Destination = McKinnon Pass, Milford Track, South Island, New Zealand -
From Te Anau Downs the ferry drops me at the Milford Track jetty, the muddy path an easy walk to Glade House and a crossing at Clinton River on a swaying swing bridge. Then it's on to the track proper through the rainforest, and 6.8m of rain each year.
I'm following in the 1888 footsteps of Quintin McPherson McKinnon, seeking a path to the coast. By the ruins of McKinnon’s 2-mile hut I sit and eat a lunch of tuna and flat bread. But it’s no Scottish brogue I hear in the rush and gurgle of the river, just the chants of lost Maori tribes as they beat their way westwards to Anita Bay.
At dusk I lounge on the verandah of Clinton Hut, the 1800m snowy peaks of the Wick Mountains in front and Glaisnock Wilderness behind. At night I listen for the the telltale snuffling or the strident call of a Kiwi – the now endangered birds having being re-released here. I'm told of the early European settlers, who complained of sleepless nights due to the odd birds' prolific calls.
The track onwards emerges from morning mist and the shelter of the rainforest, cliffs rising from this narrow river valley. Wispy waterfalls tumble down both sides.
Past Hidden Lake, Mt Fisher towers above at 1900m and Mackinnon Pass suddenly appears to the north. I clamber over boggy paddocks and steel-framed bridges.
At Pompolona Creek, I’m reminded of McKinnon’s Pompolona scones – made with mutton fat candles – and I've a steep forested climb past St Quinton Falls to Mintaro Hut, now dwarfed by the dark hulking bulk of Mackinnon Pass.
At 5 in the morning, my way swings west with the valley, past a fog-layered Mintaro Lake, then climbs to the pass. A series of switchbacks rise above the source of the Clinton River, out of bush and mist to slippery alpine slopes.
I stamp my feet and clap gloved hands. Cold clouds rise and drift, a shifting scene with occasional bursts of morning sun. After 4km the track has reached the large memorial cairn, built for Mackinnon and Ernest Mitchell, the first Europeans having come this way.
Native grasses and small shrubs are sparkling icicles, frozen in the airless early morning cold.
Photo: Hi Icicles- Mackinnon Pass, Milford Track, South Island, New Zealand _ Sue Clayton