Showing posts with label Milford Track. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Milford Track. Show all posts

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Is it a Great Walk or not..

My personal opinion of the various Great Walks

As I have said on this site before I am working my way through the various Great Walks, so far I have walked six of the ten. Most do not feature on these pages as they occured back in the late 1980s & early 1990's.

 I thought it might be useful to say a few words about my experience on these various tracks, this is my opinion only you can decide for yourself.


Onetahuiti Beach, Abel Tasman Coastal Walk

Anyway I shall start with the first Great Walk I tramped and work my way through the other tracks I have completed over the intervening years...

Update:Ha, ha, ha...nice one DOC and Minister Eugenie Sage. Now 11 Great Walks, the Humpridge Track is going to become a Great Walk after a $5 million upgrade to the track and huts. I would imagine we are looking at 2021 or 2022 before it opens in that guise. 

The bridge over the Kohaihai River...start/finish of the Heaphy Track

The Great Walks I have tramped...

Some of these tracks were walked a long time ago, specifically all the North Island tracks. I was in the Army in the late 1980's and early 1990's and based in the North Island. The comments would be more relevant to the track conditions at the time rather than now. I am also a bit hazy about dates as it was nearly 30 years ago I remember the year just not the month, day etc.


Te Pukatea Bay, the most photographed point on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Many of the following photos are not mine so I have noted the source if applicable. Back then I wasn't much of a photographer...I never imagined I would have a website one day that required pics of the tracks, huts, scenic sights etc. I visited. In fact I only have three photos of me wearing a uniform from the whole time I served in the military.

The Tongariro Northern Circuit: 1988(?)

I walked the Tongariro Northern Circuit in the late 1980's while stationed at Waiouru Training Camp. A group of us walked the track as part of a communications exercise we were running but really one of the Sergeants was a hunter/tramper and he wanted to have a go at the track!!!


On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, Central North Island

We got to do a lot of good stuff in the Army because an Officer or Sergeant had a hankering for some outdoor adventuring...like the time we walked overland from St Arnaud to Hanmer or the time we went fishing for a couple of days in the Marlborough Sounds, but those are other stories...

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, Central North Island

The Circuit back then was very, very quiet...it was early autumn and the weather was getting colder but mostly the track was hardly known outside Kiwi tramping circles. I'm not joking we saw less than 10 people the whole time and that included the day we walked over what is now the Tongariro Crossing. We saw five (...yes 5....) people the day we walked the Crossing....in 2019 you might be sharing the track with up to a 1000 or more on any given day. 


Tama Lake, On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, Central North Island


The huts were old but serviceable, the tracks 'rough as' in places but the scenery was the same as you see today. I remember being thirsty most of the time...it is hot on the Circuit when the sun is out and good water sources are scarce...only at the huts. 


Lunar landscape on the Tongariro Northern Circuit, Central North Island


I took my camera with me on this trip, I had black and white film in my camera so that is why the pictures are black and white. I didn't take many photos, maybe the film was almost finished...I cant remember all these years later. I think black and white is the right medium for this track...it brings out the beautiful starkness of that volcanic terrain. 


On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, Central North Island

All of this track is beautiful in its own kind of way but my favourite section was on the eastern side of the mountains with that view out over the Desert Road. You had a bit of grass and some trees to break up the volcanic rock.

I really like the weird and wonderful forms a volcanic field holds...sharp edges and weird shapes. You can see why they practise Mars landings in volcanic areas. 

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, Central North Island

It is a magnificent and unique track but I don't know if I would call it a Great Walk. It has a bit too much rock, sand and dust for my liking, I prefer thick forest really. That said I recommend it widely when people ask me about good tracks in the North Island.

 I'd like to walk the Tongariro Crossing again but I think I would hate the damn crowds it now attracts. Maybe when I get to finishing  the Te Araroa Trail..it goes right past the Tama Lakes.

8/10 on the Jon tramp-o-meter.


Lake Waikaremoana Track (1989...?)

This was the first 'civilian' tramp I went on....it was while I was in the military but was not an Army organised trip. I was in Waiouru for three months doing some course or another.  A group of us decided to go tramp around Lake Waikaremoana one long weekend because one of the guys was from up that way and told us how cool it was. 

Korokoro Falls, Lake Waikaremoana Track: Image from New Zealand.com website

We walked the track anti clock wise so the Panekire Bluffs were at the end of the trip. Memories of the time are of the feeling of dark permanence in Te Urewera....that forest is ancient and dense, I wouldn't be surprised to see a Moa walk out of the bush and cackle "....how are yer maaateeee...!!!".

