Wednesday, 9 January 2019

What gear do I need to tramp in New Zealand?

A roundup of required tramping gear...New Zealand edition!

If you are new to New Zealand or tramping it is a good idea to know what kind of gear you need to take with you. The length of your trip and the activities you intend to undertake play the most important role in deciding what gear you carry. Obviously going on a short walk  requires less gear than a hard core multi-day tramp.

Equipped for a day walk...walking the Bealey Spur Track in 2015

Another factor to consider is the climate and terrain you expect to encounter...what height will you reach and how will this affect your gear needs? Do you require specialist cold weather clothing? Is an ice axe and crampons needed due to ice and snow? Will specialist climbing gear be required? Is there a large storm front due in the next couple of days and what will this mean to your plans?

Through planning is required to ensure you have the right equipment to survive in our harsh environment.

Ice axe and crampons..extra weight but vital gear in snow and ice...

Imagine the worst case scenario, you fall and incapacitate are stuck where you are. Will the gear you carry allow you to treat any injuries, alert the authorities and keep you alive until they arrive?

If the answer to any of these question is NO then you are ill equipped.If you cannot survive for 24 hours with the contents of your pack then you need to rethink your gear list.

The golden rule is to be totally self sufficient!

Ensure you have enough gear to survive 24 hours..?

The other side of the equation is just as important..don't carry more gear than absolutely necessary. The weight will fatigue you and it will certainly slow you down. Think like a long trail hiker...carry only what you need and nothing more.

Check the weather before going out... many an Army NCO said to me, remember the 6 P's: Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!!!

The clothing you wear is important

You need to think about the clothing you are wearing as well as the gear in your pack. If you are a fair weather tramper then it is probably going to be technical underwear, t-shirt and shorts with outdoor shoes or boots on your feet. This will be supplemented by long sleeved tops for cold weather and possibly a warm mid layer and jacket as required.

My standard tramping attire:technical shirt, nylon shorts, tramping socks and boots

All of your gear should be made from quick drying, wicking materials, these include nylon, polyester, merino wool, silk and bamboo. Never wear is slow to dry and saps heat from your body when wet...keep your cotton for that summer trip to Nelson.

All of my clothing options laid out...all made from merino or technical materials

Here is the gear I wear 90% of the time when tramping, regardless of whether it is a day or multi day tramp:

  • A generic technical shirt, 100% polyester, nylon, polypropylene or merino
  • Nylon sports shorts
  • Polyester sports underwear, boxers by preference
  • Boots, I am currently wearing Lowa Ranger III's/ Lowa Tibets . I also wear mountain running shoes on the shorter/easier trails
  • Technical tramping socks: I wear Bridgedale boot socks and Icebreaker running socks, merino & technical blends by choice
  • A ball cap or wide brim hat depending on the sun level

My typical summer time clothing 'system'...although I hate the term system: shorts, t shirt, boots and hat

Protect your ears...turn that ball cap into a Kepi by pinning a bandana to the rim...

Here is a link to a post about the JMOCS or Jon Moake Outdoor Clothing System ..hahahahahaha... I love those useless military sounding abbreviations.

Going for a short walk

There are a multitude of short walks around New Zealand which allow you to experience the great outdoors. These range from the 10 minute strolls right up to the 3+ hours tracks to points of interest. The amount of gear you take must reflect the risk factors of the track you are on. It pays to remember that the weather in New Zealand is notoriously fickle so be prepared for anything.

My daughter Juliet and I on a short walk at Mt Peel Forest in 2016

For any walk up to an hour you should be carrying:

  • A small pack,  15-20l for carting your gear in
  • A wet weather jacket, with hood, wind and waterproof
  • A warm top...a 200gms fleece is good
  • A warm hat: wool or fleece 
  • Map of the tracks you are walking
  • Water bottle
  • Snack foods: lunch if it is that time of the day
  • A cellphone or PLB  if no cell coverage
  • Your wallet and car keys
 This small amount of gear will keep you comfortable as you enjoy a coffee at a handy cafe, check out a track alongside a beautiful river or hike up to that iconic waterfall.

A DOC safety message in the Avalanche Creek Shelter, Arthur's Pass

Day tramping...still requires preparation!

Going for a day tramp (i.e. more than 2 hours in duration) requires almost as much planning/equipment as a much longer trip. A higher percentage of SAR rescues are for day trampers than multi-day trampers...probably because day trampers fail to take enough gear to navigate & survive in the bush.

