Tag Archives: Hiking New Zealand

Hiking the Milford Track


Track Information
Day 1 – Glade Wharf – Clinton Hut
Day 2A – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut
Day 2B – Mintaro Hut Mackinnon Pass to Mintaro Hut
Day 3 – Mintaro Hut to Glade Wharf

Track Information

Milford Track is located in the unique Fiordland in New Zealand’s South Island. It is considered one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Read about my hikes in Abel Tasman Coastal Track , Kepler Track and Routeburn Track in previous posts. You can also see my Milford Track photos

-an early European explorer described Firodland as “utterly useless except for mountaineers”. Hence, that’s why it is still so pristine –

For independent hikers, registration and bookings are made through the Department of Conservation, Fiordland National Park. Booking is not only essential, book early as it is popular particularly between December and March. Milford Track had been sold by NZ tourism and is extremely popular with foreign tourist. I suggest booking on the shoulder season – early November and April to avoid the crowd. All booking must be confirmed at the DOC offices either in Queenstown or Te Anau prior to starting the track. Transport can be organised by Real Journeys and Tracknet. The Fiordland weather is unpredictable. Be prepared for mainly for rain and gusty cold wind.

This is normally a one – direction hike over four days. However, due to exceptional high rainfall in February, parts of the track including bridges had been damaged. The only road into Milford Sound had also been damaged. The 53.5km Milford Track had been re-branded as Southern Milford – Mackinnon Experience (52.3km). This required us to trek all the way up to Mackinnon Pass and return the same way in three days.

Day 1 – Glade Wharf – Clinton Hut

Departed Te Anau at 0945. It began as a cloudy day as we drove to Te Anau Downs to catch a ferry to our starting point of the hike.

There had been no rain in the Fiordlands for three days and it continued today. One local man said it was a drought. It was indeed, being one of the wettest places in the world. The bus journey to Te Anau Downs passed through pasture and farmlands. The morning sun rose behind the Earl Mountains and cast a beautiful lime green light on the moist pasture grasses. On the west is the shimmering Lake Te Anau. Closer towards Te Anau Downs we passed through native restored bush covered with spiky golden tussock grasses.


Start at Te Anau Downs

After an hour’s drive we arrived at Te Anau Downs jetty – the launching point to hike the Milford Track. This is the midpoint of the 65km North – South length of Lake Te Anau. The views are stunning. With rolling hills and blue -green mountains on the east and west, beyond the deep sapphire blue lake, the Kepler and Murchison Ranges rose to over 1600 meters.

We boarded the 10.30am Fiordland Express catamaran with several other hikers and day trippers. It was still cool as we prepared to depart. With hot coffee and sweet biscuits, I settled in for the journey. Soon after we took off, the reality of the cold winds hit us. I quickly zipped up my newly purchased yet-to-be-tested rain jacket.

With the Kepler Ranges behind us, we forged forward to unknown mountain ranges. A few islands are dotted around this vast freshwater glacial lake. One of them had Mackinnon Memorial Cross planted. The captain slowed down for us to pay our respects. Quintin Mackinnon disappeared on Lake Te Anau in 1892. His body was never found and presumed drowned. A small iron cross marked the site of the wreck.

Distant bluish mountains became more pronounced. We passed fiords and scarred mountain slopes. The wildness of the Fiordand began to appear. Like the lake itself, these mountains are also carved out from glacial actions. They seem impenetrable. Yet, thanks to men like Mackinnon, we too can take a similar journey through these majestic and remote mountains. Early Maori first travelled this route to get to Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) to collect greenstone (pounamu). After an hour plus, we arrived at Glade Wharf, the head of Lake Te Anau – the start of the Milford Track.

To protect the park, our shoes are disinfected at the jetty. With the obligatory pictures at the Milford Track signage taken, we set off. Today’s trek is short, just 5km to Clinton Hut. There was no rush. The trek immediately entered the beech forest. The walk, mainly under tree canopies, was soothing especially with the scorching sun. The ferry departed shortly after. The last of civilisation. The well laid stony track took us deeper into the forest. The familiar flora of the fiordland appeared – soft velvety ground spaghnum moss and hair-like lichens hanging from tree trunks and branches. I recognised totara, red beech, ferns and comprosoma plants. The filtered light through the hanging old man’s beard is striking. Parts of this forest still retained its primeval uniqueness. It is as old as in Gondwanaland.

Once we emerged out of the tree canopies, we entered a grassland. On the left is the slow flowing Clinton River. In the middle of the grassland – luxurious Glade House Lodge (used by hikers from the expensive guided walks) with mountains as the backdrop. Today’s short walk awarded us with plenty of time to wander. The shallow blue-green river flowed under a long suspension bridge. Trout thrived in these cold waters. A paradise duck just splash-landed on the water.

We crossed the first and long suspension bridge. Clinton River displayed several hues of colour ranging from emerald green to blue. Yellow algae on the rocks glowed in the shallows. The lush rainforest reflected in it’s crystal-clear waters. It was a serene setting. The bridge swayed with every step as we made our way across.


Clinton River

The river was absolutely stunning and inviting. It was cold though. The well laid track followed the bank of the Clinton River. Sunlight filteted through the beech canopy. Native birds like Tui, Robin and Fantails greeted us along the trek. I even spotted a Bell bird. At the confluence of Neale Burn and Clinton River, there were great views of Dore Pass – a range of mountains. Bare on top with lush vegetation below.

