Day Three of the Milford Track takes you from Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut, covering 14 kilometres and taking between six and seven hours.
In the morning a few Kea parrots turned up to harass any gear left outside (make sure you bring your boots inside overnight) as we set off around 8am for the hike up to Mackinnon Pass. Again it was a cloudy start and we climbed through mist, with occasional glimpses into the valley below. The vegetation began to change, with beautiful alpine plants becoming dominant.
At the pass the Quinton Memorial made a striking silhouette against the swirling clouds and a cold wind was suddenly blowing. The Scottish explorer Quinton McKinnon discovered this access route from Te Anau to Milford Sound in 1888 after years of trying. Imagining him battling with the climate and the terrain I felt grateful for the smooth track, my goretex waterproof gear and the dry huts!
It took us one-and-a-half-hours to get to the memorial from Mintaro and another half hour to the shelter, where you can sit inside out of the wind and make a cup of tea on the gas stoves. It is here that you are reminded again of the presence of the guided walkers as there are separate shelters!
By this time the cloud was clearing and we started our descent in brilliant sunshine enjoying the incredible views down into the Arthur Valley.
This is a long downhill, with a descent of 1,000 vertical metres, but not unrelentingly so and despite my earlier fears I didn’t find it too much of a strain on my knees.
Then the track drops back into the forest but a different forest from that we walked through before the pass. Here tall tree ferns tower over us rather than the old-man’s-beard-draped beech forest in the Clinton. We saw Tuis at last, the Parson of the bush with their white feathered throat and mimicking songs.
We stopped for lunch at the shelter by the exquisite Alexandra Cascades, where white water runs like silk over smooth, veined rock. The Dudleigh and Lindsay Falls are also both very beautiful, each in their own way.
Then it is down, down down to Quintin Shelter at last, where everybody flops down in the sun on the grass for a rest. Fat Kereru (Wood Pigeon) sit in the trees.
If you are feeling good after day two then try to make the extra side trip to Sutherland Falls. It is one-and-a-half-hours return walk (including plenty of photography time) to see the tallest waterfall in New Zealand, which is truly majestic. Have a cup of tea first (provided by the guided walking staff) at the shelter. Then it is an easy one hour to Dumpling Hut.
Dumpling is a newer hut than Mintaro, with smaller bunkrooms and a fancy solar-powered roof. Ranger Jen briefed us carefully on the weather forecast and made it clear that there was the possibility of a ‘situation’ tomorrow. Heavy rain was forecast to arrive in the night and she warned us we would have to skedaddle to avoid being trapped by the rising river.
As there are only beds for 30 trampers at each hut she didn’t want us to still be here when another group arrived from Mintaro that day. We went to bed even earlier than usual and awaited developments.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you hiked the Milford Track? Share your experiences!