Unforgettable experience on one of NZ’s Great Walks
Late last year Dian Edmondson, a teacher at Nelson College Preparatory School, led a group of Year 7 and 8 students on an unforgettable education outside the classroom experience on the Milford Track – one of New Zealand’s world-renowned ‘Great Walks’. Dian talks about her experience.
I am a teacher who is passionate about the outdoors: I believe in giving young people the opportunity to experience nature. I’m also lucky to have a head teacher – Richard Nott – who supported and accompanied me on numerous occasions tramping the ‘Great Walks’ trails.
My latest adventure began on 10 December 2017: a group of 20 students and seven adults set out to conquer the Milford Track, which is famous around the world.
Day one: Sunday 10 December
We met at Nelson airport for the flight to Queenstown. The excitement was contagious as we checked in our backpacks and said goodbye to parents.
It was a two-hour ride from Queenstown to our overnight accommodation in Te Anau. After a meeting to go over rules and boundaries, we strolled into town for some excellent fish and chips, before lights out at 9.30pm – a good sleep is essential before tackling such a big adventure.
Day two: Monday 11 December
After breakfast the group visited the Department of Conservation (DOC) to get tickets for the Milford Track and to learn more about the region. We also visited a trout hatchery and went for a swim in the lake. Food shopping for paired lunches was also tackled on day two.
The group met and discussed techniques for stowing gear in packs to ensure that the boys had all the necessary items for a safe trip.
Day three: Tuesday 12 December
Weather: clear with slight wind
Te Anau to Glade Wharf was the first part of the journey, which involved a 30-minute bus and an hour’s boat ride on Lake Te Anau. The rich red colour of the rātā trees as we cruised toward Glade Wharf was really beautiful.
As we disembarked, we were asked to disinfect our boots by stepping into a tray of water. Didymo (didymosphenia geminata, also known as ‘rock snot’) affects rivers, so if all trampers do this, we are helping to protect our environment.
At the start of the track we entered a clearing that opened up into a glade through which the icy blue Clinton River meanders. Some of us, including myself, were a little apprehensive when crossing the first swing bridge we encountered, but as the day went on our confidence increased.
We saw and heard fantails, riflemen and robins as we tramped toward the Clinton Hut. The river, cascading over rocks, gave us glimpses of large trout swimming upstream.
After arriving at the hut, Matthew, our hut warden, gave the boys a tour of the local flora and fauna. He also kept us up to date on the next day’s weather: rain was in the forecast!
Day four: Wednesday 13 December
Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut, 16km. Weather: fine but rain predicted
As rain had been forecast, we made sure the boys were dressed appropriately and had their raincoats handy. Our walk took us to the upper Clinton River and open prairie land. As we came into the clearing, the valley came alive with myriad waterfalls all around us. The boys now understood why they needed polypropylene wet weather gear. We had lunch in a shelter and as we continued along the Quinton Valley the sun peeked through.
Mintaro Hut was our next stop and was very spacious, which meant the other 12 tourists who were staying had their own space. A group of Aussie characters were lots of fun.
Cheeky kea made their presence known as the sun set. All items had to be stored in the hut as kea are notoriously curious birds and love to play with trampers’ equipment.
Day five: Thursday 14 December
Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut, 14km. Weather: fine with light winds – no rain!
Before setting off we quickly checked that everybody had sunblock and hats on before our steep climb. It was the perfect day to climb to the top: blue sky and light winds. As the boys became more confident with their packs, the whole group exhibited some great teamwork, with everybody ensuring they helped each other on this challenging section of the track. Spirits were high as we climbed toward the summit.
To me, the next part of the trail was one of the most challenging for us, because the downhill descent seemed never-ending. Our knees were crying out for respite along the uneven and sometimes rocky path. The magical views distracted from our pain, however, with waterfalls galore.
Our last night in a hut was at Dumpling Hut. A welcome swim in the river to wash away the heat of the day was enjoyed by many.
The water was freezing but refreshing.
Day six: Friday 15 December
Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point, 18km
The boys were briefed the night before that they would need to pack up quickly in the morning. We were out of the hut within an hour of rising.
We had five marked stops to help us keep to our schedule: The Boat Shed; Poseidon Creek; Rock Cave; Mackay Falls; and Giant Gate Falls. We reached Sandfly Point 20 minutes before our boat arrived. True to its name, the sandflies were in abundance, but not for long. The shelter was a welcome relief from the sandfly dance we were forced to perform!
A 10-minute boat ride past Mitre Peak and Bowen Falls to Milford Sound was a sheer delight for the boys, followed by a two-hour bus ride back to Te Anau and our accommodation for the night. A dinner, sharing highlights, challenges, and what they had learnt about themselves was a great way to end a successful outdoor experience.
We were able to pursue several curriculum-linked learning objectives. From EOTC Guidelines: Bringing Curriculum Alive:
“… any ‘beyond school’ experience inevitably crosses learning areas and can potentially support transitions and pathways to further learning. The national curriculum emphasises the importance of dealing with future-focused issues, such as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation.”
As an example, we were able to learn about sustainability, citizenship and globalisation through talking to and learning from DOC staff about the Milford region; efforts that are ongoing to limit the spread of didymo; the impacts of tourism; and the measures that are being taken to manage tourism while maintaining access to our wonderful natural taonga.
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