Trip Reports » Milford Routeburn

Milford Routeburn

May 5 2010

Three Great Walks in three days

Last week the weather in the Southern Lakes last week was not good for running. Trampers were helicoptered out of the Milford track, Queenstown was bracing for floods and the Routeburn was closed due to slips. However our trip had been organised for several months and the forecast was for a fine weekend, so 28 Wellington Ridge Runners arrived in Te Anau hoping for the best, but prepared for a wet weekend.

In Te Anau the jetties were under water and DOC was not very positive about access to the Milford track. However the transport operator we had engaged was full of enthusiasm, so 10 of us set off for Milford Sound.

There had been a crazy plan to run naked through the Homer Tunnel, but the presence of road workers and the bitter wind blowing up the tunnel quickly tempered enthusiasm and we settled for a fully clad sprint. Water poring through numerous fissures in the roughly blasted rocks probably adding wings to our feet.

It was party time in Milford that night to celebrate the end of the crayfishing season, but we stayed away from the pub, retired early and were ready to start on the track before dawn. Unfortunately our boat driver had been at the party and couldn't be found. After a few phone calls a replacement driver was located and we were ferried across to start running a little after 8am.

Despite the steep sides of the valley we were soon running in sunshine. Small patches of cloud clung to the walls and the waterfalls looked spectacular. Still fresh, there was time to appreciate that this really is one of the most spectacular walking tracks in the world. The track had suffered a lot of water damage and there were a few windfalls but surprisingly one of the runners was able to complete the day with dry feet. The group I was with were generally a lot fitter than me and were stopping regularly to take photos and running off on side trips.

Doing the track in reverse meant 1,000metres of almost continuous climb to MacKinnon Pass where we met the other 18 runners coming the other way. How MacKinnon ever found this pass must be a great story, for it is a ridge with near vertical sides and access from diagonally opposite ends.

Our boat ride back across Lake Te Anau had to be completed in daylight as the flooding had littered the lake with half submerged logs. I'd developed a pain in my groin that made running very painful, so it was just a brisk walk for me down the Clinton Valley to join the boat with five minutes to spare at 5:30pm.

That night everyone was a bit sore and tired, but a shower, large meal and beer quickly revived enthusiasm. After a brief discussion we decided that we would all attempt the Routeburn the next day. Sunday saw us on the road by 6:30am. After a second breakfast in Queenstown we continued on to Routeburn Shelter, ignoring the Track Closed signs in Glenorchy. It was a stunning day by 10am when we started on the track. At Irish Creek we discovered why the track was closed, the bridge had been hit by something big enough to bend the heavy steel I beams and wrench it off its supports. Fortunately there was little water in the creek and we barely got our feet wet crossing it. We met the 17 runners (one had driven the van around) coming the other way before the summit. Everyone was looking pretty good and enjoying this second day far more than they had expected. The far side of the Harris Saddle was icy but mostly run-able and we had a pleasant trip out to the waiting van, arriving about 4pm.

Over another fine meal we contemplated our options for Monday. The forecast was for gale force winds and heavy rain. Some felt that having two great days of wonderful views and no wind it would be a pity to finish in a storm, while others felt that a prolonged trip in the hills wasn't complete without a good lashing from wind and rain. The majority agreed to have a quiet day sightseeing, while the rest of us packed day bags with food and extra storm gear. During the night we were woken several times by wind and rain beating against the windows, but by 5:45 it was calmer and there were a few stars out. It was good enough for eight of us to get out of bed and head for the start of the track.

Rain and overcast meant that while we started from Rainbow Reach at 7am it was 7:45 before we could run without torches. Strangely enough I felt better than I had on the previous two days (maybe it was the Voltarin working). There was a little bit of waist deep wading in Lake Manapouri, but otherwise we had a good run to Iris Burn Hut. The 900m grind up onto the tops went steadily and we changed into full storm gear at the first shelter. A few minutes later the storm arrived and we were being severely berated by horizontal snow that felt more like shards of glass. Fortunately the wind was more or less at our backs and only occasionally did our faces get a harsh scouring. The odd few people we met coming the other way had faces that were red and raw from the conditions.

From the top of Mt Luxmore it's almost 1,200m of nearly continuous descent. The knees held up remarkably well till Lake Te Anau, but the last 5kms around the lake were a bit of a struggle. I once again finished last, but eight and a half hours felt like a reasonable effort.

Over yet another fine meal that night we contemplated how we might better the trip next year. Rakiura and a three day run around the island was mentioned, but it will be very hard to beat this trip.

For more photos see the picasa album

Many thanks to Owen Rowse and Wellington Ridge Runners for the huge organisational effort required.

Te Anau bush

A magic fine day after heavy rains meant we got to see the Milford Track when it was truely one of the most spectacular walks in the world.


The mist hung round the edges of the valleys like a necklace.


Lake Te Anau