Milford Track: Day 2 – following the river

Path to protect the wetlands beneath.
Path to protect the wetlands beneath.

We set off across the swing bridge facing a 16km walk, but with a whole day to complete it in. Almost immediately we crossed a river on a swing bridge and for the rest of the day we followed the river as it wound gently down from the mountains.

The walking was almost perfect. The path was wide and level with only a gentle uphill slope. There was rarely even a root to trip over and your feet were cushioned by falling leaves. It was some of the easiest walking I’ve experienced. To our side the early morning sun was reflected off the river and up into the canopy of trees providing us with shade, sparking off little diamonds of moisture amongst the green.

As the morning wore on the beech forest started to thin and we began walking between enormous cliffs. There was increasing evidence of the enormous power of the rainfall in this area with landslides and rockfalls beside the track. After lunch we began to move more obviously uphill and at one point the forest simply stopped, replaced by a huge field of boulders, themselves mute evidence to an enormous landslide that smashed through the area some 25 years ago. That clearing also provided our first glimpse of McKinnon Pass. The Pass closes the other end of the valley in which we stood; and while we were bathed in bright sunlight the pass was worryingly shrouded in deep, white cloud.

A wren - not a clever bird.
A wren – not a clever bird.

At one point on our path we came across a small fearless bird. It was so fearless, or dumb, that it climbed up on our boots to peck away at the huge worms that our laces appeared to be. Later we came across a bend in the river where enormous fish lurked in the shallows. And while on the subject of fauna there were the ever-present sandflies. The moment we stopped moving we’d be swarmed by sandflies. They are about the size of mosquitos but slower-moving and silent. And they can sting!

First view of McKinnon Pass - that clouded bit in the distance.
First view of McKinnon Pass – that clouded bit in the distance.

We proceeded up the valley towards McKinnon Pass. The valley tops were still covered in snow and waterfalls ripped down the rocks all around us throwing miniature rainbows out as their spray bounced off the surrounding rocks. In places rockfalls had formed small lakes at the cliff base. The second of these we came to was Prarie Lake; known as the warmest water on the track. That’s ‘warmest’, it was by no means warm. We had a cold but refreshing swim and then dried off in the Sun.

At the Pomolona Lodge we hand washed our clothes and put them through an Acme mangle to get rid of the excess water. It’s amusing how a task that 100 years ago would have been necessary and boring can actually be quite entertaining when you do it voluntary and only once in a while. Didn’t hurt that it was followed by a cold beer either.

The boys bounced back from their walk in minutes and were soon playing hide and seek with the three or four other kids on the walk. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, but tomorrow McKinnon’s Pass awaits.

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