March 11, 2014
Day 3 – Mintaro to Dumpling Hut – 14K/ 7 hours
Woke to a loud screeching followed by clattering coming from the roof outside the upstairs dormer window. Has to be kea, the notorious large mountain parrot that will steal your boots if you don’t hang them on a hook.
Wanting to see these birds in action I quickly get dressed and run outside to the front porch. Sure enough there are 2 kea pecking at the roof but unable to get at the boots hanging just below.
While I’m out I check the morning sky just becoming visible. Clouds around the tops of the peaks but with patches of open sky and a brisk wind. I’m hopeful for a good Mackinnon Pass crossing but not in a hurry to get on the trail. If today is anything like the previous days, it will take some times for the wind and sun to clear the pass.
Most people are out the door by 8 or 8:30AM. Don and I take our time and leave at just before 9, nearly the last ones out.
From below the pass it looks like it is clearing. I’m hopeful. We know the way and what to expect having climbed up the previous evening. It seems easier today even with a pack. A good night’s sleep and a full belly do wonders.
It’s a hard climb through the rain forest, but well graded with switchbacks that allow you to find an even rhythm.
Near the top, the vegetation becomes mostly grassland. We enter a cloud and the wind picks up. By the time we reach the top visibility is minimal and the wind howling. It’s hard to believe just a short time before this same pass was bathed in the late afternoon sun.
We reach the Mackinnon Pass Shelter around 11AM. Most of the trekkers that started out early in the morning had given up on the pass clearing and had headed on. We stayed for a little while but in the end also gave up and continued on. A short while later, near the 17 mile marker, the clouds start to clear.
The view from this side up the valley would be fabulous, but alas a clear view is not to be had on this morning.
The clouds continue to swirl about the valley rising up over the pass. It’s not until about 1:30-2:00PM that first viewpoint clears followed by the pass about 45 minutes to an hour later. Later that afternoon around 4PM the sky is a perfect blue with hardly a cloud in the sky.
Once past this open section of valley views the trail again plunges back into the rain forest.
Much to our surprise this becomes a very long staircase along a stream that tumbles down the hillside in a cascade of small waterfalls interspersed with clear blue pools carved in the rocks.
Around 3PM we reach Quintin Shelter and the turnoff for Sutherland Falls. Packs are left at the shelter while trekkers make the 1.5 hour return journey up to the falls. It’s steep in places, but is well worth the climb, especially on a glorious summer afternoon. This three-tiered fall is highest in New Zealand, an impressive 580 meters from Lake Quill at the top of the cliff.
One of the big thrills of the track, a rite of passage of sorts is to walk behind the falls. Hikers strip down to whatever they deem appropriate. Most go barefoot to climb over the moss carpeted rocks behind the falls.
It’s exhilarating when that first blast of cold water hits your flesh and soaks your clothing. The going is tough, however. The moss softens the way but does not completely ease the difficulty of finding solid footing. We were nearly all the way around, when the wind shifts and Don and I are pelted by the fall. The sharp cold that hits my head gives me an instant headache, the kind you get as a kid when you eat ice cream too fast.
Out of the blast the air feels much warmer and I take a moment to look up at the magnificent fall.
Once back at the Quintin Shelter it’s another hour to Dumpling Hut. The track descends gently through the rain forest. My feet are aching from the day’s walk but I’m still giddy from the waterfall. In this state, I can’t help but be mesmerized by the late afternoon sun on the surrounding peaks, and am barely able to pay attention to where I put my feet. Focus!