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Milford Track (NZ) Day 2 – Nov 2010

Glade House – Pompolona Lodge

The generator fired up and the lights came on at Glade House; our first full day of walking the Milford Track had arrived!

Day 2 morning sunrays into the valley

Morning light coming into Clinton Valley near Glade House.

For all that this may be ‘glamping’ (the queen-sized bed & ensuite option, hot showers, prepared meals, small pack size) our guides weren’t shy about mustering everyone out of their rooms to be back on the track for an 8:30-9:00am start. Slave drivers! Had they no pity for us poor guests who’d walked a whole 1 mile (officially) of the track yesterday? (I think the 3hr bus ride was more exhausting than the short walk at the end.)

milford copy 3

Milford Track Profile – there’s a very gradual incline over 9 miles for our walk on Day 2

Officially we had 10 miles (16km) to walk today (at the end our GPS recorded 14.5km (~9 miles), mostly following the river up the valley. We could knock that off in a few hours – surely they could have let us have half an hour more to get our stuff together?

But we didn’t grumble out loud (that I can remember). And if we did we weren’t the only ones. And we certainly were not (quite) the last ones to leave Glade House. Even so, there were a lot of eager people ready to go at 8.30am! We saw them – an impatient group – as we were heading back from breakfast to finish packing.

It wasn’t long before we were under way, an there was certainly a lot of scenery to appreciate.

Day 2 mirror surface of Clinton river

The Clinton River was mirror-like on this beautiful morning as we waved good-bye to Glade House. A perfect day for a hike!

Day 2 cool green morning

The Clinton River near Glade House

Day 2 tall silver beeches(?)

Silver beech trees provide a dappled light on the path

We passed Sentinel Peak then followed the river up the Clinton Valley which is to the west of the peak. The mountains and the clear blue/green water were what drew our attention the most.

Day 2 Mountain & river

Sentinel Peak

Day 2 Mountains & river

The beautiful crystal-clear Clinton River

Swampy section

This was an unusual swampy section (off-shoot to the main track) – very reminiscent of vegetation we’ve seen around the highlands in Tasmania

Since it was such a large group, we didn’t spread out much for a while. When Claude, the head guide who was up the front, stopped to point something out only the people right up the front near her could hear. The other guides who were spaced out among the guests could have a guess what she was saying if it was a ‘usual’ stop, but sometimes had as little idea about what she was saying as we did. It was a bit frustrating because it wasn’t supposed to be a stop-start group walk, but that was the result of having been hurried out the door so we wouldn’t be left behind. It wasn’t until after the first stop for morning tea that we all spread out a bit more.

Day 2 morning tea stop 

Day 2 Inside a DOC hut Day 2 DOC hut dining hall

Morning tea at Clinton Hut – the first of four DOC huts on the Track for independent hikers. Pretty good compared with some public huts we’ve seen, but much more spartan than Glade House!

Day 2 calm section with rocks

I could stare at this all day – and wish I was there to jump in!

Day 2 Clear river of melted snow

This is as close as I got to a dip in the Clinton River

Day 2 low shot of rocks in stream with sunlight

The increased number of sandflies by the river keep your artistic shots to a minimum.

Day 2 easy walking path

The Track isn’t hard to follow.

Day 2 close up of plants on log w DA in background

Some of the mosses and ferns that grow at ground level.

There was a perfect spot to go for a swim at lunch, but as there were a couple of clouds around then it wasn’t warm enough to tempt me that much! Well, it was more the hassle of getting dry again afterwards and the prospect of walking in damp clothes. Someone was brave enough to try it, but I gather he wasn’t in for very long!

Day 2 clear green pool

I was temped again by a clear green pool… no salt or chlorine here! Or leaches!

We didn’t want to stop too long for lunch to avoid stiffening up, but it seemed most people were happy to sit around, and (in contrast to that morning) the guides didn’t seem to think it necessary to get people moving again. We were visited by a Kea who didn’t mind being the centre of attention, and we got some good close-up photos whilst keeping an eye out for our packs incase more Kea’s were sneaking up to attack them while our attention was diverted!