If something hampers your mobility then it is very easy for the dark, rain, wind and cold to take their toll.

Jon on a day wak to the Lewis Pass Tops in 2017

You need to be totally self sufficient for at least 24 hour any time you are more than one hour away from civilisation.

Typical Day tramp gear: Pack, spare warm clothing, first aid, food/water and wet weather gear

Here is my list of vital gear for a day tramp anywhere in New Zealand:

  • Pack, 20-45 litres in volume, single compartment preferred
  • A rugged plastic bag/pack liner to keep your gear dry in your pack- can also be used for an emergency rain fly if needed
  • Wet weather jacket, with hood, wind and water proof
  • Warm top: polar-fleece, merino or down jacket
  • Wet weather over-trousers, wind and water proof
  • Warm hat, merino gloves, over-gloves (I use OR brand Gortex over-mitts)
  • Spare clothing: merino base layer, merino legging, socks
  • First aid kit plus material for treating blisters
  • Personal locator beacon, ACR ResQLink
  • Map and compass or a GPS receiver
  • Head torch, Black Diamond (not in photo)
  • Breathable emergency bivy bag (SOL)
  • Water bottles X2 (for 2 litres of water)
  • A sharp knife...a little Victorix is fine not that 12" pig sticker you own...
  • High energy food: snacks, drink powders, fruit, nuts, sandwiches, crackers and cheese etc. 
  • Sun hat, buff or cap
  • Camera, car keys and wallet (an eftpos card, spare cash and drivers license)

Store loose gear in plastic bags or sil-nylon bags, it is tidier and easier to find gear inside a pack if it is tidy. I have a colour coding system:

blue=clothing, red=cooking, orange=safety gear, yellow=food, black=miscellaneous.

Warm clothing: merino leggings, merino long sleeved top, fleece hat and polypropylene gloves

Here are some photos of this gear laid out so you can see what I carry...

My Vaude Brenta 401 day pack: wet weather gear and warm clothing

Safety and survival gear for 24 hours...note the PLB, first aid kit and emergency bivy

My Vaude Brenta 40l pack is exactly the right size to hold all of this gear, fully loaded it weighs approximately 4.5 kgs. Some might say this is over kill for a day tramp but I am a cautious guy and I'm often alone so I tend to err on the side of caution.

The Vaude Brenta 40L on the Bealey Valley Track, 2018

In the past I have also used my Brenta 50l pack for day tramps, this was the reason I brought it in the first place. It is really too big for the task...lots of empty space and extra weight I don't need to carry.

Using the Vaude Brenta 50l in the Otira Valley in 2016

Overnight Tramps: Packs, boots and tents...

Now we turn to overnight and multi-day tramps, obviously the length of your trip and if you are tenting or staying in a hut will make a difference to your equipment. This means a slightly larger pack is required to haul all that gear.

Again the aim is to be totally self sufficient for at least 24 and up to 72 hours.

1-3 nights..light but not Spartan

Regardless of the number of nights you are spending on your tramp a lot of the gear you carry for a one night tramp is also required on a tramp up to a week in length. The main variable will be the amount of food/fuel you are carrying and if you need to carry a tent etc..  

My base equipment for an overnight tramp: no tent and no food..

On top of the gear you carry for a day tramp you will also require the following:

  • Medium/large size pack, 50-75 litres in volume
  • Sleeping bag, down or synthetic, sub 1kg if possible
  • Sleeping bag liner: silk is best also the lightest
  • Extra clothing: a second shirt for camp wear, extra socks, spare underwear
  • Food: breakfast, lunch and dinner for all the days you will be tramping in a sil-nylon food bag
  • Cook pot, a fork, spoon and knife, plastic bags, Chux cloth, the pot should be around 1 litre and titanium or anodized aluminium
  • Cooker, lightweight either canister gas or mineral spirits work best
  • Lighters...I carry three as I often leave them in huts etc. for other people to use
  • Lightweight pack repair kit: spare belt buckle, harness buckle, wire, pull ties, mesh and thread
  • Toiletries: tooth brush, camp soap, comb, technical towel (small), a bandanna
  • toilet paper, there is none in a back-country hut 
  • Hut pass or DOC hut tickets. Pay for your exceptions!
  • Bug repellent and a head net (optional)
  • Hut footwear- light, jandals/sandals/Crocs (optional)
  • Candles for hut use (optional)
  • Something to read: book or Kindle (optional)

Overnight tramp: 53L pack, wet weather gear, spare clothing...

