Archives For Mackinnon Pass

By Herb Christophers

It seems that revolutions were not that uncommon in 1965. There was the Dominican Republic uprising and the Indonesian revolution and counter revolution. Then there was the less contentious ‘Freedom Walk’ on the Milford Track. It was that sort of action packed year.

A boat with Otago Tramping Club members at Milford Track in 1965.

Robyn Armstrong and Otago Tramping Club members get ready to freedom walk the Milford Track in 1965

It was reasoned by some in the New Zealand outdoors fraternity that, because the Milford Track was in Fiordland National Park, there should be no restriction on access. Walking the Milford Track up until that time meant that you had to be part of a Tourism Hotel Corporation guided trip.

So, a hardy group of Otago Tramping Club members staged a two pronged assault on the track in April (Easter) 1965 to force the authorities of the day to review the status of access to the Milford Track.

A boat with Otago Tramping Club members arriving at Sandfly Point.

Otago Tramping Club members arrive at Sandfly Point in 1965

The plan was for some of the group to ascend Hutt Creek and Glade Pass from the Eglinton Valley. They would then drop in at the head of Lake Te Anau, behind Glade House, and walk through to Milford. The other party went to Milford, planning to do some climbing after walking through to Mackinnon Pass.

Robyn Armstrong (nee Norton) was one of the revolutionaries who came over Glade Pass:

“The phrase ‘Freedom Walk’ was adopted because it was the same time as Martin Luther King was doing his ‘Freedom Marches’ throughout America. It’s a loose connection but it was a well broadcast phrase and the name stuck!”

John Armstrong and his team had come in from the Milford end of the track, but the foul weather put a dampener on any ideas of getting much further up the track:

“The Fiordland rain had the last laugh. We spent a couple of days trapped just three or four hours walk up the track and, in the end, we had to turn around at The Boatshed and go back out to Milford with our colleagues, but we had made our point!”

Campsite set up in the Clinton Valley along the Milford Track.

Otago Tramping Club members camping in the Clinton Valley in 1965

Soon after the Otago Tramping Club trip, the infrastructure of alternative huts on the Milford was put in place and those are the facilities that we all enjoy today – Clinton, Mintaro and Dumpling Huts.

Of course the guided walks are still very much a part of the scene but, since 1966, there has been the freedom to choose how you will engage with the track.

Robyn and John were recently on the 125th anniversary walk of the Milford Track. Their pioneering efforts on the Milford Track have opened the way for many thousands of people to enjoy the Milford Track as Freedom Walkers. Viva la Revolution!

Milford 125th Anniversary Heritage Walk 2013

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Keen to know more about Milford?

By Herb Christophers

Ken Bradley.

Senior DOC Ranger, Ken Bradley

Ken Bradley was 16 years old when he first walked the Milford Track in 1968. That was 45 years ago and only one year after the Milford Track was opened to ‘Freedom Walkers’.

Now, as the track celebrates its 125th year since the route over McKinnon Pass was discovered, Ken tells me about his time on the track and the changes that have taken place.

Ken is part of the matrix of personalities whose life is bound to the Milford Track – he has been a guide, trackman, park assistant, park foreman and ranger in charge.

Man putting his feet up outside Trackman's Hut.

Trackmans Hut at Mintaro – one of original tourist huts at this location

He reckons he would have walked the track well over 100 times and walked the Clinton Valley part at least 500 times, either working, fishing or hunting. That’s hardly surprising when you realise he spent his early working years from 1972 until 1975 living in the Clinton Valley as guide/trackman with the Tourist Hotel Corporation which, in those days, had exclusive access for guided walks.

Man on a tractor.

A tractor on the track from Glade to Pompalona. This was the way stores were carried from 1965 to 1978

As part of his job, Ken worked on the ‘Tawera’ – the vessel taking people to the head of Lake Te Anau. This gave him access to the lower Clinton Valley on his days off to fish and hunt when he wasn’t volunteering to clean up the huts.

Tawera in its final years.

Tawera in its final years

“I remember back in the late 60’s and early 70’s there were no possums on the Milford Track, or very few,” says Ken.

“The birdlife has always been reasonably good, but it’s now a lot better since the stoat trapping undertaken in the last 15 years.”

