Milford Sound is justifiably renowned world-wide for its sheer and spectacular mountains, the torrential rain (around 7 metres annually), the soaring peaks that send massive avalanches hurtling down their sides in the winter, and the Milford Track, purported to be the finest walk in the world. Throngs of people visit this area every year, often stopping on the “civilization” side of the Homer Tunnel to photograph the stunning scenery that surrounds them. What few realise is that just one hour from the carpark is a view that will take their breath away.
To the right of the carpark begins a short nature walk, around 20 minutes return. About halfway up this graveled path, signs of a less-travelled route appear amongst the rocks. Taking this option leads you to the top of the Homer Saddle, around 1400 metres above sea level.
Make sure you have good boots and loads of water for this short hike – it’s rocky, and it’s dry. Follow the faintly marked route up towards the sheer cliff face directly in front of you, until you reach an obvious resting spot by some very large rocks at the base of the cliff. Here you have a couple of options for the final slog up. (Naturally, the one I chose was the hardest and the hottest!)
There are a few cairns showing another faint trail that will take you to the top of the saddle – this is by far the easier of the two options. Alternatively, you can follow the grassed area straight up in front of you to the rocky outcrops above. This is the shortest route, but also the steepest. Don’t be fooled by the apparently short distance up – it’s deceptive, and much further than you think.
Once on top of the saddle, the views are out of this world. Stretching out below you are the Cleddau and Hollyford Valleys, some glorious icefields, and in the distance the tiny curving highway of the Milford Road. While we were there, a couple of avalanches came tumbling down the sheer rock cliff face into the valley – a thunderous roar that echoed around the amphitheatre below.
Years ago, before the tunnel was completed, the postman used to climb up this saddle to lower the mail down to workers on the other side. Incredible dedication, given the harshness of the terrain. There’s a story about him carrying a bicycle up to give to a child whose birthday it was….think about that when you’re baking in the heat and cursing the lack of sunscreen!
After a hard slog like this, it seemed only fitting we retire to a beer garden in Te Anau for some light refreshments.