Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Rain & the Milford Track

There might be a day or two delay until the next blog (still 2 or 3 to catch up on from Milford), we're on the move again & I'm unsure if I'll have reception- the latest two should keep you going :)

I’ve read it so many times over the years & heard it from various people. “You must see Milford in the rain, it’s a whole different experience”.

Yes, it would be nice to see Milford in the rain, but not on the one & only day that I had pre-booked an organised trip. We wanted to walk part of the Milford Track known as “the finest walk in the world”.

To walk the 53.5km, four day Milford Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks, you would have had to book many months in advance. This is because its so popular and also because only 40 people per day are permitted to start the walk; there are only that number of bunks available at each of the huts en-route. The track starts at Glade Wharf on Lake Te Anau and ends at Sandfly Point, Milford Sound.

Our walk was from the end of the track into Giants Gate and then we’d retrace ours steps back to Sandfly Point, an 11km return tramp. It was only possible to do this with the one company that has a concession to do day walks from the Milford end of the track, "Trips 'n Tramps". I had booked it before we left Manapouri knowing that there would be no cell phone reception on the Milford Road.

We were booked to meet the guide at Milford Lodge carpark at 8am, an hours drive from Cascade Creek so we were up bright & early or should I say pitch black, cold, wet & early. There was a light drizzle falling when we pulled out of the still dark campground and it rained on and off all the way to Milford where we met Anna and another couple who were going to be on the walk with us.

We climbed on board a small boat in the carpark of Deep Water Basin. There are no marinas here, the boat was backed down the boat ramp & into the water with us aboard ready for the short ride across the Basin to Sandfly Point where we clambered onto a rocky & slippery jetty and gathered out of the now steady rain under the roof of the Milford Track Shelter. After completing the walk, this is where trampers gather to wait for their boat ride over to Milford.

Lady Bowen Falls can be seen as we leave Milford Village

From here we begin our walk which follows along the Arthur River then passes Lake Ada and continues on to Giants Gate with it’s beautiful waterfall and swingbridge. The rain was steady all the way to the Gate leaving little opportunity for me to get my camera out. With the low cloud and heavy rain there were no views of the surrounding mountains anyway and in fact if we hadn’t been told about them we wouldn’t have known that they surrounded us.   Not before time we reached Giants Gate and even though we all had good wet weather gear on, everybody was more or less soaked. I grabbed some quick photos of the waterfall & bridge and not succeeding in sheltering my lens from the rain; most of my photos have cloudy spots over them.   

The others had continued on over the bridge & just off the track to the shelter for a welcome cup of hot coffee (which Anna had carried in) & a bite to eat. While we were there the Day 4 trampers started arriving from the other direction. They had to pace themselves on this leg as the boat to take them to Milford arrives at 2pm. Get to the end too early and they’d have to wait awhile. We spoke to a couple that shared our bench. A sister & brother in their mid forties accompanying their father who was celebrating his 70th birthday by walking the Track. They were by themselves as their father had carried on walking, he had not wanted to stop as he thought he might not be able to start again. They had found it hard & their father even more so, every bone in his body ached and he felt he hadn’t slept in days. But at least he could cross the Milford Track off his “Bucket List”

Before long it was time to head back down the track, the rain still heavy and getting heavier by the minute. I grabbed a few more shots as our party crossed back over the bridge then wrapped up my camera in the dry-bag (thanks Rach & Cam) and tucked it away in my pack.

I had to get it out again not too soon afterwards to grab a shot of a marker post- 4kms to go, and a photo of an old mug & boot hanging on a telephone wire support. Back when the track was first formed, this was the only walking route into Milford and originally it was going to be a road. Telephone cables were used to communicate with the work huts located along the track. Of course the road never eventuated.

For the rest of the walk it was head down & bum up, by now the rain was torrential, dry rocky creek beds we had crossed on the way in were now flowing swiftly and the track was afloat with water 2-3 inches deep. Where before we had been gingerly stepping around puddles in the vain attempt to keep out boots reasonably dry we were now ploughing through rivers of water keen to get back to Sandfly Point & our boat.

The sound of the waterfalls now surrounding us was deafening, everywhere you looked water was gushing over the edges and thundering down the sides of the mountains. I took the photo on the left on the way up when we stopped to look at Lake Ada, the photo on the right is of the same rock face on our return.

Back at the shelter where quite a number of the trampers now had over an hours wait for their boat(some had passed us on the way down) we quickly boarded our waiting boat and headed back to Milford and our car. We threw as much of our wet gear as we could get off into the back of the ute, wrapped ourselves up in towels & dry clothes as best we could with it still torrential outside and headed back up the highway and into a magnificent sight.

The mountains on all sides were alive with waterfalls which were gushing down every available slope, everywhere you looked there were white ribbons of water. Around every corner were more and more and all I could say was “Wow, WOW, look, LOOK, look at that, look over there”. Poor David had to keep one eye on the road and the other on approaching cars who were also awe struck with spectacle & driving slowly. With not too much traffic on the road we were able to slow right down on occasions so I could grab a shot our the window.