With a few tweaks, the gear you carry for 1-3 days is perfectly adaptable to use for 10 days or even longer.

Overnight tramp:cooking, sleeping, safety, toiletries and medical equipment

This gear load-out is basically the same I carry while section hiking the Te Araroa Trail so in reality you could survive for a couple of months with just this gear. You have to wash clothing periodically of course although having smelt a hut full of fellow TA hikers you sometimes wonder....

My Osprey Atmos AG pack in Anti Crow Hut, on the way to the Upper Waimakariri River

Remember: carry only what you absolutely not load yourself down with soul sapping dead weight.

3+ days....more food required!

 There are only a few differences between a gear list for a 1-3 day trip and a longer affair. We exchange the Osprey Atmos for either my Vaude Accent or my Osprey Volt, both in the 65-75 litre range. These are both spacious enough to allow all my gear to be carried internally.

Using my Vaude Accent on the Abel Tasman in2017

A tramp of more than three days will entail a massive increase in the amount of food you need to carry. While you can get by with a limited menu for 1-2 days any longer than this means you have to start thinking carefully about nutrition. You are looking at 600-750gms per day of food to keep you healthy so this means a lot of extra weight and space.

I will look at tramping food in an separate post.

My base load for a 1-10 day tramp, using a tent....

 The other item you will need is some kind of shelter; in this case a ultralight one person tent. Even if you intend to stay in a hut you must have some form of may not make it to the hut or it might be full. It is no fun sleeping outside in the rain with no over head shelter which happens more often than you might think.

My two person Luxe Firstlight tent set up at Bay of Many Coves campsite, QCT

If you are using a tarp or tent then of course you also need a sleeping mat and a ground sheet. I use a piece of Tyvek for a ground sheet, this is waterproof and protects my floor area. I sometimes carry a rain fly but most often use a 1 person tent.

My main tent is a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 1, my sleeping mat is a Pacific Outdoor thermal insulated mat.

My Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 set up in Totaranui Campgrounds, Abel Tasman NP

Here are some photos of the gear laid out prior to a tramping trip..

Overnight tramp: 75L pack, wet weather gear, spare clothing, tent, ground mat...

Overnight tramp:cooking, sleeping system, safety gear, toiletries and medical equipment

My main multi-day pack is a Osprey Volt 75 (1.75 kgs), this has been my main heavy load carrier since the beginning of 2018. It is super comfortable, roomy and can easily hold up to ten days worth of food and gear.

My Osprey Volt on the track to Speargrass Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

Carting the Osprey Volt on the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk in September 2018

My other pack in the 'big load' category is a Vaude Accent 65+10 litres (2 kgs), this was my main overnight pack from 2011-2017. I still use this on occasion but it is hard to argue with the 300gms weight difference between the two packs.

The newer Osprey pack is much lighter and more comfortable to carry.

My Vaude Accent pack in the East Hawdon Valley, 2013

To recap, extra gear you need for for a +3 day tramp:

  • Shelter: tent, bivy bag or tarp or you can sleep in a DOC hut if available
  • Sleeping mat, insulated
  • Ground sheet for the tent/tarp: store brought, Tyvek, plastic sheeting or space blanket
  • A LOT of food...the main weight of your pack really

I hope that provides some useful guidelines on what you need to carry.

Jon atop MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track in December 2018

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Great Walk:Milford Track, Days 3-4: 6-7 December 2018

The last two days of my Milford Track Tramp...

The last two days of the Milford Track would see me climb up and over MacKinnon Pass and then spend the rest of the trip walking down the beautiful Arthur River. On the way I would visit the Sutherland Falls, at 580 meters it is the fifth largest in the world. The terrain was spectacular and happily I had two fine days to enjoy the end of the walk.

View of the Jervois Glacier from the highest point on MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track

It was two hard days of tramping with a massive height gain and loss and the long seemingly never ending hump out to Sandfly Point on the last day.

