New Zealand Gold Duke of Edinburgh Expedition

2016 12 11 dofe new zealand web 36Routeburn and Milford Tracks – New Zealand. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is designed to provide challenge, opportunity and adventure to build resilience, character and community values in the lives of our students. Part of the award for Gold level participants is to go on two adventurous journeys each for four days and three nights. These journeys are aimed at providing experiences which cannot be learned in a classroom or in a familiar environment and need to be completed in a group or team context. We considered some amazing options and possibilities during 2014 and finally announced our intention to complete the practice and qualifying journeys in Fiordland in the South Island of New Zealand.

So on Saturday 10 December till Friday 23 December, 2016, fourteen students, two teachers and three parents travelled to the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks near Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand. The intention was to walk Lonely Planet’s seventh best walk in the world - the 32 kilometre long Routeburn Track and the 55 kilometre world renown Milford Track, which has long been touted as ‘the finest walk in the world’.

The Routeburn Track 11-14 December 2016

The Routeburn Track follows the pristine waters of the Routeburn as it rushes and cascades down through red beech forest to flow into Lake Wakatipu. The walk then climbs the majestic Harris Saddle and then down the Hollyford Face with views across to the Darren Mountains before the arriving at the scenic Lake McKenzie and Lake Howden. The walk finishes at the Divide between Te Anau and Milford Sound. Day One was spent climbing through the dense moss covered forest which emerged into the spectacular Routeburn Flats where we had lunch. This was a large area of emerald, green grassland surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The scenery was breathtaking. Later we climbed to Routeburn Falls Hut near a large waterfall where we spent our first night. The system of huts on New Zealand’s Great Walks allows for a degree of safety and comfort in an environment in which weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. The Routeburn has claimed four lives including a Polish walker in 2016 and two school children in 1963.

Day Two was spent climbing the upper reaches of the Routeburn valley above the tree line with spectacular scenery and views of the snow covered peaks of the Mt Aspiring and Darren Mountain Ranges. We saw the rare sight of the Mt Cook lilies, with their white petals and golden centres and the more common alpine daisies along the way. Passing Lake Harris, we reached Harris Saddle Shelter for lunch. It was cold with a biting wind. We then continued along the Hollyford Face which dropped far into the valley below. We crossed numerous streams cascading down the face of the mountains or forming waterfalls which dropped hundreds of metres. We were able to view the beautiful Lake McKenzie with the hut near it which would be our resting place for the night. The descent through dense forest took much longer than anticipated. When we arrived many of the students and both teachers took a very short dip in the icy waters of the lake. It was an ice bath to invigorate aching muscles and was totally refreshing.

Day Three took us through cool forest and eventually out onto the open area called the Orchard from where we could see the beautiful and spectacular Earland Falls. We walked directly past the falls and craned our necks to see the top 174 metres above us. From there it was a pleasant walk to Lake Howden Hut. The weather had closed in and it was cool and showery. Later we climbed Key Summit to see the spectacular view but the sky was overcast and the mountains were ringed in cloud and fog. At the hut we connected with our fellow walkers including a trio of people from Britain, America and Brazil, a couple from Singapore and a family from New Zealand. Meeting other people from different walks of life is one of the most enjoyable aspects of camping.

Day Four arrived and so did the heavy rain. We walked the remaining few kilometres through forest in drenching rain to end our walk at The Divide where we waited for a bus to take us to Milford Sound for our luncheon cruise. Milford Sound was a mass of waterfalls falling hundreds of metres to crash into the sea. It was an awe-inspiring view to see such huge volumes of water spilling over the 1600 metre high sheer cliffs to cascade into the sound. Later, in clearing weather and occasionally in brilliant sunshine we caught the bus back to Te Anau. For the next day we needed to prepare for our Qualifying Journey along the Milford Track. Our Routeburn Adventure had shown us some of the awesome majesty and creativity of God. Milford was to provide glimpses of the awesome power of God.

The Milford Track – 16-19 December 2016

The Milford Track follows the Clinton River to its source, then transverses the amazing Mackinnon Pass and down the Arthur River to Milford Sound. It was a route pioneered in the 1890s. Day One of our Qualifying Journey began at the Department of Conservation Office in Te Anau. We caught a shuttle bus to Anau Downs where we took a cruiser to Glade Wharf and the start of the Milford Track. After the obligatory group photograph we walked through a well graded level track beside the Clinton River though beautiful forest. At one point we crossed over on a long swing bridge, passed Glade Hut and after an hour and a half’s walking arrived at Clinton Hut for our first night. There were masses of sandflies. We spent extensive time at the river skipping stones, tossing stones onto a flat rock and then trying to knock others’ rocks into the water. The scenery around us was magnificent. We also took a nature walk and saw amazing sundews and plants that reminded us of Geraldton Wax flowers. Above us a waterfall plunged downward. Nearby was a large scar on the landscape caused by an avalanche which was reminder of the dangers of this environment. Clinton Hut was an idyllic spot.

