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The Divide to Milford Sound

Pops Viewpoint

Hollyford Lookout

Coordinates: -44.809270 168.107220

Pops Viewpoint is large and spacious yet hangs precipitously above the Hollyford Valley. Busses are banned and there is plenty of space for camper vans.

It has a fabulous view of the Marian Valley dominated by Mount Crosscut, the lower Hollyford Valley and the Alisa Mountains. In the morning the sun rises over the Alisa Mountains and in the afternoon the sun is over the Darran's, the light can be very contrasty.

Road Side Viewpoint - Lower Hollyford

Hollyford Lookout

Coordinates: -44.809140 168.105240

This roadside viewpoint is probably best visited on the way home from Milford Sound, it is close to the road and open to large busses. The view is essentially the same as that from Pops Viewpoint a few hundred meters further up the road.

Marian Corner

Marian Camp

Coordinates: -44.813350 168.092000

At Marian Corner, the gravel Hollyford Road turns sharply off the Milford road and continues down the Hollyford River for 16 km to the start of the Hollyford Track. From here the Milford Road begins its ascent to the Homer Tunnel.

This was the site of Marian Camp and the old vehicle service pit is visible from the car parking area. There is a chimney still visible in a clearing 300m further down on the right. Most of the camp buildings were on the hairpin bend between the Milford and Hollyford roads. There was once a cinema and a YMCA here, along with tent huts for the men, a post office, cook house, first aid station and workshops.

There is a paper road, unlikely to be built, which would continue down the Hollyford and cut through the heart of the National Park, to Jacksons Bay in Westland.

Falls Creek

Christie Falls

Coordinates: -44.817590 168.079235

Falls Creek crosses from the left 89 km from Te Anau. It is quite a spectacle, the busses typically slow down on the single lane bridge to give their passengers a view of the torrential Christie Falls, named for John Christie who surveyed the road from the Divide through all the major difficulties, and made the decision to site the tunnel at the Homer Saddle.

Head Quarters Camp was at the last bend of the road before Falls Creek and was used as a base until Homer Camp, near the tunnel, took over.

At present, winter 2017, there are roadworks at Falls Creek, the parking area on the Milford Side of the bridge is being expanded, pedestrian facilities added and a new footbridge has been installed beside the road bridge, making Falls Creek a safer place to stop.

There is a marked route for experienced trampers up Falls Creek, 2 hours to the bush line and 5 hours to the head of the valley below Ngatimamoe and Pyramid Peaks. Moir's Guide South, available from the Te Anau DOC Visitor Centre, contains a detailed route description. A better vantage point of Christie Falls can be gained with a short excursion up the steep and difficult track.

Camera Flat

Camera Flat

Coordinates: -44.818115 168.073577

Camera Flat was the site of the base camp used by John Christie and the tunnel survey party between October 1933 and April 1934, he decided to push the tunnel through the Homer Saddle after calculating its length, rather than the Gertrude Saddle which was he initially favoured. The only way (other than the Milford Track) over to the Cleddau/Milford side of the Homer Saddle was by way of the precipitous Grave-Talbot Route.

During the construction of the tunnel workers on the Milford Sound side were delivered their mail and pay by a runner who crossed the saddle using fixed ropes on the Cleddau side of the saddle.

Rockfall Zone

Coordinates: -44.815300 168.057340 to -44.813230 168.047210

There is a well signposted 700m zone after Disappointment Creek where stopping is not allowed due to sporadic rockfall from the steep ridge of Mount Suter, South of the road.

This area is avalanche prone in the winter and spring, there may be temporary supplemental no stopping signs in place extending this area.

Windfall Creek

Windfall Creek

Coordinates: -44.81282, 168.04303

Soon after the no stopping zone ends there is a limited opportunity to stop at Windfall Creek where there is an excellent photo opportunity looking up the Hollyford River towards 2105m Mount Talbot on the flank of the Homer Tunnel.