You can stand on the high bluffs around the lake and see nothing but bush and forest out to the horizon. I imagine that is what all of New Zealand looked like before humans arrived. 

Panekire Bluffs: Image from DOC website

The quality of the track was excellent and while some of the huts were older they were obviously well loved. It was a magnificent experience and I'm just sorry more people don't have the time to go there. Getting to the lake is the problem it is remote and the approach roads are gravel so long, hot and dusty.

While access is a curse it is is also a salvation...you have to REALLY WANT TO VISIT this locale so your normal tourism hordes are absent even now.


The modern Waiopaoa Hut: Image from Maipo website

I have heard that the track/huts have deteriorated since it was handed back to the local Iwi...I cannot comment on this but if true it is a real shame. This would be the perfect place for a genuine Maori take on the outdoors and show the deep relationship between the people and the land in Aotearoa.  

Typical North Island forest along the Lake Waikaremoana Track:Image from Shoesyourpath website

This is by far one of the finest tramping trips I have ever been on...in my top five of all time.

It is absolutely a 'Great Walk'...go walk it folks!!!

+10/10 on the Jon Tramp-o-meter.

Wanganui River Journey (1989)

Another hair brained scheme....same Army course (we also went and tramped the Kaimanawas around this time...). We had a free weekend so we borrowed some gear from the Outdoor Pursuits Centre at Waiouru and went and rafted down the Wanganui River. We went into the river up near National Park and came out just south of Jerusalem a couple of days later.

Early section of the Wanganui River: Image from Travel Alphas web site

The Wanganui River is sacred to the local Iwi, there are many Pa sites along the river as this was a major locus of Maori setlement right through history. It also featured heavily in the New Zealand Wars as it has always been a transportion link to the remoter parts of the Central North Island. 

Drawing of a typical fortified Maori village or Pa

Today most people would kayak or canoe the Wanganui as those craft are more suitable but back in those days most journeys were done by raft. This wasn't a Great Journey as they now style it, just a trip adventurous nutters had a bash at.

Canadian style canoe on the Wanganui river

The only people we saw were a group of hunters at John Coull Hut and a few jet boats tooling up and down the river. Apart from them we had the river to ourselves...


The modern iteration of John Coull Hut: Image from DOC website

It was very peaceful drifting down the river, exploring the caves, side streams and points of interest and camping at the end of each day.  I remember us talking about going to the Bridge to Nowhere but not having the time to actually do so. I also remember the dozens of cans of beers we each took with us as vital supplies, empties rolling around in the bottom of the raft. 

The famous Bridge to Nowhere, Wanaganui River, Central North Island

When it is dry the Wanganui River is gentle and deep with the occasional grade 1-2 rapid, but if it rains in the headwaters it can become an angry raging beast. We had three days of beautiful sunny weather so we saw the nice face. You don't want to be down there when the bad face comes out.

Flood in the Upper Wanganui River

It is wild, remote wilderness along most of the river...dense bush, high bluffs and deep dank side streams cutting down through the mudstone. What it reminded me of was the movie Deliverance...at any moment I expected a couple of good ole boys to come on down out of the bush and say "....yer gotta purty mouth...."


The verdant Wanganui River Valley: Image from Visit Ruapehu website

I know this has become a bit of a tourist trap with the Te Araroa walkers and massed organised trips down the river but I think every Kiwi should add it to their agenda. If I was to do the journey again I would walk up to the Bridge to Nowhere and stop at Jerusalem and the Maori Village (Tieke Kainga) as they are an integral part of the story of this river.


Easy graded rapids on the Wanganui river: Image from Travel Alphas web site

This is the only Great Walk on a river so straight away it is unique, the area is deeply steeped in history and has a wild remote feeling you do not find in many places anymore. You would not look out of place dressed in flax and poling a waka down this river it has that ancient kind of feeling. It is definitely worth a visit...add it to the bucket list.

BTW: the name of the river is spelt both Wanganui and more correctly Whanganui...the local Iwi use both names for their Awa.

8/10 on the Jon Tramp-o-meter (only because I do not like the water that much)...

Heaphy Track: 1990(?)

Back in 1989 I was stationed at Addington Barracks, Christchurch...the unit I belonged to was 3 Signals Squadron. We used to frequently ticky-tour around the country doing military exercises usually on the West Coast, near the Southern Alps or around Tekapo. The big exercise we did in 1990 was up near Karamea close to the West Coast end of the Heaphy Track.

