Into the wilderness...
Trip Start Feb 12, 2011
54Trip End Jul 09, 2011
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Where I stayed
wooden huts x3
The bus trip i left you with on the last entry drove us further along lake te anau (the lake is massive!) the weather was closing in and by the time we were dropped out on a boarded jetty in the middle of no where the rain and mist surrounded us. 40 people all raincoated up, backpacks on and no idea what to expect boarded the little boat that pulled up for us. A little speech from the captain pointing out all the places we could potentially trip over and then we were off. We had 30km to travel along the lake before we would be the furthest from civilisation I have ever been
After hoping the rain would have cleared further down the lake the captain then laughed and said well you just have to see milford in the rain, its the way its meant to be - welcome to one of the wettest places on earth.
We climbed off the boat, stepped in and out of disinfectant buckets (they are determined to preserve this land and keep in free from disease!) set determined looks on our faces and headed into the forest. The first day was is some ways pretty easy, only 5km on a pretty well laid out path, but in the heaviest wettest rain I've ever seen i just hoped my bag would keep dry with its bag on and gave up trying to keep the rain off me. The forest was alive with the colour green, this may sound strange but it was so boyant, so many types of plants, to the side of the track that was all you could see, thick, dense, greenary, and smell the green in the air. we navigated around huge flooded areas of the path, balanced on logs, jumped when we could, crossed an awesome suspension bridge and before long just had to resort to wading through to get to the hut.
Their are two types of walkers on this track, the guided ones - they have everything carried for them, chefs cooking their meals, hot showers, flush toilets, and huts an hour before the other huts - those of the "freedom walkers" we were one of those
Torches on and the firing dieing out, the hut ranger had given a very entertaining talk which included lots about the wild life around (he pulled a dead stoat out of his pocket at this point!!), heavy weather warnings of floods, plenty more rain and snow for the next few days were relayed to us and he told us not to leave in the morning until it had been checked that the river was contained. He was a rather interesting character, looking like a total hermit with a long ginger beard, bushy eyebrows and basic clothing, i thought he looked like he would shake in his speech but out came the most confident funny antidotes - brilliant
Monday morning, up with the sunlight, very little sleep with snoring, rustling and super heavy rain all night smashing the roof we ran to the main hut, cooked up some hot chocolate for dunking flapjacks in which slowly thawed us from the freezing cold night. Suddenly the rain stopped, the all clear came from the ranger that amazingly the river wasn't flooded and we were free to go, by nightfall we needed to get to minatoro hut - at the base of McKinnon pass.
The heavy rain overnight had fallen as snow on the tops of the mountains, with the blue sky the views were breath taking. We continued on foot up the valley further and further into the wilderness, wrapped up warm before the sun broke over the tops of the mountains. We were slowly climbing up, alternating between heavy forested areas and then breaking out into huge open plans of land in the valley
With the views the days fly by, we were soon on a big climb up, scrabbling over tree roots (these things can be massive) huge rocks, massive steps up we climbed for the last hour and a half of our 6 hour walking day and our little hut came into view =) happy happy happy
Tuesday morning was the day everyone had their fingers crossed for good weather, we were 400meters up and by the end of the day would have climbed up to 1154meters heading through the mountain pass known for its steep drops and very windy weather before descending 970meters (all the older folk were strapping up their knees - this descent is known as the hardest most unforgiving bit of the walk!). The skies were cloudy as we set off, followed the river to its source lake before curving around, enjoying our last bit of flat ground before the climb began. At the bottom you could not see the top, acknowledging the mile markers ticking by we continued on the zigzag up and up and up. At first we started climbing through the forest and as we gained in altitude the bushes and trees got smaller and smaller before we were out on exposed open rock climbing up and up. The sky had started to clear, we could definately see blue bits, towards the top it started to rain (at least it would have been further down) but up here it was sleet/snow, perfect for walking in as it just bounces off, and it covered rocks and any remaining plants with a white glow, perfect
Thoroughly enjoying the day we gobbled up some energy mix (they sell it in supermarkets like pick and mix, full of nuts and seeds, dried fruit and most importantly - chocolate raisins and peanuts) before we started to climb down, the freezing air quickly warmed as we descending from the top heights, we zigzaged down the mountain on the right hand side, jumping over waterfalls and scrambling over rocks, before the track lead on to the next mountain side as we navigated a massive rock fall aiming for the path on the other side (a previous avalanche slide!)
