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Milford Track

Day 2 of 4

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Wednesday, March 20th
Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut
10.3 miles
1650 vertical feet (ascent)
340 vertical feet (descent)

I woke up around 6:30am just in time to see the sky turning colors from pink to gray. Too late to take a picture, unfortunately. It was a partly cloudy sky as we packed up and left the hut around 8:30am.

The sun still hadn't crested the mountains yet as we walked along the Clinton River. We played leap frog with Martin and Heike, who stopped often to take pictures. We walked through more beech forest, passing through a particularly nice section of forest just as the sun started to come out. I stopped on a small hill and brought out my tripod to take some pictures.

Clinton River


After about 3 miles, we stopped at a bluff overlooking the river. I know it was 3 miles because there are sign posts every mile (and not, interestingly enough, every kilometer). We ate and rested at the bluff, trying to avoid getting bitten by the sand flies. A few others came and went as we rested. We met Chris and Sally from Australia, and Eran from Israel.

Resting in a clearing by the river

Looking at the forest across the river

After a break we returned to the trail. A few of the guided walkers passed by us. Their packs were tiny. They didn't have to carry food or even a sleeping bag. They only had to carry their own clothes. They basically had day packs on.

We went through a few clearings which had been cleared by land slides or avalanches. We soon came to a shelter at the Hirere Falls overlook. The shelter was staffed by a guide so we asked to make sure it was okay for us independent walkers to stay here and rest. The guide said it was fine. But we wouldn't be getting any of the drinks he was serving to the guided walkers. In case you're wondering, guided walkers pay about $1500 NZD for the privilege of doing the guided walk.

Mountain reflections

Hirere Falls

While we were eating and resting, we met a guided walker smoking a pipe. Jean told him he looked like Ernest Hemingway. He took that as a complement. We'd see him a few more times later on the track.

Back on the trail, we passed a sign saying there was a view of Mackinnon Pass. Unfortunately we couldn't see it because of the clouds. At least it wasn't raining much. We passed Hidden Lake (you can't see it from the main trail because of the surrounding bush) and walked past waterfalls flowing on the mountains to our left.

Jean at Hidden Lake

Typical section of trail

Jean standing in front of a bridge

The trail is wide enough for two trampers up until about the 11 mile marker. We passed the Bus Stop shelter, crossed a couple of swing bridges, and then soon came to the intersection for Pompolona Hut. We rested here a bit and Ernest Hemingway came by. He offered to buy us a glass of wine from Pompolona Hut, but I think it was partly in jest. Besides, we still had a ways to go.

We ran into Heike and Martin just as a rainbow appeared at the far end of the Clinton Valley, the side from which we'd started. We all took pictures before they continued on up the trail. The trail finishes off with a steep uphill climb. As far as I can tell, the Milford Track has all the mile markers, but I did not see the mile 12 marker anywhere. It's possible I could have missed it, but I was waiting for it for a long time. This was important to me since Mintaro Hut is around the 13 mile marker. It's supposed to be 13.2 miles from Glade Wharf, but the hut is in fact well past the 13 mile marker.

Look carefully to see the rainbow

After slogging uphill we finally made it to the hut. There was a warning about keas flying off with anything left on the deck, so everyone hung their boots and jackets. I even hung our trekking poles, just to be safe.

Jessica was teaching a drinking card game to some of the other hut occupants as we started our dinner. The coal fire was hot and we hung our clothes around it to dry. We sat at a table with Tom and Rhonda and Heike and Martin. Chris and Sally were making risotto! The hut warden, Mark, came by our table to chat. He had a wry sense of humor, always trying to think of something witty to say. I asked him how long he stayed up here. Apparently the hut wardens stay 10 days, then they come down for 4 days off, then do it all over again. I guess most people work 10 out of every 14 days, but it's a little different for them.

Chris and Sally making risotto

Mark came back later around 7:30pm to give a little talk. He was much more entertaining and friendlier than the Clinton Hut warden. He told us that 3 people in the hut had already been up to the pass and back today. He told us what to expect on the hike tomorrow. He also mentioned the previous day's hut occupants complaining about wading through the trail. He told us that in general, New Zealanders were the most common Milford trampers, followed by Aussies; trampers from the UK, US, and Germany were equal in numbers -- these five countries made up about 85% of the trampers on the track. For our group, according to the Clinton Hut visitor's book, there were 14 Kiwis, 8 from the UK, 6 Americans, 3 from Sweden, 2 from Germany, 2 Aussies, 2 from South Africa, 1 from Israel, 1 from Canada, and 1 from Japan.

There were a bunch of notebooks in the hut which he invited people to write in, to share with future hut occupants. There was some interesting stuff written in it. There were separate books for separate languages. Many of the pages were devoted to sand flies or the watery trail and included some pretty good drawings.

Mark mentioned that there was a good 4 kilometer (2 km each way) side trip to Sutherland Falls, which he suggested we do. He said he'd post the new weather forecast in the morning, but he said he didn't think the forecast would change the weather. You can guess what weather we had in store for us.

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