Outdoor World

Milford Track: ‘World’s finest walk’ in danger of becoming just another bucket list tick

Epic trail in the wild south was once a route to inner peace but popularity has trampled its tranquillity

Asia Pacific

Dawn is hours away on a cool Fiordland night but the packed bunk chambers of Clinton Hut are seething with activity. Tramping boots stomp against wooden floorings, bunks creek as their dwellers fling their bodies around, and an urgent, sleep-fogged crescendo of angry whispers is building in the gloom.

“Shhhhhh,” hisses someone from a top bunk, directing their fury towards the noisy hiking party who like to vagrant in the dark, the New Zealand bush enveloping them in a silent black cloak.

“Shhhhh!” hisses another low voice, from the other side of the hut.” It is against the rules to be so noisy !”

The day before 40 strangers had set off from the sightseer hub of Te Anau, full of energy and wearing fresh socks. Final flat whites were sculled at overpriced cafes and out-of-office signatures attached to emails.

In a soft, grey drizzle typical of this remote corner of New Zealand, trampers of varying abilities heaved 20 kg packs on to a speedboat extol” Adventure starts here” for the 40 -minute journey across Lake Te Anau to the start of the world-famous Milford Track, in Fiordland national park .</ strong>

Milford Track

Milford has become synonymous with beauty, a 54 km, four-day tramp through beech wood, over glacier-fed rivers and up the climatic MacKinnon Pass, an alpine intersecting more than 1,100 metres above sea-level.

One 100 years ago the Spectator magazine said Milford” the finest walk in the world”- and the name has stuck.

There are nine “great” walkings in New Zealand, with Milford the jewel in the crown. But as its popularity has surged so too have panics from New Zealand trampers and conservationists that the pristine natural environment is being spoilt by the hordes of sightseers drawn to its charm and supposed tranquility.

according to the website .
Contractors preparing the ways over the winter say they’ve barely finished clearing the native bush of human faeces and toilet paper in time for the next spate of hiking boots about to descend.

a contractor told Radio New Zealand .
“It’s disgusting.”It is now harder to volume a walk on the Milford Track than it is to see Justin Bieber or Adele live in concert in Auckland.

Ross Harraway, 74, has been a Department of Conservation hut warden on the Milford Track for nearly a decade. At close to seven feet tall, Harraway looks like Gandalf the wizard, and in the evenings moves silently through the beech trees with a faculty, explaining the local flora and fauna to visitors.

” A lot of people aren’t interested in what is around them anymore, that’s what I’ve noticed ,” says Harraway, talking to the Defender from his cosy warden’s hut over a cup of billy tea.

Gerard Emery decided to tramp all of the great walkings after insuring them advertised on an Air New Zealand flight. He tramps with old friends and they dine lushly every evening- steaks, tin mugs of whisky and creamy puddings for dessert.

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Last season, tickets for the Milford sold out within 90 minutes of being released. Mary, a veterinarian nurse from Australia, tried for three consecutive years to procure a place on the track. Last time- her fourth try- she set her alarm for midnight on the day tickets were liberated and was successful.

On day three, the 40 -strong group rise in the dark after a agitated night, in which a boy who snored aloud was yelled at and booted down to the kitchen.

” It built me feel really self-conscious ,” he tells the Guardian later.” I seemed ganged up on .”

The climb up Mackinnon Pass is graded but challenging, and swaths of low cloud blow over the mountain, obscuring the belief and bringing stinging spits of rainfall to frozen cheeks.

Along the style you pass signs designated as” Safe stopping fields” and” Bus stops”, and as your thighs begin to ache the beech trees thin and eventually disappear, giving way to mountain buttercups, alpine daisy’s and gentian.

The peak at the top of the pass- 1,154 m- brings a brief and united merriment to the disparate and from time to time fractious group. Selfies are snapped, proud pairs embracing and the paying hikers are presented with mugs of hot chocolate and cookies from their guides.

At the shelter, briefly, there is peace. The clouds sweep north to uncover golden tussock tumbling into the Arthur Valley below, and kea soaring from Mt Balloon to Mt Hart, and Mt Hart to Mt Eliot, their shouts piercing and prehistoric in the fleeting reprieve of stillnes.

Then, another call, different. A whirr, a bashing, a mechanical stirring of the crisp alpine air. A chopper soars up the hollow, swooping down to ground outside the shelter. Has someone fallen, been injured- is this a medical evacuation?

A guide from Ultimate Hikes runs out to greeted the chopper, carrying a sacking in his hand, bent low to avoid the chopper’s blades. Promptly, he throws the bag in the chopper and grabs a similar purse from the pilot; the entire exchange taking less than a minute before the chopper hits directly upwards and hurries back up the valley.

” What’s in the bag ?” I shout to the guide, as he runs to his clients in the shelter, where heaters and steaming mugs of Milo are fogging up the windows.

“Blankets,” he screams back.” Clean blankets- we’ve just had them washed .”


Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ world/ 2018/ jan/ 22/ worlds-finest-walk-new-zealands-milford-track-spoilt-tourists

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