This is the first day of one of the top walks in the world. It is a three day trek over the south western alps of New Zealand. Numbers are restricted, so you have to book your place (well in advance) in the two mountain huts before you head off. There is no electricity in the huts and they are clean but basic. There are gas cooking facilities, toilets and showers. The Mackenzie Hut accommodates 50 persons in bunk rooms. We were in a bunk room of 32, so a set of ear plugs is a useful piece of equipment!
The views just getting up here are worth the time and effort. We got dropped off at The Divide. The track starts at a well sign-posted spot on the road. The track is easy to follow on the ground, however the weather is very variable here and cloud can descend in seconds. While the track climbs and drops, twists and turns, overall it maintains a steady upward gradient on this first day. Even though the weather was excellent, there were occasions when the cloud swirled over us and could disappear as quickly as it had arrived. The views out over Lower Hollyford Valley are spectacular. It was also a pleasure to get up and away from the vicious sand-flies which bedevil all of this area. Believe us - they will bite you, and if you scratch the bite, it will drive you insane itching. Best get a local remedy and do not scratch (since Deet does not seem to work)!
On attaining the first ridge we did a detour up onto Key Summit. There is an alpine plant reserve up here with plenty of information boards. Continued on down towards Lake Howden and the Howden Hut which is used by those tramping from the other end of the track. There are stunning views south over the lake. At the hut junction we past where the track branches off towards the Caples/Greenstone tracks and pushed on towards Earland Falls (178m high). There is an alternative route here in case of heavy flow. Continued climbing up through the Orchard. This is a grassy area dotted with ribbonwood trees. From here you can just about see down into Hollyford Valley where we had all camped at Gunns Camp the night before. Along this section you are up above the tree line.
We then descended from the bush line towards the Lake Mackenzie and the Mackenzie Hut. Glad to get the boots off, pick our bunks and check out this lovely lakeside sheltered area. They use flown in gas cylinders to provide hot water and cooking facilities. Enjoyed a lovely hot shower. There is a resident Park Ranger at each of the huts. They keep the place and check in/out campers. The ranger on duty at this hut was a classic Kiwi with a fantastical dry sense of humour. That evening as he explained about our hut and environs he had us in stitches but some of the foreign visitors thought he was serious. Used our freeze dried food supplies to cook up a wonderful evening meal.