At this point you are facing steep granite across the Hollyford River leading up to 2474m Mount Christina. Elusive Mount Tutoko, at 2723m the highest peak in Fiordland and Southland, can be glimpsed on the other side of the Homer Tunnel near the Chasm.

Hollyford Hydro-electric Power Station

Hollyford Hydro-electric Power Scheme

Coordinates: -44.805680 168.028590

Near the 59 mile marker post on the right of the Milford Road, is a short track to the remains of the Hollyford hydro-electric power station, where power was generated to run the light rail and pumps at the Homer Tunnel.

The track from the above coordinates ends at the water intake, the power house is 300m further downstream. When the tunnel was completed the generator and turbine were removed.

The power line between here and the Homer Tunnel is cut by two active avalanche cones, in the winter power cuts were frequent until a backup generator was installed.

There is limited space to park a vehicle but this is a thoroughly interesting stop for an alert traveller, highly recommended on the return journey.

Near to Hollyford Hydro-electric Power Scheme

Monkey Creek

Monkey Creek Camp - Lyttle's Farm

Coordinates: -44.801350 168.021700

Monkey Creek is named for William Henry Homer's dog Monkey who caught a large rabbit here in 1889 on an investigative trip to the recently discovered Homer Saddle with district surveyor Wilmot. They had travelled up the Greenstone and Hollyford valleys from Lake Wakatipu and were no doubt hungry. There was once a road camp at the site of the present day paved, bus ready photo stop 94 km from Te Anau.

The general area area is named Lyttle's Farm in jest after Albert Lyttle. Before going on a trip into the upper Hollyford, Lyttle was asked by his doctor if he was looking for a farm. Travelling with Grave and Talbot who discovered the Grave-Talbot pass in January 1910, Lyttle was ill and unable to accompany them on their pioneering crossing. There are various features in the area named for Lyttle. The Grave-Talbot pass is a now pointless, difficult and very dangerous route requiring a complicated traverse of Mount McPherson and multiple abseils on the descent to the Esperance River.

Monkey Creek is a good place to see Kea, New Zealand's endangered mountain parrot, please do not feed them.

The best photo opportunities are across the road, closer to the Hollyford River, and further along the straight after Monkey Creek where it is possible to stop safely in a few places on the return journey.

Near Monkey Creek

Cirque Camp Bakehouse

Cirque Camp Bakehouse

Coordinates: -44.784950 168.016490

After you pass Monkey Creek and the road begins to climb, keep your eyes open for the huge weathered concrete bakehouse on the right hand side of the road.

Directly across the road, on the left, is a clearing that was the site of Cirque Camp. There are some remains visible earlier in the season before the bracken takes over. Apparently there are still raspberries growing but I was unable to find them.

Mount Talbot View

Mount Talbot

Coordinates: -44.962390 168.016740

It is possible to get a good view of Mount Talbot on the return journey, stop here and look back. Limited space for one vehicle only.

Gertrude Valley

View from Homer Hut

Coordinates: -44.769970 168.002440

The present NZ Alpine Club Homer Hut was once Forks Camp, site of the houses of the tunnel engineer and overseer. There is a handy DOC toilet at the car park.

In the height of Summer when the avalanche risk is low a walk up the Gertrude valley, perhaps as far as the saddle, is highly recommended. Stay away when there is snow, the whole route from Homer Hut is exposed to extreme avalanche risk. The alpine vegetation, beautiful gurgling stream, waterfall, granite faces, views from the saddle and heavily protected alpine bird life are worth a substantial diversion from the road. Because the orthogneiss of the Darran Mountains is so hard, river boulders are angular, hiking is potentially hard going.

The track follows the Gertrude Stream through alpine forest, climbs gently through herb fields and then climbs steeply up exposed granite to Black Lake and the Gertrude Saddle for expansive views. It is a 4-6 hour round trip to the Saddle. Bear in mind that runoff is so extreme even a small amount of rain turns dry water courses into raging torrents. Frost or ice makes the steeper sections extremely slippery.