When I knew we were getting close to The Chasm carpark I quickly suggested David pull in so we could have a coffee & a sandwich before carrying on, and I’d also be able to get out and take some of the rock face behind the park.

I wondered why there were a few people with cameras walking along the front of the cars in the rain and then realised with great delight they were photographing a kea! Great, my very first wild kea!. Even if a tarseal carpark wasn't quite a natural environment.

And what a little rascal he was. He was looking for an easy meal ticket, he wasn’t here the other day when we stopped and I had asked a few people on our travels if they’d seen any kea and none had, although we’d seen four flying around far above us when we were in the Homer Tunnel rock garden. On a fine day he was out in the sun soaring the skies, on a wet day he’d come to the carpark to beg, clever little fellow.

Kea are the world's only alpine parrot and are renowned for their intelligent & inquisitive nature. They have learnt long ago that humans will feed them if they look cute enough. Humans should not feed them & there are signs to say so but you know humans, they can’t help themselves. In the car beside us a woman was throwing out bits of bread which the kea was eagerly collecting. That was until a guide in a tour bus frowned at her and told her to stop and they drove away.

So what did the kea do? He flew right on up onto our roof to see if we had anything to give him. David went into panic mode “get that bird off my roof!” as the kea bounded across with his hob-nail boots from side to side. As most New Zealanders know, & more than a few tourists, keas are known to love destroying things and in particular anything rubber. When left to their own devices they can cause a whole heap of expense & much damage by pulling window seals out and wiper blades off. I went close and shooed him off although I was a little wary of that beak, he was more interested in the camera I was holding maybe he could see his reflection.

It was still raining and by now, my dry clothes were once again wet so I climbed back in the car when, who should appear at my window, the kea! I wound it down to get a shot and I honestly thought he was going to jump on in and join us! He has a good look round and especially at the lunch box on the console between us. I quickly pushed the window button back up and he realised that he wasn’t going to get anything here and flew off to another car that had just arrived.

We pulled back onto the road and drove slowly on and up to the Homer Tunnel, still marvelling at the sheets of water & waterfalls cascading down from everywhere. No worries today waiting six minutes for the lights to change at the tunnel, I got out for some more shots. And what do you know, another kea approached us from the opposite side of the road ("Tickets, please"). Two keas in one day, both looking for handouts. They know what side of the bread the butter's on. The lights changed before he got too close and we were off.

We might not have seen the Milford Track in all its glory but we still had a magical experience and one not too many people will have seen. If I hadn’t booked the walk we would have stayed in all day and look what we would have missed; a gazillion waterfalls & two cheeky parrots! Magic!


  1. I haven't been down that way since 1971, we had a 3 week holiday in the South Island and yes of course, the day we went to Milford it rained. It was spectacular though, with all the waterfalls off the cliffs etc :-)

    1. Thanks for your comment kiwitales, much appreciated. I hope some of my other posts have given you a taste of what it looks like on a fine day. But, really not too many people would have experienced Milford like you and us, an extra special experience!

  2. What a marvellous experience seeing all the water coming down the mountain sides - I thoroughly enjoyed your account and photos. I loved the photo of the kea looking in the car window. You did a great job of the photography despite the conditions.

    1. Thanks Olwen, I thoroughly enjoyed bringing you the experience......I think :) My poor camera, although "weather proof" did not like the cold/warm temperature range, it took me a few days to air it out.

  3. I'm sure you already know about it but check out topomaps for detailed maps of NZ.
    Cool photos of the many waterfalls!

    1. Yes, David has the Topo map ap, we have scanned it but not used it in any depth. It does have a lot of detail, not sure that's such a good idea. It may persuade David the walks too tough! ;)

  4. The Milford Track looks amazing. New Zealand is such a beautiful place with so many great locations to check out. I enjoyed reading your blog because of its simplicity. It is really informative and interesting to read. I also loved the picture and the “Kea”. It reminds me of a really mischievous parrot that my uncle once had. Keep writing because I had fun reading it.

    1. Thankyou for your kind compliments & I'm glad you have enjoyed my blog. New Zealand is indeed a beautiful country with much to see.

  5. Beautiful! I was looking for some info in regards to Milford. My husband went there for a 7-8 days Routeburn, Kepler and Milford Track with some of his colleagues at work. I was bit worried knowing some areas are having heavy rains. Reading your blog feels serene and looking at your stunning photos wished I was there with my Hubby. Thanks! All the best.

    1. Hi Sharon, thanks for your note & I'm glad that your mind was eased a little. Your husband will be having a ball especially as the rough weather hasn't happened in Fiordland. I bet it will be cold though & possibly drizzly but none of the stuff that's happen up north, I've walked a little bit of all of those tracks & they are just stunning, I hope he gets to see some of the scenery. Take care, Shellie


Thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated.