On 17 October 1888 the route from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound now famous as the Milford Track was discovered by Quintin McKinnon and Ernest Mitchell.
McKinnon had been commissioned by the Chief Surveyor of Otago to blaze a track up the Clinton Valley from the head of Lake Te Anau and search for a pass for tourist access to Milford Sound. Donald Sutherland had already cut a track from Milford to the Sutherland Falls at the head of the Arthur Valley.
McKinnon and Mitchell spent a month in extremes of weather from torrential rain to blazing heat, slashing a track through the thick Fiordland forest. After being hampered by consistent rain they decided to scout the route ahead. Three days later they came upon Donald Sutherland’s track.
Richard Henry was the first to walk the track after its discovery and it was soon opened up for tourists. Over the next three years much of McKinnon’s time was spent improving the Track and guiding tourist groups to Milford. As the Milford Track, McKinnon’s route has become one of the most famous walks in the world, and one of New Zealand’s leading tourist attractions.
In 1892 after several years of exploring and guiding, McKinnon was reported missing. Although Lake Te Anau was searched, and his wrecked boat located, McKinnon’s body was never found – he is presumed to have drowned.
On hearing of his death, the Gaelic Society of New Zealand began the Quintin MacKinnon Memorial Cairn Fund. In 1914 the fund finally held enough money to erect a cairn on near the lowest part of the saddle of Omanui/McKinnon Pass. Stone for the cairn was collected on the pass and dressed on the site by stone mason James Robertson. A cross and commemorative plaque in recognition of McKinnon’s discovery, were placed on the cairn. The Department of Conservation maintains the cairn.
What’s in a name?
Although he spelt his name Quintin McKinnon (the spelling used in this web page), he is referred to variously as Quintin, Quinton, MacKinnon, Mackinnon and McKinnon. His name has been applied to Omanui/McKinnon Pass, Lake McKinnon, the Quintin Huts on Milford Track, and the St. Quintin Falls in Clinton Valley.
Mckinnon Memorial is located on Omanui/McKinnon Pass, which is reached on day three of the Milford Track. The Milford Track is a four day tramp which can be walked independently, or trampers can be part of a guided group.
Baughan, B. E. (1926) The Finest Walk in the World: From Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound, New Zealand (Whitcombe and Tombs).
Hall-Jones, G. (2008) Mountaineering from the Milford Road: an illustrated history of the first mountaineering in the Milford region, 1895-1970 (G. Hall-Jones).
Hall-Jones, J. (2000) Milford Sound: an Illustrated History of the South, the Track and the Road (Craigs Printing).
McHutcheson, W. (1892) Camp-life in Fiordland, New Zealand: a tale of the Sutherland Falls (Government Printer).