Day 2 Kea4

Kea’s are an inquisitive, alpine native parrot – check out the length of the top bill.

Day 2 Kea2 Day 2 Kea3

They are beautifully coloured birds, with an orangey-red rump and blue on the wings seen best when in flight

Day 2 Kea wanting lunch

“Hey lady, wanna share your lunch?”

Interestingly, you can’t get insurance for Kea damage to your car. One guy there said that he was stopped at the Hommer Tunnel once, and in the time it took him to visit the loo, they’d pulled off the rubber around his windscreen and it had fallen out! Cheeky Kea’s!!

The track doesn’t keep to the bank of the Clinton River the whole way up the valley. The beech forests are cool and green. Through here the track is pretty easy walking, but remember – it wasn’t always that way. Qunintin Mackinnon would have found the way very difficult – just look at the forest on the side of the path.

Day 2 Dayna in a mossy section

A mossy section of forest

The track is very well maintained. Until 1954 it was the only way to get to Milford Sound; these days 14,000 people walk the track each season! (Milford Track History) There are still a few relics left from the days when this was the ‘main road’, such as this telegraph wire insulator in the tree trunk:

Day 2 Telegraph hook in a trunk

An old telegraph wire insulator

An iconic native New Zealand tree that is often passed along the Clinton Valley is the Lancewood. The adult tree looks like any ‘regular’ tree, but saplings look like a stick with long tough brown spiky-edged leaves dropping from it, with no top. Until the sapling reaches to 2.5m or so, it doesn’t begin to grow adult foliage. The theory is that this is an evolutionary trait to avoid being grazed on by Moa, extinct flightless birds of the same family as kiwis, emus and ostriches. We knew of these trees (but not their story) before this walk because Icebreaker uses the immature tree as a design print for one of their t-shirts Icebreaker Tech T – Lancewood.

Day 2 Young lancewoods

Immature Lancewood trees

Day 2 Lancewood starting to mature

A Lancewood transforming into a mature tree

The track also passes through avalanche danger zones. These areas are generally characterised by a lack of mature trees. The Department of Conservation (DOC) put up signs along the track saying not to stop until you get past the next sign saying it’s okay to do so. When big avalanches come down, the preceding winds can get up to 200-300km/hr, which is what flattens so much of the vegetation.

Day 2 Danger Sign - avalance risk

Warning sign saying not to stop in high risk avalanche area – there will be another sign further on to indicate when you can stop again.

Day 2 Crossing an old avalanche section

Recent regrowth after avalanche

Day 2 lots of scarring from landslides

Scars on the hillside from previous landslides

Day 2 crossing rockslide

Rockslide

Day 2 bridges are used over rockslide sections too

No stopping along here (these were very quickly taken photos)

The further up the valley we walked, the narrower the valley became. As you cross the more open and exposed sections, you can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be in this part of the valley during an avalanche – it’s so steep and close it would surely act as a funnel. A person would be smashed to pieces.

And that is one very good reason why there is an open and closed season, and why DOC do so much to try to trigger avalanches before the walkers are allowed in! All hail DOC!!

The other thing DOC (in conjunction with Ultimate Hikes?) does is fly in temporary bridges. We wouldn’t want to get wet feet, after all….

Day 2 tempr bridgeDay 2 anotehr river crossing

Examples of bridges that DOC fly in for the walking season. These are removed over winter. 

No, it’s not so we can keep our feet dry. The reasons for the bridges are so that we’re not damaging the banks of the river and because (as I have mentioned previously) they get 7-9 metres of rain per year! That is a hell of a lot of water by anyone’s standard’s, but when you think about it all running down the sides of those mountains, one pretty good shower is going to raise the level of the creek pretty damn fast. The bridges are so people CAN cross the lovely little streams that you see in our photos.

When I took the photo below there wasn’t much water in sight and, to tell the truth, it was a little stinky to the right, a bit like a swamp. But we had seen a video of people wading through brown water up to their thighs along this section. It didn’t look like they could see the path – just the very tops of the guide posts. Thank goodness the path is built so well it doesn’t wash away!

