By Herb Christophers
When I was kid, I loved playing dress-ups and pretending to be a cowboy or a captain of a battleship. So imagine my delight when I was told we had to dress up for the Milford Track 125th anniversary heritage walk, held in October this year. Four whole days of playing dress-ups!
The DOC Te Anau locals had been planning their costumes for months and had come up with their interpretation of ‘old school’ garb—some came as historic figures; others came in the style of an era.
The staff at the Te Anau Visitor Centre also got into the spirit of the event and dressed in Victorian costume to farewell us.
I went along dressed in the moth-ridden leftovers from the seventies that I had thrown in the attic decades ago.
‘It’s merino Herb but not as you know it!’
My 42 year old pack was sewn up to make it waterproof for the occasion and the gear felt familiarly uncomfortable and even smelt of mothballs and mould.
The home spun raw wool hand knitted mittens, given to me as a present in 1970, and the japara over mitts had their last foray outdoors in about 1975—but they still worked. You have to love the smell of wet wool and linseed-oil!
Ken Bradley, the person who conceived the idea of the 125th Milford Track celebration, got so far into character as Samuel Moreton, the 19th century artist and explorer, that he carried his gear in an old japara coat strapped across his back. His food was a lump of bacon and a stack of cabin bread (hard biscuits designed to last many weeks at sea on sailing ships in the absence of fresh bread). I kept my food strictly 21st century.
Whether or not the women of the day might have worn full length dresses all the way on the route, we will never know, but it was awkward enough for the impersonators to walk a few hundred metres without ‘sweeping’ the track with their skirts!
Beth, one of the pillars of the 125th event, carried her dress in the bottom of her pack and pulled it out at appropriate venues to get in character!
Others, who were part of the reopening of the Sutherland Falls Track, came in for the day from the Milford end, but joined in the spirit of the occasion by dressing in period costume.
Anyone stumbling on the party might have been mistaken for thinking they had warped in time to the 1880s!