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Visually impaired group walk the Milford Track

The group of visually impaired trampers at Mackinnon Pass.

Even for the hardiest of us, the Milford Track is no Sunday stroll. So imagine doing it blindfolded with only a voice to guide you.

Steve Bradley and 10 other visually impaired people who walked the track in May this year know exactly what that’s like.

Organised by Royal Foundation of the Blind, the trip lasted five days and covered about 60km. It’s the second trip organised by the charity, the first being a tramp in Abel Tasman National Park.

Bradley went on both trips and said he got a “huge sense of achievement from them”.

The group started the Milford Track on a Monday morning at the Clinton Valley end, stayed their first night at Clinton Hut then walked 18km to Mintaro Hut where they stayed the night.

The following day they climbed 1000m to McKinnon Pass and then returned to Mintaro Hut for the night.

The next day they walked back to Clinton Hut and then walked out the next day.

Six guides directed the group by holding the ends of walking poles and giving instructions about where to step.

“They’re taking on a big responsibility taking 11 blind people into that sort of environment,” said Bradley. “I can’t say enough about those guys.

“One of the highlights was coming up the Clinton Valley through the bush and then climbing up the pass through different bush types before coming out into the alpine area with tussock and massive vistas.”

Bradley said even though the group couldn’t see the surroundings, one of the guides used a cane to help them feel the size of the country they were in.

“He would line the cane up with the top most point of a mountain and get us to hold it to give an idea of how high up we were getting,” explains Bradley.

The feeling and sound of the wind, the calls of various birds and the smells all added to the experience.

“You still get the sense you’re in a really big, vast space,” said Bradley.