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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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Herb Christophers: The only thing that held up the long johns were the shorts over the top!

Herb Christophers: The only thing that held up the long johns were the shorts over the top!

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.

Ray’s 85 year old Bergen pack

Ray’s 85 year old Bergen pack

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!

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