Day three: MacKinnon Pass and Sutherland Falls: 12 kms, 7 hours

Day three was not a long day as far as distance was concerned, it was only 12 kms but it was over some of the roughest. steepest track I have walked since the Travers Sabine trip. It started out nice enough, the first 20 minutes from the hut was along a nice flat track before the climb to MacKinnon Pass started in earnest

Back on the Milford Track at the turn off to Mintaro Hut

Setting out from Mintaro Hut on the way to MacKinnon Pass,  Milford Track, Fiordland

It was raining when I set out and cold as there had been some overnight snow, I couldn't see the Pass to start with...I got my first good view an hour into the tramp when I broke out of the forest. Luckily the weather cleared before I got to that point and the trip up and over the pass was done in weak but welcomed sunshine.

The first 20 minutes of day three is flat...Milford Track, Fiordland

A couple of cold looking juvenile Kea near Mintaro Hut, Milford Track, Fiordland

The bridge over the Clinton River marked the start of the climb to the pass, from here it was all up hill or steep downhill for the rest of the day.

Just a note in passing, Mintaro Hut is moving....the new Mintaro Hut is due to be built close to the swing-bridge in the Upper Clinton Valley. Supposedly DOC have located a spot near here far enough away from the river and high bluffs so that it neither floods nor gets squashed. Building is due to start in May of 2019 so its ready for the 2019/2020 season. 

Last footbridge over the Clinton River...last of the flat ground in the Clinton Valley

Start of the climb to MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track, Fiordland

The track is a series of switchbacks al the way to MacKinnon Pass
You can see the line of fresh snow along the side of the Clinton Valley, it fell to the1300 meter line so it didn't settle on the pass. The wind up valley was strong and cold so I had may jacket on from Mintaro hut until right down to near the Anderson Cascade Shelter in the Arthur Valley.

Mintaro Lake from the MacKinnon Pass track, Milford Track, Fiordland

Some parts of the track are rocky...Milford Track, Fiordland

View towards the end of the Clinton Valley from the track to MacKinnon Pass

Breaking out of the forest on the way to MacKinnon Pass

Lake Mintaro, Clinton Valley and the massive ridge which overlooks Mintaro Hut

The track to MacKinnon Pass is a series of fairly gentle switchbacks, it was actually much easier than I had anticipated and was the easiest part of the day in a lot of respects. I would hate to walk over here in a storm though as there is zero cover from the edge of the bush until you get to the shelter up on MacKinnon Pass.

Clear view of the switchbacks leading to MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track, Fiordland

First view of the Quintin MacKinnon Memorial atop the pass

The Quintin MacKinnon monument is visible for about the last 45 minutes of the climb...

Nearly there....MacKinnon Pass Memorial, Milford Track, Fiordland

It took me just 1.5 hours to get to the top of the pass, a half hour less than the posted time. There are spectacular views from the top: down into the Clinton and Arthur River Valleys and also of the many magnificent mountains in the area.

It was freezing up on the pass so those of us there tucked in behind the MacKinnon memorial and had a rest out of the wind.

Me at the plateau at MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track, Fiordland

Looking out over the '14 second drop' MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track, Fiordland

The folks photo bombing me are a group of Kiwi workmates who go for a Great Walk tramp every year, they were doing the Milford Track in 2018. About 10 of us were at the pass around the same time, before we shoulder pack once again and set off for the shelter another 20 minutes along the track.

Me and some of my fellow independent walkers atop MacKinnon Pass

Cheeky Kea sitting atop the MacKinnon Pass memorial, Milford Track, Fiordland

The plaque on the Quintin MacKinnon Memorial

The tarn at the top of MacKinnon Pass, the high point of Milford Track in close distance

The memorial is not the highest point along this track, that point is about 10 minutes and another 100 meters higher along the track. I stopped when I reached the high point and took a series of photos of the surrounding area. It was high alpine meadows and massive peaks for as far as the eye could see....

Looking down on the MacKinnon Memorial and tarn from near the high point

The 14 second drop, Sutherland Falls is just out of view behind the rocky bluff

The wind from the highest point down to the shelter was ferocious...I can see why people have to crawl along this track at times. I imagine the wind just roars across the top of the pass at times...four of the five past shelter huts built up here have been blown right off the ridge top!!!

Looking at the Mt Balloon Massif from the highest point on the Milford Track, Fiordland

Mt Balloon and the MacKinnon Pass shelter from the high point of the Milford Track

I was so lucky it was clear as there were magnificent views back down the Clinton Valley I had been walking up for the last three days. This is big country around here....massive mountains, huge bluffs and awesome drops...