Day 2 raised path & guide poles for when it floods

Guide posts along a raised path

Day 2 looking down valley & stream

Looking back down the valley on a nice, sunny day.

Even when it hasn’t rained for a few days (that is like a drought to this region – the ecosystem here is adapted to coping with a lot of water, not the lack of it), there are still a multitude of ribbon waterfalls cascading down from the icy tops of the mountains, feeding the streams that become the Clinton River.

Day 2 snow melt contributing to creekDay 2 Ice melt - so pure you can drink it unfiltered

The melting ice from the tops of every mountain continually feed the river. It’s so pure you can drink it unfiltered.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached the turn-off to our second night’s accommodation. We were glad to get there, and pleasantly surprised to be greeted with orange quarters which were very refreshing.

Day 2 Pompolona

We arrive at Pompolona Lodge

The name ‘Pompolona’ came from a type of scone that Mackinnon made for his guests. He didn’t have butter, so he used the fat from wallabies (a feral pest in New Zealand). He called the scones pompolona’s.

Our room had a really good view of the end of the valley and Mackinnon Pass that we’d cross the next day.

Day 2 view from room at pompolona

Looking forward to Mackinnon Pass, some 700m above Pompolona Lodge

Each lodge has a laundry and drying facilities – although you’ve got to be quick to avoid a long queue and get first pick at where to hang your clothes. It was while we were waiting to wash some of our clothes we saw a rather large* avalanche! I’m glad it wasn’t any bigger, because it was on the mountain almost directly behind the hut!

(*It was quite a long way up. It was hard to tell exactly how big it was. Big enough!)

Day 2 ice falling off the mountain

Not THE avalanche, but some snow falling off the side of the mountain not long after.

With our first proper walking day done, it was time to relax and psych ourselves up for the challenge of crossing over Mackinnon Pass tomorrow!

Day 2 evening mea at pompolona

Lounge and dining room at Pompolona Lodge

Day 3: We tackle Mackinnon Pass on the way to Quintin Lodge

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Milford Track (NZ) Day 1, Nov 2010

Queenstown – Te Anau – Glade House

The first day of every adventure is exciting. Day 1 of our turn to walk the world famous Milford Track had arrived and we were ready!

After a quick breakfast  headed down to the Ultimate Hikes office with our backpacks and an extra bag each of clothes and gear that would be sent  ahead to Mitre Peak Lodge for us. Browns very kindly allowed us to leave our luggage that we weren’t taking on the walk with them.

The maximum number of guests that Ultimate Hikes can accommodate in one group is 50, which makes for a lot of excited people milling around on the footpath waiting for the bus. We were going very early in the season and I think there were only about 38 guests in our group.

Day 1 waiting at the station

Ready for adventure! You can see the broad spectrum of hikers this walk attracts.

I’m sure we weren’t the only ones checking out the size of other people’s packs. I do remember there was one guest – a lady, mind you – who fit all her gear in a 25L pack! We’d both chosen to bring our own 80L  packs instead of borrowing a smaller one (40L) from Ultimate Hikes; mine weighed about 10-12kg and Stephen’s… well, let’s just say it was heavier.

The bus trip to Te Anau was about 2.5 hours. It’s not the most scenic drive in New Zealand – correction: the drive along Lake Wakatipu between Queenstown and Kingston is beautiful, but the rest is fairly unremarkable compared to the rest of what’s on offer in region. Sorry guys. All the same, I managed to take one classic New Zealand photo before the weather clouded over:

Day 1 passing NZ sheep

Sheep! In New Zealand! Who’d have thought?

 We had one stop at Mossburn for a comfort break and… icecream! There isn’t much to see or do there apart from those two things. It was overcast and not particularly warm, but just about everyone enjoyed a Tip Top icecream anyway. After all, why let the weather stop you?

Day 1 Ultimate Hikes bus, stopped at Mossburn

The Ultimate Hikes bus. 

Lunch at Te Anau was very nice – Ultimate Hikes has an office attached to a hotel on the waterfront. If you’re looking for somewhere to holiday that’s like Queenstown but quieter, Te Anau could be just the place for you. Lake Te Anau is New Zealand’s second largest fresh water lake by surface area, and Australasia’s largest freshwater lake by volume. It even has three of it’s own fiords feeding into it! How’s that for impressive!

