novelty for her. She shared this via a silent glare which I interpreted as “I’m not having fun and you should feel guilty about it because it’s your fault”. Fortunately, Jenna’s mood was temporary as I spent the last leg of the journey carrying her pack and singing her a ridiculous song about tramping Milford in the rain. A warm fire to dry her boots was the final thing she needed to restore her spirits.
|Drying just about everything we own over the fire while drinking wine|
Day 2 we ascended through the tropical valley up the cliff side as the vegetation gradually gave way to snow covered scrubland. The amount of snow on the ground sent Ryan and I into a frenzy of delight. I was still wearing shorts from the valley and didn’t even notice the temperature change until we had reached the peak and I stopped jumping around. As we began our descent down the other side of the pass it started to snow. Little did we know day 3 would be even better!
|On the tramp up to the shelter|
|Ryan in the jungle. Yes, it goes from snow to glowing green moss that quickly!|
Day 3 involved repeating the previous day’s hike over the pass just in the opposite direction. Jenna, Ryan and I were thrilled out of our minds when it started snowing in the tropical forest as we started to climb. Jenna and I sang Christmas songs as we walked past the palm trees and ferns. MacKinnon’s Pass was even awesomer than the day before as the snow really pounded down. I felt like I was blazing a path up Caradhras, the snow capped Misty Montain that Frodo and the Fellowship tried to cross in Lord of the Rings. With just enough visibility to not walk off the edge of a cliff (of which there were many) I was only waiting for the voice of Saruman to echo across the pass and try and bring the mountains down on top of us. We waited at the shelter for a clearing hoping to catch a glimpse of the mountains we knew were there but had not been able to see just yet due to the heavy cloud. After waiting for an hour and as if by some wicked magic the skies cleared just long enough to take these pictures:
|Standing next to MacKinnon’s Pass shelter during a break in the clouds|
|The beautiful ridge line next to the shelter|
It was incredibly special to be the only ones on top of the snowy pass when the clouds parted. I felt like an explorer who had just discovered a dazzling treasure. As we descended back to the hut I couldn’t get the silly grin off my face. I must have looked friendly because a Kea (parrot) landed in front of me and did a little dance for me.
Back at the safety of the hut we learned from some locals that Sutherland Falls had become accessible after a giant rock slide destroyed the track. Determined to see what was once believed to be the highest waterfall in the world (it isn’t now) Ryan and I set off in the dark with our headlamps the next morning to check it out. Arriving at the falls just after sunrise we were very impressed. Standing at 581m (1,904 ft) the falls are over 11 times the height of Niagara Falls. Ryan and I both drank from the falls and even ventured in between it. I quickly learned that waterproof clothing is no match for water that has fallen almost 2,000 feet.
Taken on the second day this was my first view of Sutherland Falls. Note the giant rock slide that took out the track
Already wet we made our way back to the hut to pick up our gear and headed off to meet the boat for our scheduled pick-up. We completed this 28 km day (10 km added due to our waterfall detour) in the pouring rain. By the time I got to the end of the track Jenna was waiting with the same stupid grin I usually reserve for use on her. I was exhausted, very wet and cold and was not in a grinning mood. This was actually the perfect way to end the walk because I had no immediate desire to do another one. I just wanted a hot shower 🙂
Read Jenna’s perspective on Milford Track.
Check out Episode 18 – Milford Track