A side-track took us on boardwalks over a protected wetland. It is a fascinating place, with Mt Anau as the backdrop. Sphagnum moss covered ground is dotted with a reddish carnivorous plant – Sundew (Drosera genus). This is a fragile environment. Other bog plants include liverworts, shrubs, sedge, rushes and lilies. At the edge of the bog are a stand of juvenile silver beech trees.

Not long after, we arrived at Clinton Hut. It was a hot day. Like most trampers, once arriving at a hut, the first chore is to secure a bed. The hut warden, a lanky Ross, was busy doing maintenance work. He reminded me of Gandalf – the wizard from the Harry Potter movie. We decide to settle in with lunch and a wander around. The river is nearby.

Ross gave a talk on a raised platform behind the hut. The views of the surrounding forest, wetlands and mountains were outstanding. Ross, armed with a wooden staff, expounded his knowledge on the flora in the vicinity of the hut and river – including its medicinal use. It is one of the most interesting talks by a DOC hut warden.

The Clinton River flowed swiftly over rocks and moraines. I spotted a rare Whio (Blue Duck), feeding in the fast-flowing river, oblivious to our presence. The colour of the river is amazing. I was in disbelieve that this is Fiordland weather – blue sky, hot and clear day! A place which received over 200 days of rain. Judging the water level, the dryness of the track and surrounding vegetation, it had not rained for a while. Although it is not the best walking weather, Fiordland has a special beauty during or after a rain. Well, this is only day 1.

We tied the laces and hung the boots on hook outside the hut. This is to prevent the naughty Kea (alpine parrots) from ‘stealing’ them. There are no showers in these huts but toilets and running water is provided. Inside the hut, it is a hive of activity – pots clanging, steam and cooked food aroma filled the cosy room. More hikers arrived from the later boats. It was a mixed bunch of locals and foreigners. The hut was only 60% filled. Milford Track is highly sort after by foreigners since someone said that it is the “finest walk in the world”. Mass tourism, like in Queenstown, has its negative effects. Locals cannot be bothered to ‘chase’ the booking. Furthermore, there are other track options and less crowded. Milford Track has a reputation of being the dirtiest resulting from uncaring tourist. Although toilets are provided, they think it is permissible to ‘shit’ anywhere (understandably, in some cases unavoidable). This unwanted behavior has marred this pristine environment.

Like in other DOC huts, there is always a sort of camaraderie amongst the hikers. The groups and loners mingle with the experienced and novices. Everyone had a story to tell. Later in the evening, Ross returned to give the obligatory hut talk. He is a delightful character. With good weather forecast, inside information on ‘things’ to see along the way, he recorded our bookings. After our ready-to-eat Indian meals, we slept early. The stars were out. Nearby is a glow-worm grotto. I gave it a miss. Doors opened and shut; floorboards squeaked with heavy footsteps; bunks creaked as bodies turned inside sleeping bags and plastic mattresses. It is always uneasy for me being a light sleeper. I was quietly hoping to hear a Kiwi bird shriek in the nearby bush.

Day 2A – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut

Breakfast is something to look forward to. Not only to prepare the body but also the mind on today’s hike. We left early around 7am, considering that it would be an extended walk. Today’s walk will cover 26.5km (including the return hike to Mackinnon Pass).

It was still slightly dark outside. I managed to check out the glow worm grotto. They still emitted light but barely visible. No Kiwi bird cries either. Snorers and ‘movers’ kept me awake. The track continued along Clinton River heading northwards. Ross mentioned to look out for an old telephone post. I missed it but managed to spot some insulators stuck into trees. These are the remnant of the old telephone system linking the huts. At this stage, the track was easy and under tree canopy.

Nearby mountains reflected on the emerald green water and evidence of uprooted trees can be spotted sporadically. The forest is a mixture of Silver Beech, broad-leaves and ferns. Just before the 5th mile, the North and West Clinton Rivers merged. The track moved west from hereon. More open area began to appear. A couple of Kereru (Pigeon), the affable Robin and Bell Birds made their home here. The mountains opened up further.

As we approached the 7th mile marker, the bush weaned, and an unexpected clearing appeared. A expansive view of the U-shaped valley opened up. This is the beginning of the Clinton Valley. On both sides of the track, mountains, some with snowy peaks, rose perhaps 1000 meters vertically into the blue sky. The half-moon was still in the sky.

We made good progress. However, the distance that lay ahead played in my mind. Always calculating if we had enough daylight to reach Mintaro Hut and press on to Mackinnon Pass and return to the hut. It was certainly an uneasy state of mind that is not warranted under the normal four-day hike to Sandfly Point (at Milford Sound). We pressed on. I imagined the number of impromptu waterfalls on the mountains if it had rained. Another unusually dry and sunny day in Fiordland. The track is now through scrub-land. The Clinton River was distant, closer to the mountains.

Ten minutes later, in the valley, we spotted still water that reflected the mountains. This included the Pampalona Ice Fields. Trees, including Silver Beech, had been washed away due to landslide. This created the normal flow to be disrupted and a Dead Lake was formed. The water is darker with organic matter leached from the dead trees. Trout and eels thrived here. Perhaps, someday, with heavy rainfall, this lake may re-invent itself.

