Milford Track running race push

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A Queenstown group is bidding to launch a tough new annual race the length of New Zealand’s most famous track. 

Resort-based Ultimate Hikes – which has operated the Milford Track guided concession since 1992 – is proposing a 53-kilometre charity run there in late October, before the summer walking season begins. 

The company this month lodged a proposal for the event with the Southland Conservation Board. Proceeds would go to the Fiordland Conservation Trust. 

“I’m sure [a Milford Track run] will create some controversy but it’s all about mitigating the adverse impact,” Ultimate Hikes director Jacqui Davies says. 

“The Kepler Challenge [also in Fiordland] has proven you can do it with minimal impact.” 

As with the Kepler, Davies expects Te Anau would benefit hugely from the race. 

Entry numbers will be limited by the logistics of transporting runners to and from the track by boat. 

Davies believes her company is best suited as organisers as it can use infrastructure – including huts and staff – that it already employs for its guided walks. 

“And it’s at a time when [freedom walking] numbers are low,” Davies says. 

Adding a Milford Track run to annual Kepler and Routeburn track races would make Fiordland the adventure running capital of the country, the Southern Hemisphere and even the world, Davies suggests. 

Two Queenstowners busting to sign on are Mark Douglas and Chris Dagg. 

Douglas, 60, who has run 15 Kepler Challenges and all seven Routeburn Classics, says he’d be “absolutely ecstatic”. 

“It’s about halfway between the Routeburn and the Kepler in terms of length. 

“The thing I like is you’ve only got the middle section [over the Mackinnon Pass] that is quite rough, and flat sections either side. 

“I’d definitely go and do it,” Dagg, 43, adds. 

“Especially in the South Island, off-road races are very popular – look at the way the Routeburn’s grown in the last few years, and the Kepler is normally sold out in less than 10 minutes. 

“And the Milford Track is iconic, probably the most well-known of NZ’s tracks.” 

Ultimate Hikes will hope for a smoother run than Coast to Coast organiser Robin Judkins got when he tried to start a Milford Track race in 1992. 

Judkins cancelled his plans when he received opposition from Forest and Bird and the Fiordland Promotions Association. 

Judkins also received death threats from militant conservationists who were strongly opposed to the idea, he says.