Gouland Downs swing bridge:  Image from Heaphy Track.com website

One of the many streams crossing Gouland Downs:Image from Heaphy Track.com website

Towards the end of the exercise we were all sitting around waiting to go back to Christchurch when a message went around asking if anyone wanted to walk the Heaphy Track. Obviously we all said yes so the next day a group of us were choppered to Perry Saddle Hut by the New Zealand Air force and started walking the track.



Bridge over the Kohaihai River:Image from Heaphy Track.com website


I loved it.....what I remember is the varied terrain: thick native bush, the expansive tussock covered Gouland Downs, steep descents into verdant river valleys and that awesome walk through the Nikau Palm groves from the Heaphy River to Kohaihai.

We mostly had the huts to ourselves with a few Kiwi trampers chucked into the mix....no European tourist crowds in those days. We had one day of torrential rain but the other three days were beautiful as only the north west of the South Island can be.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 


View down to Heaphy River: Image from Jack Austin website

Later in the early 1990's my girlfriend and I walked into Perry Saddle Hut from the road end near Brown Hut. We stayed for the one night and then walked back out again as she was not too keen on this tramping lark and did not want to walk the whole track.


Start of Heaphy Track near Brown Hut: Image from Heaphy Track.com website

Is the Heaphy a "Great Walk"....by damn...yes it is...my favourite section is between Lewis Hut and Heaphy Hut, as you wind down to the river and coast. My favourite hut was the old Heaphy Hut because we had such a good night there. We made a massive bonfire on the beach and then went back to the hut and played cards and drank tea for about four hours.

Everyone should walk this track, I know it has transport difficulties (300+ km's separate the two ends...) but the problems are worth over coming for the fun you will have on the track.


Heaphy Track, West Coast Section: Image from Jack Austin website

I am absolutely going to walk this track again someday..... soon I hope!

+10/10 on the Jon Tramp-o-meter.


Abel Tasman Coastal Track: 2017

I had a massive gap in my tramping adventures between the mid 1990's and the early 2010's. Marriage, family, my job, post grad study and other crap took up all my time and meant I didn't get out much. In 2011 I decided this was crazy and started going for some tramping trips once again...one of my early plans was to finish walking the rest of the Great Walks before I got to old to do so.

One of my first 'modern' tramps...at Ryde Falls, Oxford Forest in 2013

I decided on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track as I am broadly working north to south through the Great Walks.

I have actually visited the Abel Tasman National Park five times between 1992 & 2019. I have done a trip with my then girlfriend from Marahau to Anchorage and Wainui to Wharewharangi Hut in 1992/1993. Trips since 2017 include ones from Totaranui to Marahau, Totaranui to Anchorage and finally Totaranui to Awapoto Hut on the Inland Track.

Karen at the start of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track in 2018

Totaranui Beach, start/finish point for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Bark Bay from the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

The Abel Tasman is awesome...golden sandy beaches, easy tracks (along the coast..the Inland Track is proper tramping), watertaxi transportation, swimming in the summer, decent huts...it really has it all. If I lived in Nelson this would be my Port Hills..I would be in the park most weekends doing something or other.

Rimu grove alongside track near Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman NP


The tidal crossing at Awaroa Inlet, the hut is on the distant shore

Nelson really is the trampers town, these parks/tracks are all within 1-3 hours from the city: Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi NP, Nelson Lakes NP, Paparoa NP, Richmond Forest Park, Victoria FP, the Queen Charlotte Track, Dun Mountain Track, Molesworth Conservation Area.

That is a lifetime worth of tramping there..


Approaching the campsite at Onetahuiti Beach in 2017

Bark Bay Hut, my favourite in Abel Tasman National Park

I still have a power of good tramping trips to do in this park. If I am able to continue tramping into my 'golden years' I would like to do a annual trip to the park as I enjoy it so much. My next iteration is likely to be a summer tenting trip staying at some of the more secluded beaches....


Watertaxi drops trampers at Torrent Bay settlement, Abel Tasman NP

Abel Tasman Coastal Walk, Anchorage....lovely beach and shallow bay=swim time!!!

Coquile Bay and the Astrolabe Roadsteed, from the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

I already have a trip planned to the park in late October, I will be walking from Totaranui to Wharewharangi Hut and then returning along the same route. That will be the whole of the Coastal Track knocked off like the mythical bastard...