Past the Dead Lake, we re-entered the beech forest. Beyond the bush line, on the slopes of a bare mountain, a series of cascading waterfalls – Hirere Falls (about 100meters). Due to the drier weather, the flow volume was low. It resembled a white shoelace. The Hirere Shelter and toilet is tucked under the trees. At the top of the mountains, a little snow. We approached a beautiful part of the forest – the bluish Clinton River with lichen covered forest. I spotted a Kereru (pigeon) and a Tui. It was serene and very primeval.

It is in places like Clinton Valley where rain would have transformed the view – literally with 1000 waterfalls on either side of the mountains. We must be contended with the few we have today.

A single Robin perched on a Silver Beech tree branch, kept us company. The trees here are slightly shorter. Around 10 am, we arrived at the first viewpoint of Mackinnon Pass. The beech forest thinned out and opened into a second canyon mainly with shrubs. Not far away, we arrived at detour to Hidden Lake. The views were stunning. Grasses grew on the sides of the track.


Hidden Lake

We don’t want to push too hard that we become tired by the time we reach Mintaro Hut and little gas left to hike up to the pass. If too slow, the danger is hiking in fading light.

At Hidden Lake, the mountain was half covered in shadow. A small volume of water, like a thin ribbon, cascaded down into a dark lake. The water is icy cold. A pleasant detour indeed. Looking back, we have come a long way into the middle of the valley. It is in places like this that one lingers longer. About 30 minutes later, another signage – Prairie Lake. All of us, wanting to get to Mintaro early decided to carry on.

The track seemed to pass through pockets of beech forest along the banks of the Clinton River. I heard some sound. Three rare Whio (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) – Blue Duck, just landed on the bluish cold water’s surface. It was interesting to observe these birds in their natural environment. Whio are endemic to New Zealand, a vulnerable species and possibly facing extinction. Currently, the numbers are around 3000.

Lime green lichens hanging from tree branches, the turquoise blue river, the white pebbles and the lush multi-hued green forest were all very enticing. This is the magic of fiordland. Finally, the beech forest revealed a second valley. Here it is populated with grasses – like a prairie. It also presented fantastic views of the entire valley. Mountains rose to over 1000 meters on either side as we made our way through the grassland. A single duck foraged for food in a slow-moving stream.

We decided to have lunch in this scenic spot at Prairie Shelter. Unfortunately, the sand flies were furious here. Even with my repellent on, these nasty flies managed to find untreated spots. I hurriedly eat lunch and moved on. It is essential to bring insect repellent. A little Weka wandered around looking for a meal.

It took me almost two and half hours to cross Clinton Valley. Around 1145, we reached the Bus Stop Shelter. Beyond here is a very rocky climb over Marlene Creek. This is a dangerous crossing in bad weather. Best to stay in the shelter and wait out the storm or flooding. The climb can be treacherous. I crossed a movable metal bridge where only a trickle of water flowed in the creek. Red and green mould covered some of the rocks. The surrounding is littered with colourful wildflowers .

Some pest traps lay on the grass. We re-entered the beech forest and passed the Pampolona Lodge used by the guided walks. This is a great spot to see both the views towards Mintaro hut and the journey we had taken via the Clinton Valley.

The track ascended towards St Quintin Falls lookout. Beyond the mountain range is Mackinnon Pass. Heavy cloud descended upon the mountains near the pass. Above the fall, a small ice fields, mostly covered in clouds. As we progressed, we entered another valley. It was denser with vegetation and steep mountains. Clusters of ferns appeared on the sides of the track. It was a long walk as we passed the 13th mile marker. The day was still bright with blue sky.

We arrived at Mintaro Hut around 1320. We had walked 16.5 km so far. Our journey today had not ended. On the normal Milford Track, this is the end of Day 2. However, with the revised route, if we wanted to see Mackinnon Pass, we must do it today. I felt rushed. We sorted out our beds, chucked our packs and had a quick snack. After 20 minutes, we continued our hike. There were not many hikers here. Perhaps, they had all departed. Unlike my group of senior hikers, a group of young local hikers were in no rush. I was sure they will pass us soon.

Day 2B – Mintaro Hut to Mackinnon Pass to Mintaro Hut

We headed to the hardest part of the hike – to Mackinnon Pass. Mintaro Hut is at 700 meters and the highest point at the pass is at 1154 meters. Today’s hike will be about 500 meters height gain. The initial part of the track is through the rainforest. We passed a serene Mintaro Lake. Spring water appeared to fill the lake. There was not much time to explore. Such was our itinerary. We crossed a swing bridge over a dry and rocky Clinton River. Here, the river was not as majestic as downstream.

The track was well laid track through the forest. Someone was cutting grass with a trimmer. It turned out to be Andrea – the warden at the Lake Howden Hut on the Routeburn. After a steady climb, the bush gave way to an alpine terrain (at 900 meters plus). The gravel and rocks laid track gave way to stony uneven track.

The track zig-zagged up. I was slow at this point. Fortunately, I did not have my large backpack on me. I would be truly knocked out. With progressive ascending, the views evolved. The sun shined brightly and the sky blue. It was stunning. A rare occurrence in Milford.

