Nut Stops

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
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Monday, February 27, 2006

'...the track along the bank of the Clinton is undoubtedly entitled to take rank as one of the most romantic bush walks in New Zealand, or for the matter of that, in the wide world. At every step of the way fresh vistas of exceeding beauty open up through the tall spreading pines on every hand, while at every succeeding bend in the river, scenes of wild savage grandeur are presented... So much we recognised as we journeyed onward, drinking in the wondrous scene with every breath we drew.'

- William McHutcheson, 1892



Day Two: Clinton Hut - Mintaro Hut, 16.5km

I awoke to the shuffle and rustle of randoms, a classic alarm call so commonly associated with hut and hostel life. There was little point trying to sleep further. I hadn't slept all that much either, just kept rolling over and drifting in and out of an unsettled state throughout the night. When Chicken was ready we made our way over to the kitchen to rustle up a cup of tea and some weet-bix (same as 'weetabix' but in a blue box.) By now Chicken had really started getting into the whole cooking-in-a-billy thing: 'I really like this powdered milk you know, I think I prefer it to real milk.' I wondered how long she'd feel that way.

We were packed and on the track soon after nine. Our task was to reach the end of the Clinton Valley, some 16 kilometres or so of mildly undulating terrain heading north west. The sky was a tad overcast and held a distant downpour, which had us wrapped up in our waterproofs ready to get showered on. Fortunately, it was moving slowly away from us in the same direction and only caught us in the last stages of the track.

Though hardly strenuous, the track did have its highlights. The steep sided valley around us was full of Fiordland character and scenically very impressive. In the bush we were among a small community of grey robins and bellbirds that were insistently friendly and inquisitive, and on reaching the open valley we realised we were sharing space with plenty of keas. Over the hours it took us to make it through the valley we gradually became addicted to 'Bhuja Mix' (like bombay mix), which we chomped on every ten minutes by the handful. Once we were through with the bhuja, Chicken had no problem in demanding regular stops for mouthfuls of nuts and raisins. She'd grown quite comfortable with the whole thing, which in turn put me very much at ease.



We eventually found a hidden lake to the west side of the valley, where we stopped momentarily to make adjustments and take a few snaps. By then we'd almost joined the not so distant band of rain. We pushed on through it for the remainder of the day until we made it to the Mintaro Hut, situated 600 metres above sea level beneath the Mackinnon Pass. The sheer vertical mountain wall we were facing was just incredible: we couldn't see the top of it. Waterfalls crashed down haphazardly all over the face of it and it struck me then, that this was our home for the night - the wild side of nature, another great privilege.

On a clear day, it's advisable to dump your pack at the Mintaro Hut and take the two-hour climb to the top of the Mackinnon Pass (the very thing that you do the following morning and the hardest section of the track.) This is because the weather often turns overnight so it's a good idea to do the Mackinnon Pass on this second day in order to ensure that you get to see it at least once. Our arrival at Mintaro made our minds up for us. It was raining miserably and the mist had grown into a suffocating cloak - an annoying curtain that guaranteed we wouldn't see anything worthwhile. A climb to the pass would be a waste of time.



We found a couple of bunks in the dark bunkroom upstairs and unpacked systematically before moving on to the kitchen. It had gone really cold so I went mad on the oxo cubes. They always do the trick, like swallowing a hot water bottle. Before dinner we received an entertaining hut talk from our warden 'Jolie' who gave us plenty of info and warnings about our expectations for day three. On the Milford Track, day three is essentially 'the day' and it was crucial that we knew what we were letting ourselves in for, for our own safety if nothing else. Everyone listened intently as Jolie relayed the weather report she's just received by radio. It looked like we were in for one hell of a day: heavy rain for most of it, followed by it clearing in the evening.

The annual rainfall in the Fiordland averages seven whole metres and is a feature responsible for the lush vegetation and dramatic landscape, which brings smiles to many a visitor. Though our news didn't put many smiles on faces this time, it was hardly surprising.

As the night progressed the weather got worse. By mid evening the rainfall was heavy and the mist loomed closely. And we'd been promised much more of the same. My main concern was that we had come all this way and might not get to see anything. This was a tragedy that I really didn't want to accept. It would be such a waste.
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