After two days at Mintaro Hut, I was feeling antsy and ready to hit the trail. We woke up bright and early to wait for the Go Ahead from our hut ranger. Today, we’d be hiking Mackinnon Pass to Dumpling Hut. Even better, the weather showed no rain in the forecast.
The first detour of the day begins right after Mintaro Hut at Mintaro Lake. There’s a big helipad here. It’s a neat spot to take in the views, and to go swimming, if it is warm out. From Mintaro Lake, the trail steadily climbs up.
Because of weather delays the previous days, several people decided to hike back to Te Anau to catch the boat. Some folks decided they’d hike up to the top of Mackinnon Pass to check it out before turning around.
We caught some early risers rushing down as we huffed and puffed our way up. Mackinnon Pass seems far away, but the trail is well-graded. Your thighs might be burning, but they won’t be burning too bad.
The highest point on the Milford Track: Mackinnon Pass
Mackinnon Pass, the highest point on the Milford Track, is hands down the best part of the trail. If you have to skip the rest of the trip, this alone is worth hiking up to, especially for sunrise. You will not regret it.
Atop the pass sits the Mackinnon Memorial, a giant cairn to commemorate Quintin McKinnon, the colonizer who built the path connecting the Clinton and Arthur Valleys from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
This spot alone made the whole Milford Track completely worth it. Mackinnon Pass was the best part of the trail. As the highest point of the trail, it was also quite chilly.
From Mackinnon Pass, we scurried on down to the small emergency shelter, sitting below the high point. The Mackinnon Pass Shelter is a nice respite from the wind. The bathroom, or long drop has some of the best views a pit toilet may ever have.
If I were to do this hike again, I’d skip breakfast and hike to the top of Mackinnon Pass for sunrise. The shelter is equipped with gas so you can boil water and cook breakfast. We just barely caught the tail end of pretty light this morning.
From here, it’s all downhill. After leaving the Mackinnon Pass Shelter, the trail rapidly begins to drop into the Arthur Valley. Keep your eyes peeled for kea flying overhead. Watch out for curious weka on the trail. We saw about 3-5 birds each. Each weka was very keen on inspecting trekking poles and trying to get as close as possible.
Once the trail flattens out before the woods, glimpses of Sutherland Falls start coming into view. Enjoy the flatness while it lasts because the trail begins to steeply descend. Thankfully, there are stairs. Because it rained so much the night before, the trail became a bit of a stream. The trail passes quite close to a river, covering us with spray.
Sutherland Falls on the Milford Track
Eventually you reach the junction for Sutherland Falls and Quintin Hut and our last hut on the trail, Dumpling Hut. Dumpling Hut is about an hour away. The trip to Sutherland Falls and back takes about 90 minutes. Take the trip.
Visiting Sutherland Falls is an experience. Sutherland Falls drops 1904 feet in three separate cascades 1904 feet from Lake Quill. This was thought of as the tallest waterfall in New Zealand until a waterfall in Doubtful Sound stole the title. Regardless, many day hikers take a boat in to hike to Sutherland Falls.
The spray at the base of the waterfalls is absolutely intense. Bring your rain jacket, you will need it.
At the end of the hike, don’t forget to check out independent walker room at Quintin Hut. The bathroom facilities leave much to be desired. Free coffee and tea are the name of the game. This is a great spot for a quick snack before your last push.
Once we passed Sutherland Falls, my body was ready to be done with the trail for the day. It seemed to drag on and on. From Sutherland Falls to Dumpling Hut, the trail is relatively flat. About 15 minutes away from Quintin Hut, the trail skirts the edge of a meadow. You’ll get your best views of Sutherland Falls here.
When Dumpling Hut came into view on the trail, I rejoiced! We were almost done. My GPS clocks the third day on the Milford Track at 13 miles wth 1,575 feet of elevation gain.
Dumpling Hut on the Milford Track
Dumpling Hut is the largest and most spread out of all the huts we’d been to on the trip. There are four separate rooms for bunks. The common area is twice the size of my apartment. Dumpling Hut even had a handful of board games. Since this is the last stop on the trail, there’s also a food drop-off container for any extra items that you don’t want to hike out.
The Arthur River passes quite close to the Dumpling Hut. If the sun is shining, take a dip. It is absolutely refreshing.