Jon waiting to cross Awaroa Inlet, Abel Tasman Coastal Track, 2017


Awapoto Hut, Abel Tasman Inland Track

The Coastal Track rates highly with me...I think it is easily one of the best tramps in New Zealand. All the Kiwis who avoid Abel Tasman because of the crowds...don't. Why should it only be the tourists who get to enjoy our treasures...go visit and see what all the commotion is about.

You will not be disapointed....

9/10 on the Jon Tramp-o-meter (because of the crowds...go in September/October).

Bridge over Richardson Stream, Onetahuiti Beach, Abel Tasman NP



Luxurious Anchorage Hut, Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Keep an eye out for further posts....

Milford Track: 2018

I finally walked my first Fiordland track back in December of 2018. I had previously been in Te Anau for an hour many years ago but had never managed to go tramping.

Te Anau is a mecca for outdoor people with various tracks, Lake Te Anau and Manapouri, Milford Sound and many classic climbing routes. There are a number of Great Walks in the area; the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn. There are also some stonking tramping tracks....Doubtful Track, Hollyford Valley Track & the Te Araroa Trail all of which are accessible from Te Anau.

Walking along the shore of Lake Te Anau, Fiordland

The Milford Track has been erroneously titled the "finest track in the world"...it was a throw away line used in a 19th century magazine article about walking the track. The title is now used as a marketing tool to get tourists to come and visit the region. Is it the finest track in the world..its all up to personal opinion..There are many, many equally impressive tracks around the world.

Personally, I think the Travers-Sabine Circuit (which is very similiar) is just as beautiful if not quite so accessible. 


On the watertaxi across Lake Te Anau to the start of the Milford Track


I started with the Milford Track as it is the easiest of the three to arrange transport around while still being relatively easy to walk. Last year I was feeling a bit off (...I had cancer...) so I though chucking myself onto the much harder Kepler or Routeburn Track was probably not a stellar idea.



Start of the Milford Track at Glade Wharf

The Milford Track close to Glade House

The thing that decides how enjoyable a trip you have on the Milford is the weather...Fiordland is one of the wettest places in New Zealand and heavy sustained rain is a constant threat. It is no fun walking in torrential rain for 5-6 hours regardless of how fancy a rain jacket you own. In the event I had one day of light rain and three days of sunshine so the best of conditions for the track.


I had my jacket on for most of Day 1 & 2 on the Milford Track

The main features of this track are the steep sided river valleys, the massive mountains and the interplay of water and terrain. All of these features are sculpted by water...either frozen in ancient glaciers or fresh in the many rivers, streams and creeks which flow here. Over the millenia they have shaped the very fabric of this region and continue to do so today. 


Clinton Swingbridge, Milford Track


View up Clinton River from near the swingbridge

Both the Clinton and Arthur Valleys are beautiful with thick forest and those gorgeous rivers. The Clinton is by far the more verdant but even the Arthur Valley has deep thick forest cover. You walk with water for most of this track with the rivers running next to or within sight of the track all of the way. 



The Clinton River near the Clinton Hut turn off


Rain falling on the Upper Clinton River

The waterfalls...oh my god....they are everywhere. It was raining as I walked up the Clinton Valley and I could literally see hundreds of waterfalls running some of which fell straight from the clouds. Hope for light rain on the second day....

Some of the many waterfalls in the Clinton Valley, Milford Track

Marlees Stream, Milford Track

The valleys are flanked by some of the most abrupt and massive mountains/bluffs I have ever seen...some of them reach 1700 meters from the valley floor. How can you be standing 200 meters from a 1.7 km high bluff and not feel the raw power and majesty of nature. 

It is over powering at times.

Mt Balloon dwarfs Mintaro Hut, Milford Track

There are two stand out points of interest on this track..the climb to MacKinnon Pass and the Sutherland Falls. MacKinnon Pass is tackled on the third day and causes much apprehension amongst trampers but actually it is not that bad a climb. It zig zags up for most of the way and eventually deposits you up on the pass after two relatively gentle hours.

Milford Track..one of the zig zags on the way to Mackinnon Pass

More zig zags on the way to MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track



Approaching the Quinton MacKinnon memorial at MacKinnon Pass


If you are lucky and it is fine when you get to the top the views down the two valleys and around the surrounding mountains are jaw dropping spectacular. Everywhere you look is some new and powerful image to store.