Excellent view of the Clinton River Valley from the high point of the Milford Track, Fiordland

I got to the MacKinnon Shelter just before midday, it is fairly Spartan inside but it does have a fully enclosed room, a gas cooker, water and toilets. I stopped here for about 20 minutes and had something to eat and a hot soup. You could easily stay here in an emergency but you would need a good sleeping bag as it was quite cold inside.

MacKinnon Pass Shelter, Milford Track, Fiordland

Interior of MacKinnon Pass Shelter: note the gas cooker and avalanche rescue gear

Interior of MacKinnon Pass Shelter, Milford Track

A toilet with a the MacKinnon Pass shelter, Milford Track

After 20 minutes I packed up and started down into the Arthur can see how Mt Balloon dominates the surrounding is at least another 700 meters taller than the pass and towers over you as you descend down the path. Some of those bluffs in the photo below are 300 meters or nearly 1000 feet high!!!

A bit unnerving to those of us from Christchurch who are more aware of earthquake induced avalanches.

The Milford Track heads down into the Arthur River Valley

If the ascent was easy the descent was not...1200 meters of descent over 4 kilometres is not an ideal was god-damn steep and rough as guts. By the time I got down to Quintin Lodge my legs were like jelly and I needed to recuperate for 30 minutes before I could stomach the walk to Sutherland Falls.

Skirting the edge of Mt Balloon, Milford Track, Fiordland

Milford Track descending into the Arthur Valley

Mt Elliot (1990) and the Jervois Glacier dominate the head of the Arthur Valley

Because of the avalanche danger from the overhanging Jervois Glacier we had to use the much rougher emergency track to get to to the Anderson Cascade Shelter. It is not a pleasant track...rough, ill formed, eroded and huge step downs slowed every single walker down. It took me over two hours to get to the Quintin Lodge from the top of the Emergency track. 

That's a rate of 1 kilometre per hour!!!

The emergency track we used to get to Quintin Lodge...Milford Track, Fiordland

Yes the emergency track is very steep...Milford Track, Fiordland

Rough as guts Emergency track to the bottom of the Arthur Valley

Mt Elliot towers over the upper reaches of the Arthur Valley

Once you got to the bottom of the emergency track the steepness did not subside. It was very steep right down to the last 100 meters before the lodge. A lot of it was board-walk and stairs, they meandered down next to the Roaring Burn which runs off Jervois Glacier.

Roaring Burn Cascades, Milford Track, Fiordland

Stairs and board-walk alongside the Roaring Burn River, Milford Track, Fiordland

Even more stairs along the Milford Track at the Roaring Burn

The Roaring Burn Waterfall, Milford Track, Fiordland

Swing-bridge over the Roaring Burn, Milford Track, Fiordland
I was going to stop at the Anderson Cascade Shelter but the wind was whipping down the valley and it was a very unpleasant spot to stop. I just refilled my water bottle and continued on down the track to the day shelter at Quintin Lodge.

Anderson's Cascade Shelter, Milford Track, Fiordland

Track Junction to the Sutherland Falls, Quintin Lodge and the Quintin Day Shelter, Milford Track, Fiordland

Quintin Lodge Swingbridge
There is a day shelter at Quintin Lodge so the independent walkers have somewhere to leave their packs before setting off for the Sutherland Falls. There is tea/coffee/chocolate/Raro and sugar provided by the nearby Lodge so I had couple of cups of tea to revive myself. 

From here it is about 40 minutes walk to the Falls, I just took my jacket, camera and water bottle with me, the track starts off flat but gets steeper the closer to the Falls you get. The roar of falling water was the first thing you heard and then the odd glimpse of the Falls in the distance.

Quintin Lodge Day Shelter, Milford Track, Fiordland
The Sutherland Falls really are spectacular...580 meters of drop over three distinct falls. The spray from the the water hitting the bottom starts to soak you when you are still 200 meters away and it wasn't even raining. I cannot imagine what they would be like in a big rain storm...they must be amazing!

That's why the Milford Track exists, so people could get up here to see what were the second highest known waterfalls in the world in the 1890's.

First view of the Sutherland Falls from the track to Quintin Lodge

Some idiotic guided walkers striped down to their underwear and went around the edge of the Falls to try to get behind them....Jon says bugger that for a lark. That water must feel like concrete blocks hitting you from that height...yikers!!!

