We are up at around 1,154 metres (3,786 feet) above sea level. The view from the edge of the MacKinnon Pass is spectacular, but gloomy. A wet front is approaching. It is Day 3, at around 12 noon. The sky is dark, the sun nowhere in sight. Cloud cover grows denser by the minute. The rain drizzle is picking up. Our lead guide quickly moves in on the stragglers in our group. She is looking a little hurried and slightly on edge, calling out "move, move! There's no time for photos. Get to the shelter .. now! No photos ..". The wet trail continues to head further uphill. Where is the shelter .. ?
* * *
A few days ago, on 2 Feb 2016, a mixed group of international travellers got off the summer bus coming from Queenstown. They were eager as beaver to get onto the waters of Lake Te Anau and underway. After months of distant anticipation, curiosity and the adrenaline of adventure were slowing starting to peak as we set sail into the wild bush lands of the most famous hiking trail in beautiful New Zealand, the Milford Track, Fiordland National Park.
My first attempt on this track was almost 20 years ago, we had only just got past lunch on Day 1, before having to turn back. This time around, our new party of six has been training for months. Soon, we will be back into the wonderful world of wildlife and most things natural. And for a brief moment in time, we will leave our man made cities and our first-world worries behind. Onward ho!
There is plenty of wildlife around here. Historically, New Zealand has no natural predators. Sometimes, when we stood around appreciating our surroundings, these wildlife would drift in closer. We met some of friendliest birds in the world here. Especially, so was the South Island Robin, who would sneak up on us from time to time to listen in on our chatter; and on a couple of occasions, have a close up look at our hiking shoes too.
The gentle serene sound of flowing water is heard in many places. At times, the urge becomes overwhelming and before we know it, some of us are completely wet, having just plunged into the cool blue green waters at the base of lesser known waterfalls.
Heading out of the valley, we made our way up that one steep pass all walkers of this trail have to cross, the Mackinnon Pass. This passageway through the hills was named after explorer Quintin MacKinnon. The Milford Track was discovered by MacKinnon on his second attempt to find a tourist route through to the Milford Sound. Near the top of the pass, we see the cross on the Quintin MacKinnon Memorial Cairn. He was last known to be departing to cross Lake Te Anau, and was never seen again. His wrecked boat was found in 1893.
The drizzle was starting to pick up now. The winds here were strong. It was cold. Up top, this place is very exposed. We had to keep moving. We had to get to the shelter.
The MacKinnon Pass Shelter (that house on the hill), was a most very welcomed sight. It is so isolated out here. This place is covered in snow for 6 months a year. At the shelter, I take a moment to catch my breath. Staring back at the valley from which we came from, I see the rain catching up on us.
After a decent lunch and a nice hot cuppa, we were powered up and ready to descend the other side of the pass. No shortage of cascading waterfalls now. It is all about slippery tracks, wind and alpine cool. Nice. The others have started moving off in batches, just as they had arrived earlier. Time check: we want to be at the next lodge before 4:30pm, the cut-off /extended time to do the Sutherland Falls - the highest waterfall in New Zealand! Time to get a move on, and take our hike to the next level. :-)
We raced past other hikers on this meandering stretch of the trail. It is unreal how fast you "slide" through wet rocky trails and mad gushing rivers when you have a clear goal in front of you. With (literally) a minute to spare, we made it to checkpoint "Sutherland Falls Extended Time" at 4:29pm. Woohoo, Sutherland Falls, here we come!
With 4 days of walking, we finally arrived at Sandfly Point. We were over-covered in serious insect netting and repellent, of course, thanks to advice from friends. This walk is complete, but our journey through Milford Sound continues. At this point I can't wait to get out of my hiking wear, back into my "jandals" (what they call flip-flops here in New Zealand) and bring on a bottle of some nice cold beer.
What an amazing adventure.
Our thanks again to the folks on Ultimate Hikes #94 for your good company. Special thanks to our awesome guides, the fabulous-four - Pris, Nari, T (the cross-dressing dude with the big ###s) and Joe. This was a walk to remember for a lifetime. Cheers.
UH94 Crew : Photo by Richard Duke.