The landscape is unusual for New Zealand, the Gertrude Saddle and Lake Marian are my 'must do' favourite walks. It is probably not a good idea to do both in a day but if you are on the road for more than a day then consider combining them with Key Summit for a busy time on your feet.

Homer was the first to suggest a tunnel. In 1889 district surveyor EH Wilmot was sent to check it out, concluding it was a useless proposition. Homer stubbornly continued to advocate for a tunnel. The Gertrude Saddle is named for the wife of Wellington engineer RW Holmes who was sent in 1890 to re examine the possibilities. Holmes decided that the Homer Saddle was the only reasonable option and that a tunnel 1000 feet long could be built for £2000. Surveyor John Christie initially favoured the Gertrude Saddle but after completing his calculations settled on the Homer Saddle. Tunneling work eventually started on the 4th of July 1935 and was completed at a cost of over £500,000.

Gertrude SaddleView from the Gertrude Saddle

The Chapel

The Chapel

Coordinates: -44.764695 167.995350

The Chapel, helicopter landing pad and workshops are at the site of the old Homer camp, 100 km from Te Anau and 500m from the tunnel.

This was the main camp during construction of the Homer Tunnel. Conditions were very difficult in Winter, in the beginning huts had wooden floors and low walls with canvas sides and tops. Three men were lost to avalanches in 1936 and 1937, they are remembered with plaques at the tunnel entrance. There were up to 20 families living here with a school for their children. An Indian fruit and vegetable merchant made the journey up the difficult road from Te Anau with fresh food and illicit alcohol. There were parties on Sundays and holidays.

There is an emergency defibrillator at the Chapel.

Homer Tunnel Entrance

Homer Tunnel Entrance
Homer Tunnel Ice fall
Workshop, Homer Tunnel
View from tunnel entrance alpine walk

Coordinates: -44.764870 167.989720

Men began excavating scree at the tunnel entrance using picks, shovels and wheel barrows on 4 July 1935, they hit rock in early 1936. Pneumatic drills were used to plant gelignite in the hard rock, the debris was cleared out using light rail and dumped at the approach to create the foundation of the road.

Because the tunnel slopes down steeply, it filled up with water and had to be constantly pumped out. Tunneling was begun at the Milford side and in February 1940 they breeched, allowing subterranean water to flow without intervention.

Expansion work was stopped in 1942 during the war. A substantial concrete portal was built on the Milford end to protect the tunnel exit from avalanches but it was crushed by a massive avalanche in 1945. In 1947 the tunnel was opened to walkers from the Milford Track. In 1951 work was re-started and in 1954 the tunnel was officially opened to traffic.

The foundations of the old tunnel workshops are visible from the tunnel entrance car park, at the start of the alpine walk. Note that the alpine walk is currently closed due to rockfall. On the south side of the road there is often a famous ice fall, enjoyed by tourists in the Summer as they wait for the lights to change at the tunnel entrance.

Because the tunnel is not wide enough to allow 2 large vehicles to pass safely, traffic lights operate at the entrance and exit during the day. The wait can be several minutes, though travellers are always kept well entertained by devil may care Kea. Please do not feed Kea.

There is an emergency telephone at the entrance and exit of the Homer Tunnel. No Toilets.

Homer Tunnel Exit

Homer Tunnel Exit

Coordinates: -44.763575 167.974645

The Homer tunnel slopes steeply down to the exit on the Milford side, 1 meter down for 10 meters forward. At the exit portal there is a kink in the tunnel to avoid a stream of water flowing in a crevice.

The original concrete portal at the exit was destroyed by an avalanche in 1945. Avalanche risk is now managed preemptively by the Milford Road Alliance using helicopters and a blasting crew.

There is an emergency telephone at the entrance and exit of the Homer Tunnel.

Waterfall Stop

Waterfall Stop

Coordinates: -44.761600 167.972700

On the way back to the Homer Tunnel, after the last hairpin bend, is a good rainy day waterfall photo opportunity. In heavy rain the precipitous Homer Saddle becomes a huge waterfall in every direction.

