Images of the Milford Track adorn posters and billboards the world over. Thousands of people from all corners of the world book months and years in advance to hike the famous four-day, three-night, 53.5km Great Walk. I approached the expedition with some trepidation having heard stories of the legendary storms that Fiordland is capable of unleashing at any time of the year, but we had the rare good fortune to walk with the track in warm sunshine under clear blue skies.
We have tramped in magnificent alpine terrain before, but the Milford Track is on another planet for spectacularity. From the time we set off from Glade Wharf my senses were overwhelmed by astonishing panoramas. There was so much to absorb, I was in perpetual sensory overload.
The first day was an easy hour and a half, meandering across the first of many picturesque swing bridges, through moss-draped red – and silver beech forests beside the Clinton River, its clear pools reflecting blue-green images of the wooded valley walls. Dappled sunshine and the gentlest of inclines lulled us into a tranquil mood, as we fell into a familiar tramping rhythm, accepted the burden of the packs on our backs, and tingled with anticipation at the adventure ahead. We didn’t really earn our dinner that night at the Department of Conservation’s Clinton Hut but tucked into our favourite tramping meal regardless – pasta with chopped up chorizo and Surprise peas, cooked over a gas burner in our nifty, light-weight utensils that also double as plates … and a small mug of red wine, courtesy of the ‘Sherpa’ men in our Kiwi quintet.
As the Clinton Valley narrowed to a canyon on the second day, we began to feel as small as Milford’s infamous sandflies in the presence of such towering giants. I remembered the words I had read the previous night in a 1908 article in the London Spectator. Englishwoman Blanche Baughan described the terrain she was walking through as “truly the region of the perpendicular … and presently, as the track ascends, as the trees lessen both in size and number, and the frowning white-tipped walls begin to draw together above the canyon, you realise that you are walking at the bottom of a gigantic furrow of the earth.”
The editor of the day headlined the article “The Finest Walk in the World”, a description that has given the Milford 110 years of the kind of publicity that marketing gurus die for.