Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Milford Track

Recently I walked the Milford Track. Today it takes just three days of walking a well formed path. I am a tramper and I found it a challenge, so what was it like for the early pioneers?

The first settler at Milford Sound was Donald Sutherland (1843/44-1919) who in 1880 discovered the Sutherland Falls.

Ref: James Richardson/Burton Brothers, Milford Sound with the 'City of Milford', 1878-1880, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-930
Sutherland started building a track to allow visitors access to the falls but the rugged Fiordland coast made finding an overland route from Lake Te Anau essential.

Ref: CW Sundstrum, Sutherland Falls, Milford Sounds, 1907, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19070228-15-3
In September 1888, Quintin McKinnon and Ernest Mitchell set off to build a track up the Clinton Valley. Hampered by the excessive rainfall in the area they eventually discovered what is now called the McKinnon Pass, which led to the Arthur Valley, Sutherland Falls and Milford Sound.

Ref: G Crombie, looking up Clinton Valley to McKinnon's Pass, Otago, 1908, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19080319-4-1
Ref: JR Murrell, McKinnon Cairn, Otago, 1914,Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19140402-48-1
The Milford Track was completed within two years of discovering the route over the McKinnon Pass and in 1890 McKinnon was the first guide. He would prepare kaka and pigeon stew (obviously not something you would do now with natives birds) for those brave enough to tackle the track. It was not unusual to be hut bound by flooding for several days at a time.

Ref: James Richardson, map of track from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sounds, no date, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-1435
Once you reached Milford Sound you had walk all the way back the way you had just come!

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, a walking party on the Milford Track, near Glade House, 1927, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A16450
This historic track is still a pristine piece of wilderness and it still rains two out of every three days. Apart from the occasional lodge and the helicopters flying in supplies there is still a sense of the magic these men must have felt as early pioneers of the Milford Track

Author: Philippa Templeton, North Auckland Research Centre

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