Upper Cleddau Viewpoint

Upper Cleddau Viewpoint
Upper Cleddau Viewpoint

Coordinates: -44.763290 167.969760

This is a substantial layby and the first safe stopping place on the way down from the tunnel portal. There is space for large vehicles and spectacular views all around.

Small Upper Cleddau Viewpoint

Look Down

Coordinates: -44.759680 167.964230

A small and obscure viewpoint best visited on the way back from Milford Sound. It probably provides the best view of the Upper Cleddau Valley and it is possible to get a photograph without the road snaking through your picture. Mount McPherson dominates to the North East.

Highly recommended for keen photographers.

Cleddau No. 2 Bridge - Murrel's Creek

Upper Cleddau Viewpoint

Coordinates: -44.757250 167.963350

There is limited space to stop on the way back from Milford Sound at Murrel's Creek. It may be the best place to get a broad view of the Western side of the Homer Saddle. A small mound on the left before the bridge provides the best viewpoint.

Cleddau 4 Bridge

Cleddau 4 Bridge

Cleddau Camp 4 was sited at this bridge but nothing remains except historic bridge remnants and some slightly interesting graffiti under the bridge. The concrete abutments of the bridge are cast on large river boulders and the sides are low allowing uninterrupted views. A Kakapo was caught here in 1939 during construction.

It is difficult to find a safe place to stop, the only possibility is on the left before the bridge is reached on the way down the road. Not recommended for larger vehicles.

The Chasm - Camp 3

The Chasm

Coordinates: -44.721720 167.950930

At the The Chasm the Cleddau River is forced violently through a narrow gap. It is a popular stop for bus tours, there are toilets and Coffee Cat operates a mobile coffee van. A short walk through spectacular scintillating forest crosses The Chasm twice, two safe but exposed bridges providing photo opportunities.

Mount Isolation dominates to the East, look out for the boulder hanging precipitously above on the ridge. The West Branch of the Cleddau drains Mount Ada and the Sheerdown Hills, joining the longer South Branch before The Chasm.

Bill Grave, discoverer of the Grave-Talbot pass and well known explorer was the first European to know of The Chasm.

Camp 3, the largest of the Cleddau road camps was 400m further down the road, on both sides, many relics remain but the site has returned to forest and it's now hard to imagine busy site that it once was.

The overhanging crags in the forest across the road from the Chasm are popular with climbers and are dry even in rain. Refer to the New Zealand Alpine Club's Darrans Guide for details.

Mount Tutoko Viewpoint

Tutoko Viewpoint

Coordinates: -44.717870 167.955720

At 2723 meters, Mount Tutoko is the highest peak in Fiordland and indeed Southland. Camera shy, the best view is gained by walking back up the road a short distance towards The Chasm.

Tutoko was named by an early survey party for a Maori chief living temporarily at Martins Bay in the 1860's who fed and sheltered them. Mount Tutoko is very steep and supports considerable glaciation, it rises 2500 meters in only one kilometer and the South West face is a sheer 2000 meters. The first attempt to climb Tutoko was by Bill Grave in 1897, it was not climbed until 1921 by a very persistent Samuel Turner and guide Peter Graham. Tutoko is a demanding climb and is not frequently summited.

Packhorse Swing Bridge - Camp 2

Packhorse Swing Bridge

Coordinates: -44.704990 167.969350

110km from Te Anau on the left, before the one lane Gulliver River Bridge and opposite the start of the Grave-Talbot Route is a small parking spot with an obscure metaled track running down to the Cleddau River and a fabulous packhorse swing bridge which serviced Camp 2 further down the river.

Before the tunnel and road, the track which was built by teams of medical students in the summer, was on the other side of the river. The Cleddau Bluffs where we now gain our first view of Mitre Peak were impassable. The track went up the Gulliver River and its Tributary the Esperance to the Grave-Talbot Pass.

It's worth following the historic track across the Packhorse Swing Bridge for a short way until it becomes impassable, for an experience of the stunning forest environment and an understanding of how quickly it recolonises. The swing bridge dates back to the mid 1920's, please cross one at a time.

To prevent the spread of Didymo (or rock snot) to this pristine area please clean your boots with detergent provided by DOC on the other side of the road at the Grave-Talbot Pass trail head.

Grave-Talbot Pass - Gulliver River

Coordinates: -44.704990 167.969350

The Milford Track was once the only way in to Milford Sound. Explorer Bill Grave was retained by Donne of the Tourist Department to find a more direct route between Lake Wakatipu and the Sound. Donald Sutherland, long time resident of Milford Sound, told of an easy pass into the Hollyford from the Donne Valley. Sadly his hand drawn map was wrong and it was not until 1955 that Sutherland's pass was eventually climbed and found to provide the easiest route.

Bill Grave's party explored a route up the Gulliver River instead. While later examining photographs they found a promising route in a tributary they called the Esperance. In late 1909 Grave, Talbot and Lyttle returned to forge a route from the Homer Saddle to the Esperance.

Mount McPherson is named for the surveyor sent by the government to asses their route.

In 1914 a group of university students, financed by the tourist department, began to cut a track from Lake Howden on the Routeburn Track down into the Hollyford Valley and up the Hollyford River. After the Great War student parties continued the summer track cutting adventure, completing the track between Lake Howden and Milford Sound in 1924.

Both Talbot and Lyttle were lost in the war. Mount Lippe was first climbed by students in 1924 and renamed Mount Talbot.

The Grave-Talbot pass was always a very difficult route, extremely dangerous in everything but the best weather. It is now considered a foolhardy proposition even by climbers.

The historic track from the Gulliver bridge is well worth a day trip, short or long. The track is muddy, as all real Fiordland tracks are, but the forest and bird life is exceptional. For an experienced and well prepared hiker a 4 hour walk, one way, will bring you to the 59 meter De Lambert Falls. See Moir's Guide South, available from the DOC Visitor Centre in Te Anau, for a route description.

Please clean your boots with detergent provided by DOC at the trail head to prevent the spread of Didymo to this pristine area.

First View of Mitre Peak

First View of Mitre Peak

Coordinates: -44.694760 167.969210

The first view of Mitre peak comes at Cleddau Bluff soon after crossing the twin bridges over the Gulliver and the Donne Rivers. Until the road was blasted through, this bluff was impassable, the track was on the other side of the river. Road Camp 2 was near here, across the water.

Please do not stop to take a photograph, there is nowhere safe to park your vehicle.

Tutoko Suspension Bridge

Tutoko River

Coordinates: -44.678430 167.964020

The Tutoko Suspension Bridge is the first major bridge out of Milford Sound and is now preserved for foot traffic alongside the current road bridge.

Stop and stretch your legs over the rushing Tutoko River. Looming above the bridge to the East is Mt Patuki and the ridge climbs into the heart of the Darran Mountains, the prominent angular peak is Mt Milne. Looking up the river, Mount Tutoko is out of sight to the left of the valley.

It is now less than 4 km to the Milford Sound foreshore.

Tutoko Valley Track

Tutoko Valley

Coordinates: -44.677450 167.963090

In my opinion this archetypal Fiordland track provides the best short, family friendly, forest walk on the Milford Road. It seems impossible to shake off the expectation of quietly grazing moa around the next bend. There is something completely primal amongst the dripping moss and ferns. Turn around when you have had enough and head back to the Tutoko Bridge.

The first open clearings are reached in about 2 hours, potential routes beyond this point require considerable experience. Refer to Moir's Guide available from the Te Anau DOC Visitor Center.

Please clean your boots with detergent provided by DOC at the trail head to prevent the spread of Didymo (or rock snot) to this pristine area.