Looking down, was the green Clinton Valley and in front a bowl-shaped valley – Nicolas Cirque. This valley had been gauged out by retreating glaciers. Very little pockets of snow and ice remained. One slope had heavy scaring resulting from a recent landslide. Several trails cut vertically on the slopes. These are left behind by streams during downpours and a rocky riverbed can be seen snaking out of the valley. This would then feed into the Clinton River. No wonder, the river we crossed earlier looked dry – no rain. Walking carefully on the movable large pieces of rock, we ascended.

Alpine plants populated the slopes. A curious Rock Wern (Piwauwau), one of the rarest alpine dwelling bird species, darted between the plants. This included the Mountain Daisy (Tikumu). I caught my first sight of Mackinnon Memorial, to commemorate Quintin Mackinnon, on the saddle. On my left is Mt Hart (1770m) and on the right Mt Balloon (1847 m). With a little more huff and puff, I made it to the pass. I was a relieved. The tiredness dilapidated with the surrounding sight. With the setting sunlight, it was stunning. Within minutes, the clouds moved in and cast a dark shadow. In Milford, some say there are four seasons not in a day but in an hour. It had not rained here for four days now. It is a drought by fiordland standards.

Imagine, besides a single road from Te Anau to Milford Sound and the Milford Track, nothing much had changed for ions. Fiordlands ancient beauty is here for all whom ventured. The views from the slope of Mt Hart towards Arthur Valley and beyond was exhilarating. The memorial blended with the surrounding grey mountains. There was no wind. The clouds moved rapidly giving Lake Ella, an alpine tarn, an organic black and sky blue appearance.

Incredibly, there was hardly any ice or snow on the mountain peaks except on Jervious Glacier (on Mt Elliot). Most of the other hikers were already resting on the opposite side of the pass. Beyond the edge is a very steep slope. I accidentally stumbled very close to the edge. My heartbeat jumped. There are no barriers. It can be very dangerous particularly in poor weather. On the left of Mt Balloon is the half obscured Mt Elliot (1984m). The evening light was incredible. From the edge, at the foot of Mt Pillans (1391m), l could make out Quintin Lodge, a airstrip and Arthur River in the green valley below. The original Milford Track continued through Arthur Valley to Dumpling Hut and eventually to Milford Sound at Sandfly Point. Not for us today though. We returned to Mintaro Hut.

Around 1630, we retraced our steps down the rocky switchbacks. High in the blue sky, I heard a couple of Kea’s high-pitched calls. The bright red colors under their wings visible as the flew past. Both soles of my feet started to hurt due to the pounding from the extended walk. We passed a playful Tomtit (bird) and varieties of sub-alpine and rainforest plants. Around 1800, a side-track took me to a picturesque of Mintaro Lake below Mt Balloon. In the stream nearby a duck foraged for food. Sumant, from our tracking group, was keen to have a swim in the cold water. He is a regular in these cold waters. Not me.

I was glad to return to Mintaro Hut. It had been a long days’ walk – 26.5km! I felt we were always weary of the time. We are not fast or strong walkers. The Milford Experience has been rushed. Today’s walk began with the thought of getting enough time to get to Mackinon Pass and return (before nightfall). Tomorrow’s walk will be chasing the 1630 ferry. This will also be an extended walk. From here to Clinton Hut and onward to Glade Wharf. For now, it was time to recoup, have dinner and rest at the hut. Lovely Andrea, hut warden, gave us the usual talk plus a fascinating story, amongst a few, about Milford Sound. It was Miso with noodles tonight. As usual, stories are exchanged. It wasn’t too cold today. Hopefully get some sleep.

the story –

“Milford Sound or in Maori, Piopiotahi was carved out by demi-god, Tu Te Rakiwhanoa. He was given the task of shaping the Fiordland coast. He started hacking the rocks with an axe, from the bottom of South Island west coast and worked his way north. With each creation, he got better and better. His final work, Piopiotahi – was his best and a masterpiece.

However, the underworld goddess Hinenui-te-po saw the fiord’s beauty, she feared that the visitors would never leave. So, she released sand flies to keep them away”.

Day 3 – Mintaro Hut to Glade Wharf

We got up early and prepared to leave around 0730. It is always tricky trying to leave early as some hikers are still asleep. I usually pack all my stuff in the evening and remove my stuff and packs into the kitchen for packing. There is a need to be considerate of others.

By a “natural selection” process – the early and late leavers, there is not much waiting time for the stoves. Everyone has their own rhythm of getting ready, breakfadt and packing. It is interesting to watch all these unique antics.

Today’s walk, 21km, is to retrace our hike not only to Clinton Hut but all the way to Glade Wharf in time to catch the 1630 ferry. They do not wait. Fortunately, my pack is lighter, and the soles of my feet less sore.

We entered the beech forest and retraced our track back through Clinton Valley. There was still no sign of rain. Quite extraordinary. Will climate change here sustain this magical landscape and diversity? There will be no rain forest without rain. Newer species of plants may replace the rainforest. Lichens and moss will likely be the first to disappear. We stopped briefly admiring Quintin Falls against the lush forest.

Just before Marlene Creek, I encountered a large group of guided hikers. It cost’s between $2200 and $3500. These hikers carried less in their packs as food and lodges are provided. Several guides inter-spaced between the high paying guest as the hikers scrambled along the track. I asked a guide at the back, “what happens with the slowest hikers? She sheepishly replied, ” that why I had to wait for them”.

Several of them could hardly move over this rugged terrain including on the flats. Even with walking poles to assist, the unfit struggled to move. Foreigners might join Ultimate Hikes to do the Milford Track without any thought of training and getting fit. Since we are in New Zealand, let’s do the most famous track. They were literally gasping for air and some hunched against the rocks. In my mind, I questioned, how are some of these, literally overweight and unfit “hikers” going to cross Mackinnon Pass? Then, scramble down all the way to Quintin Lodge? Fortunately, today’s hike will end shortly for them at Pampalona Lodge with wine, fine dining and warm beds waiting. In contrast, “total comfort provided in the last place you’d expect – in a wilderness experience!”. Well at least, they will cross over the pass and descend to see Sunderland Falls, pass Dumpling Hut and onward as they will be airlifted from Quintin lodge. Hence, the high cost.

Around 0900, we reached the rocky Marlene Creek. We crossed a series of bridges and scrambled over red and green mould covered boulders and rocks. Further up, we could see Clinton Valley. Lee Cheng and I briefly stopped at the Bus Stop Shelter. The great thing about these mountains in the Fiordland is, the water levels rise quickly and dangerously fast. At the same time, they subside rapidly as well. Sometimes waiting for a while may be detrimental to your safety.

I headed off on a sign posted detour to Prairie Lake around 1000. The others in my group continued (in order to get to the wharf on time). It is a stunning site. The exposed multi – coloured bare marble-like rocks reflected in the still clear but cold water. It is a small lake. Algae and lichens hung onto the steep slopes. Perhaps, during a rainfall, waterfalls may appear and feed the lake. Today, only a trickle of water fell. If not for chasing time, this would make a great lunch break instead of the dreaded, sand fly manifested, Prairie Shelter. I did not linger too long and re-joined the main track and into the Clinton Valley.

Traps are still deployed by DOC to exterminate introduced rodents that is killing our endemic wildlife. Along the track, one tree that attracted me is the Tree Fuschia (Kotukutuku) with its brownish-orange bark peeling off like a Eucalyptus. Having hiked three tracks in the Fiordland, I am just beginning to really ‘see’ the flora of this unique habitat.

The light on the lichen draped beech trees and crystal-clear Clinton River was stunning. The yellow algae covered rocks further enhanced its beauty. The impressive Pampalona Ice Field hung high above the green Clinton Valley,close to the Hirere Falls. We revisited the Dead Lake. With every major event like rivers bursting its banks or earthquake and, in this event, landslides – can alter the natural flow of rivers and re-shape mountains. Avalanches, are common in these mountains and can have huge impact on the track and landscape. However, they do create spectacular sights.

A couple of DOC contractors were having their tea break. These contractors maintain the upkeep of the tracks including repairing the gravel tracks. It can be back breaking job and thanks to them, especially after severe damage caused along sections of the track due to massive rainfall in February, we can hike today. Camera traps had also been set up to understand wildlife. I thought I saw a kiwi on the track in daylight (which is not common). It turned out to be an endemic and vulnerable cheeky Weka.

We reached Clinton Hut around 1300. The soles of my feet hurt again and was glad to have a break. Now, we were certain about the time to catch the only ferry back to Te Anau Downs. It is this uncertainty (timing) that made us walk quicker and sometimes miss the little things. I don’t like to be rushed and this track did exactly that. With my boots removed, and a hot cup of coffee and snacks, I was relaxed once again.

Some might say it is a different perspective walking the opposite direction of the same track. Well, not for me though. Today’s return walk to Glade Wharf is “similar” and quite uneventful. The major difference is the race to the boat and the light. We passed through the red beech forest and the interesting old telephone memorabilia. We arrived at the final bridge crossing of the Clinton River around 1445. The colour is an amazing azure blue to emerald green.

Lee Cheng and I were now relaxed and knew that there is plenty of time to get to the ferry. We sat on the small grassy field beside the swing bridge. We listened to the mellow flow of the shallow river, bird songs and the occasional rustling of the trees as the breeze blew. It was great. From here, the Clinton River made its way and drain into Lake Te Anau.

This track had been bitter-sweet. The Southern Milford – Mackinnon Experience is a little too long and saddened that we had not completed the full track although understandable. We had the choice to re-book to another date. The dryness of the fiordland environment may have contributed to a less “spectacular” experience particularly with rivers, streams and waterfalls. This is not synonym with the wet fiordland. However, getting to Mackinnon Pass and rewarded with spectacular mountain and valley vista was great. This is further enhanced by the fact that we had slogged, and feel “raced” to get there.

Again, I thought about the high paying guided walkers. Well kitted but unfit. Will they all make it unscathed to Quentin Lodge. Another 40 hikers from the same outfit passed us and rather looked fresh and excited. They were all foreigners. Some might have the idea this track is a walk in a park. I liked their enthusiasm though.