Hey, I'm sure no-one said they shouldn't do it but some things don't need to be verbalised....

Close-up of some idiots climbing up behind the Sutherland Falls

Quintin Lodge from the track to Sutherland Falls

After I got back from the Falls I had another cup of tea and then set off for the final hour down to the hut for the night. The track from Quintin to Dumpling Hut is of a good standard but it sure did seem to take a long time on poor olde Jon's tired legs....

The track heading down to Dumpling Hut, Milford Track, Fiordland

A distant view of the Sutherland Falls from the track to Dumpling Hut, Milford Track, Fiordland

There is a nice view of the Arthur River about 20 minutes down the track from Quintin Lodge.

First clear view of the Arthur River on day three...Milford Track, Fiordland

A old bridge section between Quintin Lodge and Dumpling Hut

Part of the extensive board-walk around the Arthur River flank of Mt Elliot
Eventually I arrived at Dumpling Hut some time around 5 pm, it had been a long tiring day and I was damn happy to sit down and take the weight off my legs.  My thighs were really hurting, seven hours of uphill and downhill takes a toll on your body. 

I wished that I had done more hill training for the walk as I was limping by the time I reached the hut. I am doing a proper training regime before I attempt the Routeburn and Kepler Tracks in 2019 that's for sure!

The turn off to Dumpling hut after seven hours walking...Milford Track, Fiordland

Dumpling Hut is unusual, there is not enough flat ground to have all of the facilities together so they are spread out over two adjacent flat terraces. The four 10 person bunk-rooms are on the bottom terrace and the joint dining/relaxation area is on the terrace above.

Dumpling is the newest hut on the track having been completed in 2011. 

Dumpling Hut, Milford Track, Fiordland

Interior of one of the bunk-rooms at Dumpling Hut

Interior of the dining area at Dumpling Hut, Milford Track, Fiordland
Everyone was shattered by this day, the last walkers stumbled in at 7.30 just as the hut warden was starting her talk. Everyone was in bed early as we had that 19 kilometre/six hour walk out to Sandfly Point in the morning and some people had to be there by 2 pm!!!

Day four: Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point: 19 kms, 7 hours

My thighs were stuffed the next morning...even with liberal doses of Voltaren and various painkillers it was a real struggle to walk. I was OK once I got going but every-time I stopped for a break it took me 20 minutes to get back into the flow of walking.

I basically walked my way out to Sandfly Point on shear bloody mindedness...

Start of the last day....19 kms walk to Sandfly Point, Milford Track

Milford Track, Fiordland...on  the way to Boatshed Hut

Dense bush crowds one of the side streams along the Milford Track

Nice flat path heading alongside the Arthur River, Milford Track, Fiordland
There was a new slip across the track about a hour from Dumpling Hut, all of the vegetation had slid off the side of a hill for about 300 metres and piled up at the bottom. DOC have built a temporary board walk across the top of it but I imagine it will need to be cleared at some stage.

Expedient board-walk to cross a recent slip near the Boatshed Hut, Milford Track, Fiordland

The track was easy to walk along, if my thighs had not been playing up I would have burnt through the distance. It was still blessed comfort after the punishing descents of the previous day. It was lovely walking along in the shade as it quickly warmed up once the sun came out and started warming the valley.

Only gentle ups and downs along this part of the track, Milford Track, Fiordland

The Boatshed Hut is a complex of buildings owned by the guided walking company, locked and not for use of the hoi polloi independent walkers. There is a set of toilets here so use them if you need them as there are no others till the Giant Gate Shelter about two hours further down the track.

The first of the outbuildings at Boatshed Hut, Milford Track, Fiordland

The complex of buildings at the Boatshed Hut, Milford Track, Fiordland

Approach to the Arthur River Swingbridge

The swing-bridge over the Arthur River is set in a beautiful bend of the river, it was nice seeing the snow capped mountains, green of the forest and aquamarine of the river mixing together.

The swing-bridge over the Arthur River, Milford Track, Fiordland

The Mt Edgar Massif and the calm Arthur River from the Arthur River swing-bridge

Once past the swing-bridge you are walking with the Arthur River on your right side for most of the rest of the day. The track meanders back and forth along the banks of the river heading further inland at a few spots where the river has eroded the riverbank away. I imagine the whole track will need to be rerouted over time as every big rain event causes damage. 