Milford Sound Lodge

Milford Lodge

Coordinates: -44.676340 167.934230

The Milford Sound Lodge is built on the original site of the main road camp this side of the tunnel, 1 kilometer from the Fiord.

It is possible to take an overnight cruise, but for most people Milford Sound Lodge is the only accommodation option in Milford Sound, it is essential to book in advance. They offer chalet style units, backpacker style accommodation and camper van sites, as well as restaurant food.

Gunn's Camp on the Hollyford Road is the only other accommodation option between here and Cascade Creek Camping Area.

Overflow Parking

Overflow Parking

Coordinates: -44.675439 167.929789

There is not much habitable land at Milford Sound, parking is very limited. It is possible that in the main tourist season you will need to park your vehicle here and either catch the complementary bus provided by the Milford Sound Authority or walk to Freshwater Basin.

It could take more than 30 minutes on foot to reach the cruise terminal at Freshwater Basin from here. It is not a good idea to arrive minutes before your cruise is due to depart and most operators request you check in 20 to 30 minutes before departure.

Deepwater Basin

Milford Sound

Coordinates: -44.676712 167.918821

Deepwater Basin, at the mouths of the Cleddau and Arthur Rivers, is the commercial heart of Milford Sound. This is where you will find the fishing boats, lobster operations, water taxis and sea kayaking operators.

Nearby is staff accommodation, many but not all people working in Milford Sound spend blocks of time living here, the drive in and out would otherwise make their working day unmanageable.

Milford Sound Airport

Coordinates: -44.672881 167.924793

Milford Sound Airport is surrounded by water on 3 sides. The runway aims straight for Mitre Peak and a clear view of the peak can be gained from the Deepwater Basin road at the Eastern end of the runway. In the Summer it is a very busy little airport with traffic coming from Queenstown to connect with the cruises.

Flying in to Milford Sound from Queenstown does avoid a long journey by road, at least 5 hours each way, but you do miss the fabulous Milford Road. In my opinion the most sensible option, short of spending several days camping on the Milford Road, is to stay in Te Anau so that you can have a fuller experience.

Milford Sound Foreshore Walk

Milford Sound

Coordinates: -44.671591 167.926203

The Foreshore Walk is a 'must do'. If all you did was the loop track it could take 20 minutes, the real highlight though, is the opportunity to walk out onto the tidal flats. At low tide this is where the best photo opportunities are found.

The cruise boats leave one after another, and when the last leaves, there is a quiet period until they begin returning. The light changes very rapidly, streaming through gaps between peaks. If you have time, stop and enjoy this unique space.

Main Parking Area

Milford Sound

Coordinates: -44.671633 167.926818

There is considerable free parking at Milford Sound but at peak times it is in short supply. Allow 45 minutes to find a parking and reach the cruise terminal at Freshwater basin. There is a pleasant 10-15 minute walk from your vehicle to the cruise terminal. It could take you longer, most of the classic postcard views of Milford Sound were taken right there, at the car park.

The very best real estate in Milford Sound is devoted to campervans and rental cars. Close by is a small cafe run by one of the cruise operators. If you have a choice try to go on one of the smaller boats.

Note that drones are strictly prohibited in Milford Sound because of the frequent helicopters and light planes.

You will find clean toilets at the terminal building.

Milford Sound Lookout Walk

Milford Sound

Coordinates: -44.67290 167.92729

Behind the Cafe, near the noisy diesel generators and the fuel pump, you will find a DOC sign pointing to the short (10 minutes) but steep Milford Sound Lookout Track. This is the only way to gain an elevated perspective short of flying. At first you may feel like you are in someones back yard, but the track climbs quickly through forest on a tidy and clean track to the lookout.

Freshwater Basin

Milford Sound

Coordinates: -44.667843 167.924247

Freshwater Basin is the site of the cruise terminal, and clean toilets.

If you have time before or after your cruise consider a walk out to the end of the breakwater for an excellent close up view of Mitre Peak and the view back on a busy harbour. There is a park bench, sit down, relax and soak it all in. Have a nice day!