As I passed Glade House, the wine glasses on the table and waiters tending to guest made me wonder again – do we really want this kind of comfort in a wilderness place like this? With all comforts provided. I doubt any kiwi would resort to this. Perhaps, fear of being pampered and lost that ‘can do kiwi attitude’. If it is not pride, the cost will certainly deter most locals. Personally, to each his or her own – an opportunity to get into the interior and experience the magic of fiordland. We arrived at the wharf with an hour to spare. Today’s hike was another long 21km.

Some of the hikers arrived here in smaller water taxi boats. Ours was with Real Journeys, a catamaran. Looking at the size, I am glad we are in a bigger boat especially if the weather gets a little stormy, as they do in these parts. It was time to unwind, kick off the boots, smelly socks and soak a bit of the southern sun. I walked along the shore and soaked my feet in the water. It was warm but not enough for me to want to jump in. In the boat, with coffee in my hand we sailed passively back to Te Anau Downs. At the beginning of the hike – the mountains were like strangers. This time, I felt a satisfaction that Lee Cheng and I had done this track. I looked at the mountains and wondering which one we had walked past. It is like bidding farewell to an acquaintance. We arrived Te Anau Downs at 1730. A shuttle bus brought us back to Te Anau. Well done to our team on successfully completing the 52.5km Southern Milford – Mackinnon Experience.

This is a wonderful trek encompassing fiords and alpine sceneries. Was it the “finest walk in the world”? Not really, but still a decent hike. The lack of rain and the modified long trekking route, did not help. Perhaps, the track beyond Mackinnon Pass is much more scenic and rewarding. We won’t know!

Milford Track photos

In mid-March this year, I hiked the Milford Track. Not exactly Milford Track but the DOC modified The Southern – Mackinnon Experience. The reason – exceptionally high rainfall in February had caused heavy damage to the track and washed away bridges. On the Routeburn Track, a hut was completely crushed. The only road in and out of Milford Sound was not spared either. This resulted in completely closure of the road. Furthermore, Covid 19 was spreading around the world. A week after we completed this track, New Zealand went into total lock-down (Level 4)and closed its businesses, schools and borders.

However, with repairs and maintenance, we had an opportunity to experience this track, albeit partially. These are my photos of that hike. Please read my Hiking the Milford Track  story in the next post.

 

 

Hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Table of Contents

Day 1 – Marahu to Anchorage
Day 2 – Anchorage Bay to Bark Bay
Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa
Day 4 – Awaroa to Whariwharangi Bay
Day 5 – Whariwharangi Bay to Totaranui via Separation Point

Day 1, Nov 23, 2018 – Marahu to Anchorage (12.4km)

Departed Nelson at 7am with the temperature around 7°C. This weeks’ weather in the South Island is unusual, meaning some bad weather is round the corner and may affect our track. We were prepared for it with appropriate gear. Arrived at Marahu by shuttle bus from Nelson around 8am. Once all the paper work was sorted at DOC office, we handed over our packs to be transported by water taxi. We were off around 8.30 am on our coastal track which started immediately opposite the office. It began as a cool day with strong shine just edging over the lush green mountains.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage
Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage

The track is well defined and started as wooden planks over a marsh. Today’s hike would take us about 4 hrs covering 12.4 km. A few kayaks on the water off Tinline Bay. Took a detour towards Tinline Nature Walk. Native bush with small but fast flowing streams. Arrived at secluded and a little stony Apple Tree Bay around 11 am.  The sun shined brightly. Across the water are smaller Fisherman and Adele islands. It was a beautiful day. Walking amongst the native bush, mainly beech forest and kanuka tress, was exhilarating. Silver and black tree ferns provided variety in the bush. The track meandered inland mainly under the canopy of trees. It offered shade. The gradient was gentle, suitable to most average hikers.  Detoured towards Pitt Head. Fantastic view of emerald green and turquoise water of bays, beaches and coves. Water taxis and boats shuffled around transporting people, kayaks and luggage to various spots along a wonderful coast. Something unusual was, there is no wind at all. On the water, not even a ripple! Avid kayakker’s paddled gently on the blue – green waters. As we approached Anchorage, the tall tree canopy gave way to shrubs as we climbed uphill. Here, it offered 360 degrees view of water and mountains. Finally, we arrived at beautiful Anchorage Bay around 2pm.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage

An inviting crescent golden sand beach lay before us. The beach was crowded with trampers and mostly day trippers via water taxis. On the water, boats and kayaker were busy. We picked up our pack from the beach. Our hut was cozy and with 24 bunk beds. From here, headed to Cleopatra Pool. The light on the water along the way was amazing. It was unbelievably clear. The refreshing pool had a natural slide (perhaps for slimier and smaller bodies).  The water was cold. The return walk was 1.5 hrs.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage


At dinner time, I was quite excited to cook with my newly purchased pots and stove. All the huts on this track only provide shelter, a bed and mostly unpurified water. No showers nor power either. There was a camaraderie amongst the hikers. Most were foreigners. Later in the cloudy evening, I strolled on a empty beach only to the sound of water gently lapping on the shore. Still no breeze.