In the late 1960’s there was plenty of deer living on the valley floor and it was really easy to shoot a couple to take out to sell. That would equal a week’s wages for Ken ($20 per week in 1968). By the mid 1970’s the numbers of deer had been greatly reduced by helicopter hunting for export. Trophy heads of those remaining became better, with more feed as vegetation recovered.

In 1976 Ken joined Lands and Survey Department which managed Fiordland National Park at the time, working on a wide variety of projects throughout the vast National Park.

National Park rangers clearing the new hut site at Mintaro.

National Park Rangers clearing the new hut site at Mintaro, 1986 (Ken Bradley in the green bush shirt)

Back on the Milford Track in 1992, Ken was ranger in charge of all operations up to 2006. Since then he has overseen track maintenance operations and other major projects in the area.

“Much of the grunt work was taken out of operations by helicopters but they were rare in the early days. These days, I am in and out of one most weeks somewhere on the track over summer,” says Ken.

Helicopter lifting material during the mid 1970s from head of Lake Te Anau.

Lifting material during the mid 1970s from head of Lake Te Anau

Ken’s favourite hut is Clinton Hut.

Clinton Hut. Photo: Neil Hunt/flickr.

Clinton Hut

“The old Clinton Forks Hut ‘at five mile’ was in danger of being washed out when the river changed course, so we moved it downstream in the mid 90’s to ‘two and a half mile’.”

Clinton Forks Hut, the original Freedom Walkers hut.

Clinton Forks Hut. Built in 1966 it was the original Freedom Walkers hut

Ken oversaw the recycling of 40% of the old hut and rebuilding and expansion of the current hut.

The most radical change that Ken has seen is the type of people doing the Milford Track.

People standing outside Mackinnon Pass Shelter No 2 during late 1950s.

Mackinnon Pass Shelter No 2 during late 1950s

Track walkers in flood conditions during the 1970s.

Track walkers in flood conditions during the 1970s

“People these days seem less prepared than you might expect for a trip in the outdoors. Even so, in spite of giving themselves a hard time, they always go away with a smile on their faces so I guess the experience outweighs the discomfort.” he says.

“Also, if we allowed 100 Freedom Walkers a day we would most likely fill them over the height of the summer. With 40 a day at present, we are at 98% capacity for all of the summer season.”

Related links

Milford Track
Heritage Walk on the Milford Track
Celebrate the Milford Track’s 125 years – Media release

Toni Ellis, Fiordland District Office

This year marks 125 years since the Milford Track began drawing thousands of tourists from all parts of the world. To celebrate, a special heritage focused walk of the four-day 53.5km journey is scheduled—departing 31 October 2013.

Mountain and hut view at Mackinnon Pass on the Milford Track.

The alpine vista at Mackinnon Pass

The idea was hatched by local DOC Ranger, Ken Bradley, who wanted to gather track personalities together to tramp the four days in period costume, highlighting the unique and colourful history of the track.

From there the concept grew, with spaces being opened up to the public as a fundraiser for the restoration of Beech Hut; the official opening of the new Sutherland Falls Track being included; and the Minister of Conservation, Hon Nick Smith, confirming his attendance.

Quinton Mackinnon camping along the Milford Track.

Quintin Mackinnon (middle) discovered a passage later to became known as the Milford Track

Those lucky enough to secure a spot on the walk can expect to be transported back in time by five expert guides—all specialists on the Milford Track. Their stories and experiences will bring the track to life, detailing history, culture and current biodiversity work in the area.

A group in swandris walking the Milford Track, at Six Mile Hut.

Walking the Milford Track during the early 1960s

Many enjoy the Milford Track as a personal and physical challenge; while others enjoy witnessing the results brought about by the ongoing protection and regeneration of New Zealand’s native biodiversity. Heritage is yet another layer that contributes to the unique character and charm that makes the Milford Track Great Walk ‘The finest walk in the world’.

A group of pack horses on the Milford Track.

Pack horses on the Milford Track.

You can celebrate the Milford Track’s 125th anniversary by joining the Heritage Walk. Book your place on the DOC website or by contacting the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre.

Related link

Celebrate the Milford Track’s 125 years – Media release