Fiordland’s unexpected sights
The expedition began with an early start setting out on one of New Zealand’s more popular Great Walks, the Routeburn Track. This walk is a point-to-point walk rather than a loop, so you can hike it in either direction. One option is to start the hike in Fiordland from The Divide (85km from Te Anau); the other is to start from the Routeburn Shelter (25km from Glenorchy). This makes the Routeburn Track an ideal option for day walkers. If you ever find yourself in Glenorchy (near Queenstown) or Te Anau, I highly recommend a day walk on this spectacular track.
The full Routeburn Track walk takes between two and four days to complete. There are a number of steep sections along the track, like the traverse to the Harris Saddle, that will test the leg muscles. Today, however, my destination is Key Summit, about a one and a half-hour walk from The Divide.
It doesn’t take long before you are immersed in a lush setting, the variations of green are breathtaking. The image above gives you a sense of the depth of the Routeburn Track. For me, the Routeburn Track offers an incredible diversity of scenery. There are huge mountains, rocky riverbeds, glaciers, lush forest and high summit peaks. There is also the marked change when you leave Fiordland National Park, which is dense, lush and green and then enter Mt Aspiring Nation Park with its tussock and schist landscape. It is a smorgasbord of scenery!
I know the Routeburn Track well, and I know what to expect along the way. This trip, I was lucky enough to encounter a few other sights. There is always something unexpected in a wild location like this.
Wild weather and washouts
Not far along the track, I encountered washed out areas of track caused by a massive storm. In February 2020 Fiordland experienced a significant rainfall event. Fiordland is one of the world’s wettest places, so when they say “significant”, they really mean it. In some parts of Fiordland over one metre (3.2 feet) of rain fell in a 60-hour period. Even for Fiordland, that’s a lot of rain. The subsequent flooding and landslides closed the Milford Road, the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track.
A considerable amount of work went into repairing the Milford Road to reopen access to Milford Sound. There is still work to be done, but the Department of Conservation (DOC) has done an impressive job to repair such a rugged part of the country.
The Routeburn Track is still damaged in some parts and hikers must take care through certain sections. I walked past these washed out areas not far from the starting point of the track at The Divide.
The traverse to Key Summit took an hour and a half before I found myself enjoying the view of Mt Cristina and the Earl Mountains. However, for photography, today was not to be my day. It was overcast and I decided to head back. With good weather forecast for the next day, I wasn’t too worried and at least I had gotten some exercise.
Milford Sound for the night and a curious visitor
Back in the car, I headed into Milford Sound to stay at Milford Sound Lodge for the night. The lodge is one of my favourite places to stay and is the only accommodation option in Milford Sound if you are an independent traveller. There are chalets and a campground for self-contained campervans all set in the rainforest.
Staying in Milford Sound is an opportunity to enjoy the delights of the area a little longer than you would be able to on a day trip. I was happy to get a visit from one of my friends who lives at Milford Sound Lodge. The friendly weka appears from underneath the deck of my chalet to say hello. Weka are a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand and look a lot like a chicken, which is why they are often called a bush hen. They are well-known for appearing out of the bush to steal your snacks. They are a wonderful little creature filled with curiosity and personality.
Milford Sound at night is a spectacular place. Most of the tourists have departed, and you have the chance to soak it all in. I was delighted to see the clouds clear as night fell and a perfectly clear starry night appear. Milford Sound is certainly an impressive location for anyone looking for dark skies.
I took a walk and captured this image of the Milky Way framed by the mountains on both sides.
Winter delights on the Routeburn
The following day, I was up early again and looking forward to a clear day. I was soon back on the Routeburn Track and delighted to see that the previous day’s bad weather had left behind another surprise. A winter wonderland had arrived in Fiordland with a light dusting of snow covering the track and the forest.
As the sun rose, I took my time to capture Key Summit. It took a few hours for the sun to move into a good position, but eventually, my wait was rewarded. The many layers of the forest are illuminated by sunlight, and the result is Key Summit Double Series.
It is time to head home. I am happy with the Key Summit pieces but even happier with the few extra surprises my expedition into Fiordland delivered.
Key Summit Double Series is a two-piece release designed to hang side-by-side. This limited release is available in the gallery or online. Contact us to reserve yours.