Tramping: The Milford Track

Sunk costs and sunk spirits collide with amazing scenery on this much anticipated fail-tramp of the Milford Track over summer with Claire’s parents.

Milford Track 17-20.01.2021

The four of us arrive to the wharf and it isn’t raining. We stick the carkey in a lockbox and leave the car, knowing we’ll see it in four days over in Milford Sound as it’s being driven over for us to drive back. There are two boats waiting, a small tin watertaxi and a huge catamaran.

We’re in the small tin watertaxi. It bounces on the waves, bow pointing into the ominous grey cloud and mist. After an hour, the mist turns to rain – and we disembark at Glade Wharf for our exciting Milford journey.

My partners-in-dampness

There is no shelter at the wharf, so we skedaddle promptly with the other 40 trampers. We are Claire, Claire’s parents Bev and Martin, and myself. Despite the rain I am snug as a bug; I’d looked at the weather forecast, freaked out and bought rainpants and a new raincoat.

Despite having wonderful co-trampers this wasn’t the most amazing tramp, so I will deviate from regular reporting.

Basically, I resent having had to walk this walk. Metservice had forecast ~230mm or something overnight, something insane – the earlier walkers of the day before had been airlifted out from the other side of the pass, and the weather was forecast for more of the worst. But DOC said the track was open, so open it is. I would have bailed if I had control over my own plan, but DOC take over on the Great Walk. If they say it’s open it’s open and you lose money if you don’t go, even if it’s quite obviously going to close on you halfway.

So with a bit of impending doom we wander up the rainy valley, past the fancy rich-person Glade House and on to Clinton Hut. It rains.

Clinton Hut

40 people make for a loud time.

In the morning, it rains some more. We get walking.

The canyon is spectacular, no doubt!

Walking in the rain
More water
Smiles in the rain
Spectacular waterfalls in the rain

We are the last to arrive at Hut number 2, Mintaro. It is also loud with 40 people.

The rain hammers down. It starts hailing. The DOC ranger appears and explains that ‘the track is closed’. So tomorrow, we have a day in the hut in the hail and the rain with the 40 people in loud groups who also don’t understand hut etiquette.

In the evening, the ranger explains that we shouldn’t waste the gas – it is running low. Shortly after, one of the walkers is caught holding their sock over the gas hob with a pair of tongs, hoping to dry it.

Mintaro Hut. Great spot though

So I have my first day stuck in a hut. A day I would never have walked myself into because I actually plan my trips, but did because DOC forced my hand.

It was pretty arse, though I did do some sewing to fix the camera bag and other little odds and sods. The hut is dark, so dark and gloomy all day with no space to breathe.

There were some cute moments I will remember, like there was a personal trainer there. She organised a personal training session and Claire joined in, lifting slabs of firewood for weights and planking on the picnic table.

The DOC ranger was a professional sweetheart, and made the whole lot of us a bunch of scones.

Others making a snowman at Mintaro Hut

While we sat around all day because ‘the track is closed’, the rich people groups walked by – miserable in the weather, but crossing the pass anyway.

In the morning, we leave the same way we came in. We haven’t time to do the crossing now, one day short.

There were some Aucklanders out too. This was their second attempt at the pass and they were foiled again. Their leader was adamant they’d return, they’d get there next time – personally I’m not bothered to return.

One of the other trampers had an inreach. Through various messages they managed to get their 12 year old son to get a driver to go back to Milford and drive the car back to Te Anau Downs, so that was a nice and expensive adventure for the car anyway.

Mintaro hut surrounds

If you’re reading a negative vibe in this tale, you’re not wrong! But that was just my experience. Don’t get me wrong, the Milford IS impressive, and the waterfalls were amazing. The valley is stunning. I just was on the cusp regarding Great Walks anyway; they’re so rigid and busy and plush and loud – and this experience sealed it for me. There are any number of stunning valleys around, where we could have picked our own safe route and decisions and had peaceful nights and days, but the Great Walk system is not conducive to good decision making or a good time (for me).

It is an amazing place, but the ‘great walk’:

  • was a hellish experience even getting a booking on the Milford,
  • cost a bomb,
  • huts are rammed and full of loud groups,
  • rangers treat you all like morons,
  • ‘haves and have nots’ experience with the rich groups going through is not nice,
  • calls the shots on weather and capability, not you.

I think I have learnt my lesson to avoid the great walks and do my own tramping.

The million dollar question is – would I have been such a downer on this if the weather was lovely?

Though the weather and experience was somewhat miserable, it was cool to spend it with Bev, Martin and Claire. I hope we can wrangle another sunny trip in summer, maybe some tents on a nice quiet river valley where we can have a camp fire and not deal with the DOC money-before-safety zoo that was this Milford experience.

A nice bush track
We did have some fun of course.

My Milford; definitely a trip more enjoyable to look back at. Made for a good chuckle in Martin’s wedding speech though, so even these incessant clouds had silver linings!

2 thoughts on “Tramping: The Milford Track

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  1. Totally agree with your position on Great Walks Larry, though I feel we are in the minority. Booked the Routeburn once. Forecast was appalling…solid rain covering our entire trip, including the drive from Wellington. Didn’t go( three nights in packed huts with wet gear and views of the inside of a rain cloud, no thanks). Took the hit for the GW, but got refunds for all the rest. Vowed never again. Thought I would never walk the Milford but while in Southland/Fiordland for 5 weeks of tramping this past spring seized the moment ( Aucklanders locked down meant lots of last minute openings). Raincoats stayed in our packs the entire time. It is a fabulous tramp but I certainly won’t be hovering with my finger over the button to book onto any more. GWs give people with less experience/confidence a chance to try tramping but I hope we don’t see too many more created. Thank you for sharing your writing and for leading others on tramping trips.

    1. Thanks for sharing Christine – I walked the Routeburn with my Dad and it was stunning, but it is quite different from ‘wild tramping’. I think as long as you go in with eyes open for the difference it’s OK, but I prefer regular free (financially and decision-wise) tramping myself these days. DOC’ll be smarting from the un-full great walks I suppose, but nice for us Kiwi’s to sneak on last minute when the weather’s right!

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