Day 2, Nov 24, 2018 –  Anchorage Bay to Bark Bay (8.7km)

After a quick breakfast, we left calm Anchorage Bay around 0630. The sun was just peeking through thick clouds. Oyster catchers and cormorants were the only residents on the beach. The reason for the early departure is to walk across Torrent Bay Inlet at low tide. This would save us an hour’s hike on the high tide track (11.7km). Therefore, when planning to hike in the park, knowledge on tide time is critical especially on Day 4, across Awaroa Bay Inlet. There is no high tide track.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay
Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

There is an open expanse of sand and mud at Torrent Bay Inlet. A stream of water flowed out to sea that must be negotiated. Probably from Cleopatra’s Pool and Torrent River. At places, it was just below my knee. We waded through the inlet in about 20 minutes. That led us through a quiet Torrent Village. They were perhaps holiday homes. It was a substantial village. From here-on the track meandered inland passing through several streams. The lush forest kept hiking cool.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

Around 9am, we crossed a wonderfully clear Falls River via a suspension bridge. Sunken logs clearly visible under water with old man’s beard (lichen), hung off trees on the river banks. Towards the later part of the track, it drizzled lightly. It became darker under the trees, shrubs and tree ferns canopy. Having left early this morning meant we arrived early at our hut at Bark Bay, around 1115. It was high tide. Collected out pack from the beach near the camp sites. It was slightly wet from the late afternoon drizzle. Bark Bay hut had 34 bunks.  I took a quick cold shower, courtesy from a hose. Time for some lunch and rest. The day stayed gloomy and the sky grey. The resident DOC staff, Phill, was a humorous guy with lots of information and wise cracks. We managed to get a ‘private room’.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay


It became routine to start dinner early. Lights through solar power lit the dining room intermittently. I had packed some miso with noodles and rice with ready to eat Indian meals. As per day 1, there were lots of meal sharing. Some of us had packed too much food. I strolled out to the bay, at low tide, walked across soft sandy beach. Some hiker had collected mussels off the rocky coast for dinner! Still, there was no wind! The surrounding forest was still as it was well sheltered. Early to bed but no need to catch the low tide the next day. Both low tide and high tide tracks took about the same time to walk. Sleep in huts is never easy as hikers sleep in close proximity. Ear plug might be a solution.

Day 3, Nov 25, 2018 –  Bark Bay to Awaroa (13.5 km)

Sleep was partial in the hut. Breakfast was chapati with condensed milk and coffee, carbohydrates for the morning walk. From the hut, I could barely make out the orange signage indicating the low tide track. All along the track, there are signage and markers (triangular or round), especially along the coastal track. The track is well maintained. We left around 0730. Deposited our packs on the beach for collection by water taxi to our next stop, Awaroa. We took the high tide track, which led inland.  The day was cloudy but no rain or wind. The air was muggy and cool under the coastal forest canopy. A sea of Manuka trees and tree ferns hindered views of the sea.

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa
Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

Crossed the Waterfall Creek via another suspension bridge. Water swiftly flowed over boulders towards the sea. Along the track, you would see yellow wasp traps and other traps set up by DOC. We eventually descended towards Tonga Quarry. Little remains of the granite quarry reminded us of past settlers’ life. Across the water, Tonga Island. Now, seals had taken refuge here. After another bush walk, views of idyllic Onetahuti Beach emerged. Rocky outcrops, emerald green water and golden sand beach made it an inviting proposition. Kayaks laid on the beach. A great place for lunch.

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

We continued crossing a Maori bridge and an all tide crossing boardwalk. This diversion meant, no more waiting for the tidal crossing on Onetahuti Beach. From the beach, it is uphill walk into the Tonga Saddle. We reached a signage, Awaroa Lodge and Awaroa Hut. We head towards Awaroa Lodge as our packs are deposited at Awaroa Beach, next to the lodge. This is private land, a non-DOC track. If the timing for a low tide crossing is possible, take this track. Perhaps have some tea and lunch at the Lodge while waiting for the tide to drop. We arrived around 1200, collected our packs but made a ‘big’ decision. Although we had bookings at Awaroa Hut, we decided to stay at the lodge for the night. Hot shower and a fancy meal. A little indulgence to sample all of Able Tasman Park. There is a pizza outlet as well. Stunning Awaroa Beach was recently passed on from private to public ownership through crowd funding. Water taxis collected and dropped off passengers, day trippers and lodge customers. A big day tomorrow, to cross the Awaroa Inlet. There is no high tide option!

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

Nearby, there is a small grassy airstrip to bring the well-to-do customer to the lodge. Planes have been flying in and out throughout the day. Finally, the ‘unusual’ weather that hit South Island descended on us. At dinner time, it poured heavily, and it continued through the night. We carefully packed all our packs as from here-on, there is no public water taxi service.  At least, a comfortably bed tonight.