We could leave our packs at the shelter and take an optional there and back track to view the sutherland falls. We had read in the leaflet they were the second highest in the southern hemisphere and a sight not to be missed...so off we trotted. a very steep climb up and then along a track for a couple of km's, we became aware of a roar, growing in volume and never stopping, a sign said that from that point along the track to the falls was the same height as the falls...500 and 80 something meters!! crazy! it came into view hundreds of meters before that through the trees we began to feel the spray and before long the power of the wind coming from it was pushing you backwards, they were mindblowing!!! consisting of three leaps the colour pure white, they pounded down on each level before shattering the rocks below them, we could hardly get close to them for the sheer power of them and were totally drenched!!! it was amazing!!! we all took photos and despaired that none of them did them justice!
Once back to the shelter it was a quick hours walk along the flat to our last nights hut of the trek - we blitzed it in 45mins to compete in the bunk race - something happening everynight, in the last few hours everyone picked up the speed so they wouldnt be left with only top bunks or the ones right at the entrances to the bunk rooms (we increased one bunk room everynight so tonight there were four!) and get woken up and blinded by everyones torch lights as they went in and out over night for toilet escapes!. We succeeded and grabbed a bunk in the back of one of the rooms, dowsed ourselves in more insect repellant as we were getting ever closer in miles to the famed "sandfly point" before spending the evening chatting, laughing, eating and just generally chilling and stretching out
An early start the next morning on the last day - caused to be even earlier by an adorable korean family, who i had to keep reminding myself that i found adorable, when they got up at 4am!!! to start packing and set off for the day!!! bless them, they were worried they werent going to make the boat that takes us back to the mainland at the end of the track. dozing a bit we got up at half 6, one last breakfast, bag felt noticably lighter, strapped up, bag on, insect repellant and we were off, thinking of the shower I could have that evening! haha! the last day was beautiful, we followed rivers and lakes, huge suspension bridges and spent the day chatting to steve and caroline (a couple we had met), the two steves discussed man things as me and caroline talked for hours, its so fun to share the day with them, and to have some proper girl company!! we came to the macay falls - not as high or powerful as the sutherland falls but arguably more beautiful, surrounded by undergrowth and beautiful ponds that looked so fabulous i just wanted to jump in. (an interesting note about the names of the falls, this one was found first by the two explorers - macay and sutherland, they tossed a coin to see who got to name it...macay won...further upstream they came across the sutherland falls...originally thought to be the highest in the world!
Slowing down towards the end of the walk to avoid the inevitable sandfly attack at sandfly point where the boat docked (according to the maori legend they were put there by the goddess of darkness (or death i cant remember!) as she thought the land was to beautiful for settlers so the sandflys ensure that everyone keeps moving on, and as the first night ranger explained, people have been moving on as quickly as possible for hundreds of years!!). We soaked in the last of the forests, the crystal clear water, the atmosphere, before arriving at the point, celebrating the end and jumping on the boat! only 3 bites to show for it - woop! (haha steve got more than me - about time!).
The boat drifted us across the beautiful milford sound, what a way to end the trip, mountains glided into view around every corner, mitre peak stood tall and proud (used in lord of the rings!) and waterfalls fell into the sound at every angle. beautiful.
Proud but tired we boarded the bus, some fell asleep, the rest of us chattered away, the last few hours we had with everyone, we heard of tales from the brisbane floods and the wonderful "can do, get on with it" attitude that seems to characterise the kiwi and australian attitudes - when the flood started to climb up their road this guy got out his "barby" set the fire going and cooked up a big feast with some tunes playing, "well what else was there to do, no point in stressing out, what was going to happen was going to happen", turns out the floods stopped just before their house
An incredible experience, the memories i hope will stay super fresh, and oh the beauty of that hot shower back at the hostel in te anau!!! we ended the night back at the moose bar - of course! a wonderful hot dinner (nothing dehydrated!!) wine, and hot chocolate, with the couple we spent the last day with, perfect, night with beds and duvets.
Lots of love to all, congrats to any that finished reading this essay!!!