On the side of the bus you’ll notice the quote ‘The Finest Walk in the World”, and you may think that it’s a fairly bold claim that a marketing company sold to them. Well, not quite. Just over 100 years ago, a journalist was invited to walk the track and it was the title of their review of the walk when they got back to England that lead to the world-wide fascination with Milford Sound. Of course, since the astounding Homer Tunnel was completed in 1954 thus enabling people to drive to Milford Sound, it’s certainly been faster and more convenient for the masses to get to the fiord without getting their feet dirty.

From Te Anau it was a short bus ride to the boat at Te Anau Downs for the 1hr trip to the north end of the lake and the start of the Milford Track.

Day 1 Unloading the bus at Te Anau downs

Unloading the bus at Te Anau Downs.

Day 1 Te Anau Downs, gettng on the boat

Our group plus a couple of independent walkers boarding the boat to the start of the Milford Track.

Day 1 on board the boat

Naturally everyone wanted to be on the top deck since the weather was nice and sunny again!

Lake Te Anau, land slip

The scar on the side of the mountain on the left is due to a landslide. There isn’t much soil on the sides of the mountains; the trees roots entangle around each other for support as they grow. Thus it only take a few to come loose to take out a whole lot.

Day 1 Cross on island

Memorial cross for Quintin McPherson Mackinnon

Quintin Mackinnon was the explorer who found the overland route to Milford Sound that we now know as the Milford Track. Several land marks along the way are named in his honour, including Mackinnon Pass (the highest point of the track) where there is also a memorial cairn, Quintin Lodge (night 3 with Ultimate Hikes), and Lake McKinnon. I believe it was Mackinnon who invited the journalist mentioned above  – he was keen to take guests along the track. He is greatly revered by the Ultimate Hikes guides and you learn a lot about him and what what conditions were like back then over the course of the hike, and get a really good appreciation for how much easier it is for us to do now!

The cross on that rock on that wee island in the middle of Lake Te Anau marks the place that Quintin Mackinnon’s (sometimes spelt “Quenton” and “McKinnon”) boat was found, wrecked after a storm in the last months of 1892. His body was never found so it is assumed that he drowned (apparently drowned people sink in fresh water). Given the lake extremely deep (the deepest point is 417m), a search – let alone recovery – was impracticable.

A summary of his life can be found here at TeAra.govt.nz – Quintin McKinnon

Day 1 snow capped mountains from boat

Anticipation grows – we’d be walking amongst these giants very soon.

Day 1 Clinton (?) Valley

The Clinton River entering Lake Te Anau; there is a jetty just to the right of frame.

Within minutes of landing at the official start of the Milford Track, we realised that we hadn’t put on insect repellent yet!! So instead of waiting to get our photograph taken with the sign marking the start of the track, we headed off – if you keep walking the sandflies don’t bother you (of course, it helps if you’re not all standing around in a big group, too).

Day 1 We're walking - gps works

GPS is working – we’re good to go!

Day 1 Milford Track start sign

The start of the Milford Track. We didn’t hang around to pose for a similar photo.

There were a few independent walkers on the boat who disembarked and headed off before us – they had about 1.5-2hrs to walk to the first DOC (Dept of Conservation) hut, named Clinton Hut as it is in Clinton Valley. A maximum of 40 independent walkers can start the track on any given day.

Ultimate Hikes is the only company that owns private accomodation along the Milford Track. Our accommodation that night would be at Glade House, a whole 20min walk away. That would be our official 1 mile (1.6km) first day section of the track completed!

A note on measuring the track in miles: From what I remember our guides telling us, Quintin Mackinnon was paid by the mile to blaze the trail to Milford Sound. He used a Chain (an actual one made of metal links that was ‘one chain’ in length) to measure out the miles. At each mile he’d send back to town for payment, which I think came back in the form of provisions. There is a post marking each mile of the track, that also shows the kilometre equivalent on the other side.