Day 4, Nov 26, 2018 – Awaroa to Whariwharangi Bay (16.9 km)

We woke up to the sound of rain. Today is critical that we cross the Awaroa Inlet at low tide. There is no other option. Bags water proofed, rain gear on (including a poncho) and with a spirit of adventure, we headed out towards Awaroa Hut. We left around 0630. Low tide crossing can be made with two hours on either side of the lowest level. Need to make allowances for the main crossing, that would take about 30 minutes. . First, we walked on the grassy airstrip. We could all be easily sported with our bright rain coats. The first crossing is a river crossing. Then onto the beach towards the hut. We stopped at the hut to make breakfast and a sense of ‘comradeship’ developed as we met other fellow hikers on the same route. In a short time friendship is bonded. Everyone was preparing for the low tide crossing. We packed and headed out around 0745. High tide would come in around 0830. Bare footed, we walked across fast flowing streams from ankle to knee depth. Beware of crustaceans and soft mud. Low cloud hung over nearby mountains. There was a breeze.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi

Once across, we scrambled in the, fortunately, light rain to get our boots on. Tree canopies provided shelter from the rain until Waiharakeke Bay. We were exposed to the elements. The sea was a little rough. I had packed too much, and it began to weigh on me. Eventually, we arrive at Totaranui around 1100. This seems to be a hub of activities. Camping grounds, road transport to Takaka and Nelson is available plus water taxi service.  Tomorrow, we will return to Totaranui to catch a water taxi back to Marahu. There is also a museum about Able Tasman National Park.  It was a little reprieve from the continued rain. In a designated hut, we prepared lunch. However, watch out the mischievous Weka birds that has affinity to anything packaged. Food basically. Please do not feed the Weka as there is plentiful in the surrounding area.

We took the high tide track pass historic Ngarata Homestead and re-entered the forest. There is an alternate route via the Gibbs Track. Soon we were descending again towards the coast at Anapai Beach.  The rain ceased around 1300. It was a relief. It was a long track on the beach and hike inland again to dense forest. There were great views of Anapai Beach.  We then crossed several hills and passed a grassy field towards an orange triangular track marker to Mutton Cove. This is a camping site. The sea was still rough. From this point, we head inland and direct route to Whiriwharangi Hut.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi

The climb was uphill. There is a great viewpoint looking down at the bays and rugged coastline. From her-on is downhill, which pleased me. We arrived at this 1896 Whiriwharangi Bay Hut around 1645. The hut has 20 bunk beds. There was a sense of ‘having arrived’ at the hut. There was laughter and warmth from the fireplace. Now we can truly appreciate the walk, the landscape and the eco-system with time on our hands. We removed all the wet gear and footwear to dry out. Time to unwind with a nice hot cup of condensed milk coffee. Later, a proper but cold shower. From here, hikers may depart to Wanui (and onward road transport) or like us back to Totaranui. It has been a long day. Our final meal prepared on my no-so new pots and stove.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi

 

Day 5, 27 Nov, 2018 – Whariwharangi Bay to Totaranui via Separation Point (10.5 km)

Today is our last day of hiking. Returning to Totaranui to catch a water taxi back to Marahau and onward by shuttle to Nelson. It did rain last night but looks promisingly good this morning. I strolled the compound around 0600. A single Tui bird fed on nectar of a flax plant.

We left around 0830 and wandered around isolated Whariwharangi Bay. A gradual climb brought us to a junction. One path leads directly to Totaranui (later with another option, that is,via Gibbs Hill).  This is a better option if wanting to walk via Gibbs Hill and not the other way (ie Totaranui to Whiriwharangi via Gibbs Hill). The accent is difficult especially in wet weather. The second path is a detour via Separation Point. Today, we decided to head to Separation Point.

Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

[caption id="attachment_9864" align="alignleft" width="300"] Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

We came across many kill traps set up by DOC to get rid of introduced pest like rodents. Flowering Lupine can be found in small clusters. It was a gradual walk and from the hills, we had a fantastic view of Mutton Cove. On a narrow path we edged towards Separation Point around 1000. The water was absolutely clear. At the bottom of the rocky beach, fur laid sunning on the rocks while some swam happily in the water. On a steep path, I descended to the edge of this rocky outcrop. Lots of flax, prickly plants and gorse bushes along the path. Besides seal, gannets also make this isolated place home, when in season. Beyond this point is the Tasman Sea.

We retraced our walk steep uphill climb and back inland. Soon we were back on the sandy coast, Mutton Cove. We had to negotiate some rocky outcrops to proceed. A giant male seal choose to rest on the rocks. Carefully, with one eye on the seal and the other on the shifting rock, we managed to continue out track along the coast. Soon we found the familiar Anapai Beach.

Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

Finally, we arrived at Totaranui around 1330. We rested at the museum and waited for our water taxi pick-up. Plenty of sand-flies. We boarded at 1500. It was a fantastic and smooth ride. We stopped over at Tonga and Adele Islands. A small colony of fur seal had taken refuge here. The whole boat was loaded onto a tractor-trailer and hauled back to Marahu. Arrived at around 1630. After a long day, we returned to the comforts of a modern apartment in Neslon.

The Able Tasman National Park is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). There is plentiful of information and booking opportunities on-line. Huts must be booked in advance to avoid disappointments during peak seasons. This track is open all year round (no snow in the coastal region, yet!) Water taxis are at your convenience which enable you to get into the park at various destinations and time spent. Insect repellent is advised to keep sand flies in check. Travel light with all-weather gear, food and cooking utensils (including stove). Beware of the tidal timings as it may be crucial for onward travel (especially when no high tide alternative track is not available). Daily information is updated in all the huts by the rangers. Talk to them as they are local with wealth of information. Enjoy the spectacular tidal change, lagoons, fast flowing streams, isolated cove, native forest, emerald-green and turquoise water and beautiful golden sand beaches. Throw in the birds and wild life, Able Tasman Coastal Track is simply amazing.