This Beech tree is three metres wide, Milford Track, Fiordland

The extensive board-walk on the approach to MacKay Creek, Milford Track, Fiordland

You pass a succession of water falls over the day: the MacKay and Giants Gate are the largest and both can be heard long before you can see them. If you need to replenish your water any of the larger streams are clean enough, I refilled at Giants Gate and this saw me through to Sandfly Point.

MacKay Creek footbridge, Milford Track, Fiordland

Looking up MacKay Creek from the footbridge, Milford Track, Fiordland

Bell Rock is a massive boulder which was hollowed out by the river and then flipped upside down, if you climb under it is tall enough to stand in just like a cave. I could not face trying to crawl inside (my legs would not bend) so just admired it from the outside....

The famous Bell Rock....hollowed out by the nearby river, Milford Track, Fiordland

Mackay Falls, Milford Track, Fiordland

 You also spend a good proportion of the day walking beside Lake Ada, formed when a large slip blocked the passage of the Arthur River to Milford Sound. The rock in Fiordland is hard so it stands for a long time, but when it does collapse it is usually fairly dramatic...

Mt Ada from the Milford Track running along the Arthur River

The crystal clear Arthur River, Milford Track, Fiordland

Board-walk alongside Lake Brown, Milford Track, Fiordland
It looks like they are re routing sections of the track as the existing track is gradually falling into the Arthur River every-time it rains.There was a section of new track close to Posiedon Creek...

New track workings under way between Posiedon Creek and Mackay Falls

A part of the old benched track near Posiedon Creek
Eventually you arrive at Poseidon Creek roughly half way between Dumpling Hut and Sandfly Point. From here it is about three hours to the end of the track so you are on the downward run once you reach this spot.

Poseidon Creek footbridge, half way between Dumpling Hut and Sandfly Point

Poseidon Creek footbridge, half way between Dumpling Hut and Sandfly Point

Lake Ada is about two kilometres long and covers the right flank of the remainder of the track. At one point you climb up a cutting along the face of a large bluff. It took a team of men seven years to blast this path out of the solid rock so people could access the Sutherland Falls from Milford Sound. The cutting would be no more than 400 meters long but the rock in Milford is damn stubborn and hard.

When they finished the job they carved their names into the rock face and so they have remained for over a hundred years now. I think they deserved that...

First view of Lake Ada from the track along the Arthur River

The infamous cutting between Poseidon Creek and the Giant Gate Shelter

The guys who cut this path left their initials in the rock...this is from 1889!

As you can see the cutting rises to a point about 100 meters above the river and is only about a metre wide so care is needed when walking along this section of the track.

Looking down on the head of Lake Ada from the cutting, Milford Track, Fiordland

The boulder in this photo is about the size of a small house and the only thing holding it to the cliff is a slender ledge of rock a couple of inches wide. Nature shows you some strange and unusual things at times...

Precariously balanced boulder the size of a house, near Giant Gates Shelter

Eventually you arrive at the Giant Gate Shelter, there is a toilet here if you need one but it is preferable to stop another five minutes up the track on the far side of Giant Gate Creek.

The sand-flies are awful around the shelter as it is situated right next to a big swamp. I followed the advice of one of the guides who came along and rested on the beach near the falls. 

Milford Track, Fiordland: the day shelter near the Giants Gates....sand fly hell!!!

Crossing the footbridge over Giant Gates Creek

A couple of the more hardy (or foolhardy) guided walkers went for a swim in the deep pool in front of the Giant Gate Falls. It was hot by now, probably around 25 degrees and it would safe enough as the river meanders out of the pool but it must be awesomely cold as my water bottle immediately misted up after I filled it here.

Giant Gates Falls with some guided walkers going for a swim......

The track was mostly flat from here out to Sandfly Point, just the odd up and down so it was easy walking. It took me a while to get along as I was still having problems with my thigh muscles. 

It was a bit busier as both the guided walkers and independent walkers all had to be at Sandfly Point to catch water-taxis between 2 and 4 pm so everyone had bunched up.

On the Milford Track between Giant Gates and Sandfly Point

View of the rapids at the mouth of Lake Ada, Arthur river, Milford Track, Fiordland

I passed the last mile marker about 1.20 pm, this meant I had one mile or about 1.5 kilometres left before I got to the end of the track. Everyone else took off like a shot as they thought they were almost home. Canny Jon just kept plodding along as I knew it was at least another 40 minutes to the end. By the time I reached the end of the track I had overtaken half of the people again.