Day Two was a brilliant sunshiny day. We left early and climbed steadily, following the Clinton River valley towards Mackinnon Pass. The scenery was breathtaking with glacial snow-capped mountains, gurgling, cascading water and lush subtropical forest. We stopped beside Hidden Lake and watched the waterfall feeding into it. We stopped for lunch beside Marlene’s Creek, one of the many rushing streams flowing into the river. We continued to climb steadily and finally reached Mintaro Hut after a six and a half hour walk. Some students opted to have a very brief swim in Lake Mintaro. It had been a wonderful day. We spent time with Cathy, a teacher from Covenant Christian School who was doing three of the Great Walks. To find other Christians enjoying God’s wonderful creation added to the pleasure of the trip.

Day Three would probably be for many of us the most exciting and memorable of the entire trip. The hut ranger had advised us to remain until the latest forecast arrived. It was not very encouraging – 110mm of rain would fall between 8:00am and 11:00am and we would face gale force winds as we crossed the saddle of Mackinnon Pass. We readied ourselves with all our raingear on and faced the three hundred metre climb, zigzagging to reach the top of the pass. On the top is a sign warning of the 12 second drop cliff (It takes 12 seconds to hit the bottom) with the amazing vista from the cliffs on the Arthur River side of the saddle. However, as there was a complete whiteout and a fierce wind was blowing we didn’t bother to even venture near the edge. We rested at the Mackinnon Shelter, drank some hot chocolate and prepared for the 900 metre treacherous descent from the pass. The students being more sure and steady of foot went ahead while the teachers took their time, with the parents bringing up the rear. The huge downpour made for an interesting descent. We were literally walking through and across waterfalls with ankle deep water flowing across the track. At one point we walked beside the Roaring Burn which lived up to its name. The water was tumbling and cascading at an unbelievable rate and the noise was deafening. It was an awesome spectacle of God’s mighty power. We unfortunately were so soaked and the descent had taken so much time that we did not have the time to take the side trip to the 580 metre high Sutherland Falls. We later saw them at a distance from the track and they were awesome in their rate of flow and beauty. The teachers arrived at Quinton Hut to find that the students had arrived about 90 minutes before and we just about to move on. Finally, we made our way to Dumpling Hut for a warm dinner and a chance to dry out our sodden clothes. As usual, the sandflies were about, the sun came out in the afternoon and as quickly as the water levels had risen, they receded. In a place like Milford, which gets seven metres of rain a year, this was a relatively normal day, but for us it had been simply awesome. It also displayed the amazing team mentality and attitude of our group, because not a single complaint was to be heard.

Day Four was an eighteen kilometre walk though forest and past rivers and waterfalls to reach the aptly named Sandfly Point in time to catch the 2:00pm ferry to Milford Sound. We passed avalanche sites, criss-crossed the Arthur River, stood in wonder of the beauty of Mackay Creek and Giants Gate Falls and were amazed at how Bell Rock had been carved out of solid rock into a perfect bell shape. Finally, the track levelled to a wide path through the forest and eventually about an hour earlier than scheduled, we arrived at our destination. Milford Track would have to be one of the most special places on earth and it was great to have ticked this walk off the “Bucket List”. It will remain a most wonderful experience and the images of the beauty of God’s creation will live long in our memories. It was an awesome effort to have simply managed to get through such a tough and challenging adventure, but to have done it with the team mentality we had developed and to have seen relationships grow and develop made it so very special.

However, we also managed to do more things in our time in New Zealand. At Queenstown we rode the Scenic Gondola to the summit and ate a sumptuous banquet at the restaurant at the top. We saw the most inspiring film shot from a helicopter about Fiordland. We sea kayaked on Milford Sound on a picture postcard perfect day and we rode the rather scary but awesome rapids when we went white water rafting at Queenstown. Finally we had a celebration dinner before many students decided to see ‘Star Wars”. Ours was a very special time away and we are still talking excitedly about our experiences on the trip.

In December 2018, we are hopeful of taking another trip to New Zealand to complete the gold adventurous journeys, again doing the Routeburn and Milford Tracks. This will allow current silver students to complete their gold journeys after their HSC examinations and for current Bronze students, many of whom have just finished their bronze award, to complete their journeys after their first term of Year 12. Details are yet to be finalised and will be announced in due course. It would a great adventure and the advice of the 2016 Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award team would be, “If you have the opportunity, then you simply have to do it.”

Pacific Hills Christian School Gold Adventurous Journey Participants
Students: Katarina Atkinson, Claire Chandler, Sam Connorton, Joel Davidson, Sam Derbyshire, Alex Genovese, Ben Luker, Monique McCreanor, Kalum Midder, Joshua Sumskas, Brayson Wickham-Hill, Alex White, James Wong, Kai-senn Yee
Teachers: Colin Lees and Bronwyn O’Neil
Parents: Kelvin and Tina Atkinson, Halyn Van der Water

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