Maori frequently travelled this route during journeys to Milford Sound/Piopiotahi to collect pounamu (greenstone). In 1888 a track was cut up the Arthur Valley to the Sutherland Falls, with the first known European crossing of the pass made later that year. Today approximately 14,000 people walk the Milford track each year making it one of the most popular walks in New Zealand.
Donald Sutherland and John Mackay found Mackay and Sutherland Falls in 1880, and possibly also crossed Mackinnon Pass before pioneer explorer and surveyor Quintin Mackinnon.
In 1888 Sutherland and others were commissioned to cut a track up the Arthur Valley as far as Sutherland Falls, while Mackinnon was employed to cut a track up the Clinton Valley from the head of Lake Te Anau.
On October 17, 1888 Mackinnon and his companion Ernest Mitchell reached the head of the Clinton Valley, crossed the pass and continued down the Arthur Valley on the track cut by Sutherland.
Mackinnon was the first Milford Track guide and was long remembered for his good nature and ability at cooking pompolonas, a type of scone from which one of the guided trip huts takes its name.
He ferried parties in his sailing boat Juliet to the head of Lake Te Anau, then up over the pass to Lake Ada where another boat ferried them to Sutherland’s accommodation house at Milford Sound.
The title “the finest walk in the world” first accompanied an article by poet Blanche Baughan which was published in the London Spectator in 1908.
In the early days pack horses were used to carry stores to the huts. Beyond Pompolona Hut a cleared area is an old horse paddock and stables site. Old number eight wire and insulators visible along parts of the track are the remains of a telephone system which linked huts before radio communication was introduced.