The Milford Sound region was hit by a severe weather event on 3 February 2020. A number of roads and tracks in the area were badly damaged. As to 16 March 2020, the Milford Road SH94 has reopened to all vehicles and recreational users are finally able to access the area again. The Department of Conservation website however states that a number of tracks are still ‘closed’.
The Milford Track Great Walk is currently operational between Lake Te Anau and MacKinnon Pass only, and the DOC website states
“The north section of the track, from Mackinnon Pass to Sandfly Point, remains closed to the public and is unsafe to access.”
Elsewhere on the website, we are told that
“These tracks are closed: Dore Pass Route, East Eglinton Track, Gertrude Saddle Route, Grave Talbot Route, Hollyford Track, Hut Creek Track, Lake Marian Falls Track, Lake Marian Track, Mistake Creek Track, Pass Creek Track, Routeburn Track, The Chasm Walk, Tutoko Valley Route.”
These statements have caused confusion, and we have received inquiries from trampers wanting to access the area. What do these track closures mean? DOC can’t stop me from going there, right?
FMC objects to the use of the word ‘closed’. The Department of Conservation cannot close access to a National Park, except in extreme circumstances, where public safety would be jeopardised (example: closure of the Young and Makarora valleys in Mt Aspiring National Park after the formation of a new lake in the Young River in 2007, while geologists assessed the stability of the dam that formed the lake, and the risk of catastrophic flooding of the valleys downstream of it).
Moreover, while the 3 February storm has undoubtedly caused significant damage, we’d like to point out the positive side of it, i.e. the opportunity for kiwi trampers to enjoy some of our iconic tracks free of large crowds.
Access to Fiordland National Park is open
There are no legal closures in place in Fiordland National Park. What DOC means with the use of the word ‘closed’ is that they cannot guarantee the safety of structures and facilities on the tracks. Access to all affected tracks remains open to everyone as usual. Trampers should be prepared to expect widespread track damage and should not assume that any of the structures on the tracks are safe to use.
More specifically, below is what we know about some of the affected tracks.
The Milford Track has sustained damage in the lower Arthur River valley, around Lake Ada and upstream of Sandfly Point. We understand however that it is fine to walk on. The bridge at Giant Gate Falls was destroyed and won’t be replaced until the next Great Walk Season – river crossing skills are essential.
Since the Great Walk is currently operational between Glade Wharf (Lake Te Anau) and MacKinnon Pass only, there is no hut warden in place at Dumpling Hut in the Arthur River. Trampers need to carry their own cooker. On the plus side, winter fees applies, the Annual Hut Pass can be used, and bookings are not required at Dumpling Hut. There is currently a great opportunity for trampers to walk the Milford Track up the Arthur River from Milford Sound to MacKinnon Pass and back, without crowds, at low cost, and without having to book.
We’d like to remind trampers planning to walk the Milford Track of the following:
- Expect track damage in the lower Arthur River
- River crossing skills are essential. This includes knowing when to cross and not to cross, and how to select a safe ford. The site of the (missing) bridge is unlikely to be one, since bridges are built where the river is narrowest. Scout upstream and downstream of the track to find the safest ford.
- Camping within 500m of the track is illegal.
- No boat service running on Milford Sound. Trampers need to organize their own transport across Milford Sound to / from Sandfly Point.
- Pack-rafting anywhere on the Clinton or Arthur Rivers or on Lake Ada is prohibited under the Biosecurity Act.
The Routeburn Track Great Walk is only operational between Glenorchy and Lake MacKenzie.
The DOC website states:
“The remainder of the track between Lake Mackenzie Hut and the Divide shelter is impassable and remains closed.”
We don’t know what ‘impassable’ means in this context, but trampers should expect both extensive tree fall and slips. Lake Howden Hut was destroyed by a landslide.
The best recent update on the Hollyford Track was written by Matt Burke on Arno Marten’s blog:
The main issue is the damage to the Hollyford Road, which has been well and truly closed by mother nature. Road repairs have not started yet. To get to the track, trampers need to walk the road from Lake Marian car park (20km+) or walk the Routeburn and Deadman tracks from Glenorchy.
Expect much track damage to Lake Alabaster and beyond. Beware that there is currently no bridge over Swamp Creek. River crossing skills are essential.
On the positive side, there will be no jet boats on the river until the road has been repaired.
Other tracks in the area
Most other tracks in the area are only ‘closed’ because DOC has not had a chance to inspect them and assess any damage. As with after every major rain event, be cautious and be prepared to expect damage. There is however no reason whatsoever to stay away from any of these tracks.
We are not aware of any damage on the Gertrude Saddle Route.
The Grave Talbot Route has had no maintenance work done on it in several years, and as to March 2019 (one year ago – no typo) it is mostly unfollowable and is de facto an off-track tramping trip, with plenty of rough bush bashing. Since there are no structures on this route and there is no track either, it is not clear in this context what a ‘track closure’ means.
Take a hand-saw and secateurs on any of the tracks listed above, do your bit to improve them for the next tramper to follow in your footsteps, and report any damage to structures to DOC. Feel free to send us updates on track conditions, too.