The finest walk in the world – Milford Track Day 4

The sun was shining right from the get go on day four so we knew we were in for a stunner.  We began descending a rocky hill known as Gentle Annie before passing an old slip where the track flattens and we entered lush rainforest. We could see Sutherland Falls in the distance.  The track condition was excellent which made for easy walking.

We stopped at Boatshed for morning tea.  Boastshed was built in 1928 and housed the boats that used to move supplies from Lake Ada.  Nowadays there is a swing bridge that crosses the Arthur River.  It was such a gorgeous morning and the vistas were amazing.

Today I walked with Sheree and Karen and we pretty much chatted the whole way – no surprises there!  It certainly made the day go fast.  

Our next stop was Mackay Falls named after John Mackay one of the pioneers of the track along with Donald Sutherland.  Apparently they are among the most photographed waterfalls in the world.  

Next to Mackay Falls was Bell Rock.  The story of Bell Rock is that over millions of years the water eroded the inside of this rock and then in an earthquake many years ago the rock was moved to it’s current position.  You can actually stand up inside it and Mark told us that on a guide training walk they managed to fit 28 guides in there.  Karen & I hopped in there and both commented that we’re not sure we would be too happy to be in there with 26 other people!

We carried on to our lunch stop which was at another waterfall called Giants Gate Falls.  We all climbed down and sat on the rocks to eat our lunch – it was like eating lunch in paradise.  The water was unbelievably clear but wow it was cold.  I put my hand in and it felt a lot colder than the water at Sutherland Falls had felt.  A couple of the guys took their boots off and put their feet in the water – they went numb pretty quickly.

After lunch we only had about 4 kilometres to go to get to Sandfly Point.  The flat and wide track skirts Lake Ada and was built by 45 convicts in 1890.

As promised the sandflies greeted us with enthusiasm when we arrived at Sandfly Hut.  I had actually taken all my layers off so lathered myself in insect repellant.  They hovered but didn’t land.  Steve had got to Sandfly Point before me and had put every item of clothing on – there was no way those sandflies were going to get him!  We had to put our name down on the boat list and fortunately we made it into the first group of 18.

Today’s 21km would have to be the best half marathon distance I have ever walked – good company, fabulous vistas, a great track and sunshine to boot.  How lucky are we!

We had the obligatory photos at the 33.5 mile marker, Steve’s photo being taken under duress again : 0. 

We then had about a ten minute boat trip around to Milford Sound where we got our first glimpse of Mitre Peak.  Everything looked so impressive basking in the sunshine.

We got bussed to Mitre Peak Lodge where we got settled into our rooms – talk about a room with a view.

Across the road there is a foreshore walk so I decided to do that while I still had my boots on – the tide was out so I walked right out to the foreshore.

The second boat took quite a bit longer to come in so by that time we were all enjoying the bar offerings.

After dinner we were all presented with a Certificate of Achievement to say we had successfully completed the Milford Track.  It had been thoroughly enjoyable and we got incredibly lucky with the weather.  We also made some new friends along the way – the group had been great providing lots of laughs and encouragement.

Mitre Peak Lodge History

Donald Sutherland initiated the modern history of Milford when he became the first European to take up residence at Milford Sound.  In 1878 he built a simple slab hut with a thatched roof that sat just above the shore line.  To this modest home he gave the grand title of “Esperance Chalet”.

By 1880 he had two neighbours: a prospector from Big Bay named John McKay and James Malcolm.  Sutherland named this collection of three huts “The City of Milford”.

In 1890 Sutherland married Mrs Elizabeth Samuel of Dunedin and the couple started development at Milford Sound by building and operating an accomodation house.  This remained in business for several decades, as long as the Sutherland’s were alive.

When Donald died in 1919, Elizabeth continued to run “The Chalet”.  In 1922 it was purchased by the government Tourist Department and demolished shortly after Elizabeth Sutherland’s death in 1924.

After this, the only accomodation of track walkers was at Sandfly Point.

When the Sandfly Lodge burned down in 1926, tent accomodation was offered to walkers until 1928, when the new Milford Hotel opened.

In 1950, the Tourist Hotel Corporation was established and took over operation of the Te Anau and Milford hotels from the Tourist Department.  In February of that year the east wing of the Milford Hotel caught fire and was destroyed.  Because the hotel was such a vital link to the track in the days before Milford Road opened, the track was closed for two years while the hotel was being rebuilt.

Fire struck again in October 1959, gutting the kitchen and administration block at Milford Hotel.  It was rebuilt in time for the following season and caused less disruption to the track operation that the 1950 fire because the Milford Road was now open.

Te Paepae Tirohanga o Piopiotahi – Milford Foreshore Walk

The foreshore walk allows you to step out on a short journey around the edge of the Cleddau River delta, the only easily accessible coastal river delta in Fiordland.  Maori call the river Te Awa Piopiotahi.

Places on the edge, where rivers meet sea, undergo constant physical changes that we can observe from clues that are around us.  This is evident from the regular rhythm of the salty, twice daily tides; the irregular pounding of storm strewn driftwood; the continuous flow of fresh mountain water and the gushing rage of silt laden floods.  Within this intermittently changing place, plant and animal edge dwellers adapt and survive.

The delta and nearby flat land adjoining Fresh Water Basin has attracted people over the centuries, those with resourcefulness and fortitude to adapt and survive.  

The maori of Milford Sound or Piopiotahi represents the essence that binds the physical and spiritual elements of all things together, generating and upholding life.  All elements of the natural environment possess a life force, and all forms of life are related.  Maori is a critical element of the spiritual relationship of Ngati Tahu Whanui with this area.

Piopiotahi was first visited by Maori more than 1000 years ago.  They were drawn to the area in search of resources including its magnificent stone – pounamu – which they carried out over the ‘inland route’.  The stone was worked ‘back home’ during the winter months, fashioned into various forms of treasured adornment and sometimes minor tools.

Maori travelled the ‘inland route’ from Lake Te Anau-au, along Te Wai-Tawai (Clinton River), over Omani (MacKinnon Pass), along Te Awa-O-Hire (Arthur River) to Piopiotahi – the same route that is now the Milford Track.  Then via the ocean pathway of the fiord they accessed a special form of translucent ponamu (or bowenite) known as takiwai, found at Hopokeka (Anita Bay).

Nohoanga (seasonal camps) here on the Cleddau River delta were welcomed for mahingakai (food gathering) and resting places between mountain and sea, and were rich in natural resources which generation after generation of Ngati Tahu whanui knew how to utilise for survival.

Kaimoana, food from the sea, was the Maori staple, supplemented with foods from the forest.  Hunting, gathering and preserving were vital tasks.  Upon leaving the nohoanga here on the delta, the people walked back over Omani and beyond Te Anau-au to their kainga (settlement) on the lower Waiau and along the southern coast.  On their backs they carried young children, preserved birds, seal skins, unworked takiwai and enough flax to repair and replace sandals as they negotiated the mountain terrain.


This blog was originally set up to share our 9 month adventure around Europe and the USA with friends and family in 2014. On returning to NZ in January 2015 I decided to carry it on so I could continue to share any future travel adventures - it has become my electronic travel diary. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to visit some of the wonderful places we have visited.
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