Jon photo bombed on MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track

View of the Clinton Valley from MacKinnon Pass

First view of MacKinnon Shelter, Mt Balloon in background

Mt Elliot and the Jervois Glacier


Sutherland Falls is the reason for this track, back in the 1880's it was the second highest falls in the known world. It drops for 580 meters from the lip of Lake Quill and its a mesmerising sight. The power is immense...you can hear it from over two kilometres away and the spray hits you 500 meters away. It is absolutely beautiful....there is no other way to describe it. 

Distant view of Sutherland Falls from the Milford Track

Idiot guided walkers tempt fate...Sutherland Falls

Closer view of the top drop at Sutherland Falls, Milford Track


Guided walk Quinton Lodge, Milford Track


The last day is a 18 km slog down the Arthur River Valley but even this is enjoyable. The scenery is wonderful with several interesting stops on the way. It is easy walking just a long way after three mildly strenuous days...start early and take lots of breaks.  


Mt Edgar Massif and Arthur River from the swingbridge, Milford Track

MacKay Falls, Milford Track

Arthur River near Lake Ada, Milford Track

You should stop for lunch at Giant Gate Falls where there is fresh water and a lot less sand flies than near the adjacent day shelter. If you are brave enough go for a dip in the pool at the base of the falls but beware as it is perishing cold water....


Giant Gate Falls, Milford Track...it is freakin cold!!!

The track eventually dumps you out at Sandfly Point, 33.5 miles/57 kilometers later. From here you catch a quick water taxi ride across Milford Sound to the ferry terminal. While you are there make sure you go for a cruise on Milford Sound...I did not and it is the one thing I wish I had done. 


The end of the Milford Track at Sandfly Point

On the water taxi heading for Milford Sound


Well...this might not be the finest track in the world but it is definitely spectacular, beautiful, awe inspiring and mind boggling. This is a track I would gladly re visit. 

Forget Mars...get your arse to the Milford Track.....

+10/10 on the Jon Tramp-o-meter.


The Great Walks I have not yet completed...


I still have four Great Walks to complete....

Routeburn Track: (booked for December 2019)


I am 'locked and loaded' to walk the Routeburn in December of this year, I'm really looking forward to the experience. I will be walking from The Divide Shelter to Routeburn Shelter so west to east....Te Anau to Queenstown

The Divide Shelter, Te Anau to Milford Road...the start of  Routeburn Track

The tarn near Key Summit, Routeburn Track, Fiordland


Watch this space for updates....


Rakuira Track: (booked for January 2020...)

I have wanted to get down to Stewart Island/Rakuira for twenty years but have never made it there. For Kiwi trampers it is the holy grail....a whole island of mostly unspoiled nature with a series of gnarly tracks and a wealth of huts. In January 2020 my partner Karen and I will be visiting the island for a week and walking the Rakuira Great Walk while we are there. 

I'm super excited about the trip....


Aerial view of Oban, the only settlement on Rakuira/Stewart Island


Ultimately I would like to tackle the Rakuira Northern and Southern Circuits, this will be something for the future.....

...& the others...


After the tracks I'm booked to walk this season I will have three left to finish the Grand Slam. The first is the Kepler Track and the other two will be the brand new Paparoa/Pike 29 Track and the newly announced Humpridge Great Walk. Im waiting to walk the WHOLE  Paparoa Track...after the extension to the Pike River Mine is completed in December 2020.


The distant Kepler Mountains from near Te Anau...there be track!!!

I would like to walk the first two in the 2020/2021 season. I might have to wait to walk the Humpridge Track till 2021-2022 season as I imagine a LOT of people will be trying to walk them in the next couple of years. They will want to get in before the huts costs rise to $70 per night. 

The Great Walks going into the future


It looks likely that the Department of Conservation is going to announce a new Great Walk track every 2-3 years. They are attempting to minimise the stress on the existing tracks while looking for ways of using recreation as a economic stimulus in the regions.

Work being undertaken on the Paparoa/Pike 29 Track, Image from ODT

The Paparoa/Pike 29 was announced in 2017 and will be completed by December of this year. I would imagine the upgrade to the existing Humpridge Track will take about two years to complete.


The Tors on the Humpridge Track, Fiordland NP: Image from DOC website

Going into the future I can see many more tracks getting the Great Walk name, in a way this is good as it means money for huts, campsites and track maintenance. Other tracks mentioned as possible great walks include: Queen Charlotte Track, Te Paki Track, Greenstone-Caples, Round the Mountain Track, St James Walkway and the Travers Sabine Circuit.

Could the Travers-Sabine in Nelson Lakes NP become a Great Walk?


The Queen Charlotte Walkway could also become a Great Walk

It will be interesting to see which tracks change designation.