Day 3 of the track is the hardest. The walk is 15 km from Pomplona Lodge up and over the Mackinnon Pass then down to Quintin Lodge. The top of the pass is at 1154 m and the climb and descent are about 800 m and 1000 m respectively. It’s the down that is the real hard going.
We set off in shade but it was clear that we were going to have another cloudless day; there is no cover from the sun above the tree line.
The track climbs consistently from Pomplona; at about the 12 miles mark (there are posts every mile from Glade Hut) there is a short, steep stretch which is called Practice Hill which reflects the pitch on the main climb. A comparatively gentle stretch follows Mintaro Hut and the the track starts to zig-zag steeply up. It continues for two miles. The guide book says helpfully “at the 15 mile marker you are half way up”.
It took us time to reach Mackinnon’s Memorial which is on the saddle about 100 m below the top of the pass. It was built by Mackinnon’s rugby club colleagues, carrying the cement all the way up. There our guides provided very welcome hot drinks while we took a bit of a rest. We haven’t tasted Milo for many years.
Our movements were kept under surveillance by a couple of keas, the NZ Alpine parrots. According to the guides these intelligent birds move up and down the track to wherever they think a walking group which could give them the best chance of a free meal might be.
Even when you get to the memorial you are not at the top. It is about another half hour’s walk and 100 m climb.
The way down is steep and rocky. You have to be thinking all the time about where to tread. It was hard going, in full sun for most of the time, and we were very glad to reach Quintin Lodge. The one easy section is when the track descends about 200 m by way of a series of staircases at the Cascades. We declined the optional hour and a half round trip to the Sutherland Falls on hearing that there was a long, steep section.
The lodge, like all the others on the track run by Ultimate Hikes had washing facilities and a drying room, fed somehow with waste heat from the lodge generator, which was very hot and dried clothes very quickly. Our clothes needed a good wash.