Day 1 The first of 32 mile markers

The first of thirty-two mile markers

After an easy 1.2km to Glade House (ok, not quite 1 mile on the first day), we dumped our bags and were almost late for the group photo! (which I’m sure I’ve got a copy of somewhere…) With the clear green Clinton River flowing in front of the house, Sentinel Peak rising beyond, and Dore Pass behind us, the view was pretty good!

Day 1 Glade House, arriving

Arriving at Glade House. Dore Pass is the grey part at the top right of the photo.

Day 1 Sentinel Peak

The location of our group photo with the Clinton River behind and Sentinel Peak in the background

We then split into two groups for a nature walk – the guides gave us a brief overview of the plants and animals in the area. It was very interesting. We learnt that along with Possums the biggest feral animal threat in fiorland are ferrets who are indiscriminate killers. New Zealand has NO native terrestrial mammals (except for a few bats, and counting seals as marine mammals). Other feral mammals include 3 species of rats, cats, stoats, weasels, goats, various species of deer, wallabies, horses, hedgehogs! No wonder the native birds like the kiwi and kakapo (a flightless parrot) are under such pressure!

On the upside, they don’t have ticks and leeches! Don’t know how that came to be, but it’s fantastic! The abundant sandflies almost make up for their absence though.

Day 1 introductory walk

Learning about plants we’re likely to see along the track and about New Zealand’s ecology

Day 1 intro walk

As short as this walk was, it gave some guests a much needed opportunity to get to grips with the walking sticks they’d encumbered themselves with.

Day 1 on bridge looking back to glade house

The Clinton River flowing past Glade House

After everyone had made it back from the walk and wandered around a bit, it was time to gather in the lounge room for afternoon tea, a ‘getting to know everyone’ session which wasn’t too bad, and the evening power point presentation of what to expect the next day.

Day 1 Glade House Lounge & dining area

The Lounge area at Glade Hut. The dining area is towards the back of the room.

It turns out about ¾ of the group were Australian (mostly from Melbourne/Vic and Brisbane/Qld); of the rest there were 4 Japanese, 2 Indian ( a couple on their honeymoon), 2 American, 5 Kiwi’s (one who has lived in Perth for years but still thinks of himself as Kiwi, and the 4 guides) and one girl from Norway(?).

Day 1 Glade House museum

Some of the museum pieces at Glade House celebrating the story of the Milford Track

Each night we had a choice of two main meals – they’d pass around a list the day before (or at our lunch stop back in Te Anau on the first day) for you to indicate your preference so they can call ahead to let the lodge staff know how much to cook. It took the surprise away, but I guess it’s efficient for them and possibly reduces complaints from fussy eaters. The portions were a little on the small side, especially after a long day’s walk (certainly not the case on the first day), but there was salad and plain rice provided that you could help yourself to. Still, a 3 course meal of real food (more than freeze dried veges and noodles) that you didn’t have to cook yourself is not to be sneezed at, and we polished it off!

Day 2 menu options

A map to show you how far you’d come (or how far there was to go) and menu options.

Our room that night had no view – I was happy enough that it was out of the way and people weren’t walking by our window!

Day 1 Glade House guest rooms

The rooms at the front are the multi-share bunk style rooms. Our room was at the back of these.

The generator gets switched off at 10pm; they recommend that you leave your light switched on, so when the generator is turned on of a morning the lights coming back on act as your alarm clock. Not a bad idea! Being able to recharge my camera battery was appreciated, but until it went off the noise of the generator spoiled the serenity somewhat.

I don’t know how eco-friendly or green the houses/lodges are. I guess they don’t have to worry about water since they get 7-9 metres of rain per year, but flushing loo’s, no time limit on showers, fresh linen each day (I assume they must either wash and dry it all on site or fly it out), big kitchens, a big generator, regular helicopters transporting stuff in and out – it’s very commercial and a bit wasteful, in a way. At the same time, I recognise that it’s only way they can provide a consistent, quality experience for each person in each group that arrives each day. So many people want to come and see this place – I don’t know how they would operate it differently and still make the track available to so many people of different abilities.

Day 2: We walk from Glade House up the Clinton Valley to Pompolona Lodge.

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