A 4 day walk of 53kms with water transport to the start and from the finish. First full day is along the steep cliff sided Clinton Valley, the second takes you over the 1154' Mackinnon Pass and the third down the Arthur Valley and alongside Lake Ada to arrive at Milford Sound.
Advertised as the most beautiful walk in the world, not so sure about that (we actually preferred the Routeburn Track in this area) but it certainly remains in our memories, some superb and varied scenery. Be prepared for wet weather, this area is notorious. We were lucky, wet weather along Clinton Valley so we saw waterfalls streaming off the cliffs, lovely clear weather over the pass, so we had great views and then another dry day to finish.
Note that this track has to be booked between October and April, booking starts the previous July. We booked in September for our mid February 2001 start. There is practically no chance of getting on without a booking. A Japanese lad got on our trip but he had hung around Te Anau for a fortnight waiting for a cancellation. The cost is about 100NZ dollars p.p plus your water transport and bus costs, about another 80-90 NZ dollars p.p. You can pay the transport costs a day or so before your departure but the track costs are required when booking.
Only 40 people a day are allowed. There are also guided walkers on the track at the same time but you don't really met them. We never felt that the track was busy, and had a lot of time on our own.
Some Contacts: Great Walks Booking Desk, Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre, Te Anau... e:mail at firstname.lastname@example.org We did our booking this way. Useful websites www.fiordlandnz.com & www.doc.govt.nz
DAY 1...to Neale Burn Hut
Bus ride from the Fiordland Visitor Centre to Te Anau Downs and then a bumpy ride over a choppy Lake Te Anau for over an hour to Glade Wharf and the track start. We caught the morning boat, there is another in the afternoon. An easy 5km walk to the Neale Burn Hut with the rain pouring down and very little wind in the shelter of the trees. Quite busy initially with some day trip guided walkers and also walkers going to Glade House where the guided Milford walk starts. Some early mountain views, the beautiful green Clinton river(spot the trout), beech bush forest. We went on an interesting short boardwalk walk to a swamp area adjacent to the hut. Other then that we stayed in the hut, drinking and chatting.. the sandflies outside were unbearable.
A wet start.
Neale Burn Hut
DAY 2...to Mintaro Hut
Tree stumps and reflections.
A 6 hr leisurely walk up the Clinton Valley. Rain, heavy at times, waterfalls streaming off the granite cliffs, beech bush forest, open areas, the green Clinton river. Track initially wide enough for a quad bike, and appropriately enough the warden from the next hut came rumbling down on one. Tree stumps and reflections. Swimming spot at Prairie Lake, but not today thankyou. A welcome shelter (called the Bus Stop) for lunch, a bit crowded...did you know that sandflies do not like the dark, this shelter was dark and also heaven! Track climbs for the final few kms, swingbridges,views of Mackinnon Pass(in mist). Wet clothing hanging outside hut entrance. Not many pictures taken, the camera was kept covered up!
DAY 3...to Dumpling Hut
On way to the top
Looking back to pass
A 1.5 hr not too bad gradient walk to Mackinnon Pass, some great views on the way up. Our first contact with Kea's on the way (friendly, but watch your valuables, they will pinch anything). There were 4 of them hanging around the Mackinnon Pass monument(to Quinton Mackinnon, first man to discover this pass in 1888), must be a regular daily event for them, waiting for passing trampers, eager to look inside your rucksack.
A busy top with everybody admiring the views. Snow topped mountains, view back down Clinton Valley, steep drop to the west...just a fantastic place to be in weather like this. We were reluctant to leave. There is a hut shelter (essential stop in bad weather) and a toilet as you climb further up from the monument to the highest point at 1154' before the descent begins.
Descent for about 7kms to Dumpling Hut with a drop of over 800' initially beneath cliffs then swinging round and dropping down alongside Roaring Burn stream (appropriately named) on some impressive wooden platforms and stairways. Welcome rest at Quinton Hut (guided walkers place), this is a hard descent. An hour plus diversion then to view the majestic Sutherland Falls, highest in NZ and 5th highest in the world. Some brave souls walked behind it, with their waterproof gear on! The force and spray from it was unbelievable - got wet 50 yards away.
DAY 4...to Milford Sound
Left Dumpling Hut(why's it called that?) just after 08:00hrs,some people left at 07:00hrs (why do they do that, what's the rush?), it's a 18km+ walk to the track end for the boat at 14:30hrs, there's also one at 15:15hrs. We were there well before 14:00hrs. Mainly bush and forest walk then becoming rockier alongside Lake Ada. Felt this was the least scenic of the 3 days. Noise from tourist light aircraft doing the scenic view trip. Side track to Mackay Falls and the unusual Bell Rock(it's like the inside of a bell, when you crawl in). Good views of Lake Ada. Shelter at Sandfly Point(appropriately named) whilst you wait for the boat.Short boat ride across Milford Sound to finish..and a decent cup of coffee and a muffin.
River Arthur valley