The last mile marker on the Milford Track....only one more mile to go!!!

The bridge over Camp Oven Creek, in the last kilometre of the Milford Track, Fiordland

The remainder of the Milford Track is of a good standard to Sandfly Point

First view of Clearwater Basin at the mouth of the Arthur River, Milford Track

Beech lined trail...500 metres to Sandfly Point
Finally after seven hours walking I reached the shelter at Sandfly Point. I was happy to be finished and elated that I had knocked off another of the Great Walks despite basically hobbling the last couple of kilometres.

When I got to the shelter seven of the other people walking independently were still there waiting for the 3 pm water-taxi. We chatted about the track and what next, then all of us went and jumped on the water-taxi for the five minute ride to Milford Sound.

First view of the shelter at Sandfly Point, Milford Track, Fiordland

Water tanks on the outside of Sandfly Point shelter

The separate shelter for the independent walkers, Sandfly Point, Milford Track, Fiordland

Independent Walkers only thanks all the same.....Sandfly Point, Milford Track, Fiordland

This sign is the official end of the Milford Track, 33.5 miles or 56.2 kilometres from Glade Wharf.

The sign which marks the official end to the Milford Track, Sandfly Point

Looking out to Milford Sound from the Sandfly Point jetty

The water-taxi to Milford Sound township at Sandfly Point

View out to Milford sound from the jetty at Sandfly Point, Fiordland

And that as they say was that, another of the Great Walks completed and a awesome time had in some of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.

Access: From Te Anau you travel to the dock at Te Anau Downs where you board the water-taxi to Glade Wharf. Both buses and water-taxis are booked at the same time as the huts you will use along the Milford Track. 
Track times: 2-3 hours from Mintaro hut to MacKinnon Pass Shelter, 2 hours to Quintin Hut Day Shelter, the trip to Sutherland Falls takes 1.5 hours return, then 1 further hour to Dumpling Hut, 6-7 hours from Dumpling Hut Hut to Sandfly Bay Shelter
Hut Details: Quinton Lodge: 50 bunk private lodge for the guided walkers, MacKinnon Pass Shelter: day shelter only, filtered water, gas cooker, solar lights, flushing toilets, Anderson's Cascade Shelter: covered shelter for both groups, no facilities, Quintin Day Shelter: day shelter for independent walkers travelling to Sutherland Falls, tea/cofee facilities including hot water and milk,water, toilets,  Dumpling Hut: Great Walk, 40 bunks,filtered water, gas cookers, solar lights, wood fire, wood shed, flushing toilets.
Miscellaneous: The Milford Track is a Great Walk so all transport and accommodation must be pre booked. There are standard DOC toilets roughly every 2 miles along the Arthur Valley, most at huts or shelters. Some un-bridged side streams can be a problem in heavy rain and care is required at all times. High risk of avalanches during the Winter season and after heavy snow events at any time of the year.

The High and Low Points of the Milford Track

Looking at the best features of the track I would have to say the is majestic. Huge sheer faced mountain ridges, beautiful emerald green rivers, a hundred waterfalls falling through clouds....Wow!

 Everywhere you look there is something to make you gasp. The best point was Sutherland Falls..that is a mighty drop and the sound of the falling water was awesome. The view from the high point on MacKinnon Pass was also magnificent and I was lucky to see it on a clear day. The tracks and huts were all good apart from the Emergency Track down off MacKinnon Pass.

The view of Clinton Valley from MacKinnon Pass....

There was not a lot of negative points: the demon sand-flies and that awful descent down to Quinton Hut really. It was not pleasant walking for seven hours out to Sandfly Point on the last day with destroyed thigh muscles but then everyone was the same. 

What would be some good additions to the track...closed in shelters for the walkers in both the Clinton and Arthur River valleys. The shelters are there they are just open to sand-fly attack and in Fiordland that is no small problem. I was covered in DEET and they still chowed down big time on Jon. It would have been nice to have a lunch shelter to use without fighting the sand-flies. 

Protection from rain but not the sand-flies at Giant Gate Shelter

Do some proper training if you are heading this way...up hill work of course but also a lot of rough downhill. The uphill was hard in spots but the sustained downhill was not pleasant. I was under prepared but each journey is a learning experience after all....I'll know better next time.