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Mon Sep 30, 2013 7:05 pm
The final hiking day of the Milford Track is 13.5 miles descending from 800 feet to sea level along the Arthur River with maybe 200 feet of climbing on a ledge above the river.
Shortly after leaving Quintin Lodge we get the distant view of Sutherland Falls with the likely landslide path on the rocks closer at left.
Liz along the Arthur River
This cliff across the river has several tree avalanche paths.
In the wet climate moss growing on the cliffs eventually becomes dense enough that trees can take root. But an intense downpour will occasionally uproot a big enough tree to trigger an avalanche bringing down the forest directly below it. The life cycle to regrow a forest on the sheer cliffs is about 150 years.
Soon we come to MacKay Falls on a tributary stream.
A more open section of the Milford Track
Here a path had to be cleared through tree avalanche debris.
In 1898 the track was cut into this ledge. Before that you had to get through this section by boat.
Lunch is at Grant’s Gate Falls.
These last 2 days were completely sunny and that pool looks inviting, but the water is probably no more than 40F.
End of the Milford Track at Sandfly Point.
Our pickup boat coming in.
Bowen Falls, near the Milford Sound docks
There’s a boardwalk trail to its base which I walked in 1982 but it was closed this time.
There is surprising little lodging at Milford Sound. The tourist hotel that was there in 1982 is now the Mitre Peak Lodge, reserved for Milford Track hikers like us on their final night. The hotel has a stunning setting, but appears little changed in 30 years.
One potential downside of the Milford Track is the notorious sandfly, first commented upon by Captain Cook.
Sandfly Point is aptly named, so a building is there for hikers to wait for their boat. The only other place I noticed many of them was on the abandoned airstrip at Quintin Lodge. Because two of the hiking days and all 3 of the overnight lodges are along the rivers, some people report sandflies being ubiquitous whenever you stop walking. This was not the case for us. Their life cycle is about 7 weeks and perhaps we were early enough in the season that they weren’t up to full summer population yet. Some sources say the sandflies prefer overcast weather and we had full sun on the Arthur River day which probably goes through their most dense habitat.
The last day of the guided tour includes the 2-hour boat cruise on Milford Sound. Most people do this as daytrippers from Queenstown (5 hours away) or Te Anau (2 hours), as I did in 1982 and 2006. Since we’re staying here we get up early for the first boat at 9AM. Here’s the view walking over to the boat.
The famous Mitre Peak at center is 5,527 feet.
The Lion is the 4,270 foot hump across the sound from Mitre Peak.
The Pembroke Glacier is on the south face of its 6,600 foot namesake mountain.
If you have more time, you can kayak on Milford Sound.
The green water with some visibility is unusual. Usually there is so much runoff from the heavily forested cliffs that the water looks very dark. Scuba diving can also be interesting because of sea life that normally lives below 200 feet can be found at 50 feet here.
The glacier cut walls plunge to a depth as much as 1,000 feet, so the boats can go up close to a couple of the waterfalls.
This one is Fairy Falls on the north side of Mitre Peak. It is semi-permanent, much lower flow than my previous times here, but would take a couple of weeks to dry up completely. With fresh rain Milford Sound has many more ribbon waterfalls, similar to our first hiking day along the Clinton River.
We didn’t have enough zoom for a clear shot at this Fiordland Crested penguin.
Stirling Falls is 500 feet and permanent.
Another close boat approach
Underwater observatory at Williamson Point
Harrison River valley and Pembroke Glacier in background.
View out Milford Sound framed by Mitre Peak and the Lion.
Sinbad Gully and Mitre Peak
The above 2 pics have tour boats in the view for scale.
View past the docks up the Cleddau River valley.
After the cruise we’re back on the bus. 2 hours later at Te Anau our guides oversee the bus exchange with the next group coming from Queenstown.