The Milford Track

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Milford Track 53.5km (13 miles) – commonly described as 'The worlds finest walk'. Quite a lot to live up to and having done a fair few walks around the world now we felt like our opinion on the matter would be a calculated one rather than knee jerk reaction.  Needless to say we were not about to be disappointed.  Given the popularity of the Milford Track tickets need to be reserved 6 months in advance – however we got lucky and three months ago we were able to get hold of some tickets thanks to a cancellation.  During the summer the walk is restricted so you have to stay in certain huts along the way and no camping is allowed.  So at the mercy of the organizers we had to stay at the first hut a mere 1 and a half hours walk from the start.  We still had to leave Queenstown for Te Anau at 8am on transport that I conveniently managed to get us for free thorough work and we arrived at lunch time in time to grab a venison pie and chips for fuel before getting a boat connection across Lake Te Anau to the start point.

We arrived at the hut with plenty of time left in the day to explore so we dumped our backpacks and went off to discover the nearby wetlands which were a brilliant orange colour swarming with chirpy birds.  It was only when we got out into the clearing and noticed that every fern and plant we could see was cocooned in huge spiders webs that we felt the need to move on!  Next stop was the swimming hole down by the river but we weren’t feeling quite brave enough to attempt it at this early stage in the trip so we did some rock scrambling instead and searched for pieces of greenstone in the river.  (The original Milford Track was a route used by Maoris to find greenstone ‘jade’ on their way to Milford Sound – they obviously were a bit better at it than us).  We made our way back to the hut for a slap up dinner of tomato pasta and sausages and a highly entertaining game of Ludo that included much cheering and booing and we drew a bit of a crowd proving people will watch anything when there is no TV around.

That evening the hut guide came in to tell us he would take us on a night walk to see a glowworm colony once it got dark enough, unfortunately this wasn’t until 10.30pm and with little entertainment and an early start I was hoping for an early night.  Nevertheless along we went and were treated to a very good show, the glowworms had attached themselves to an overhanging section of tree roots so when we looked up at them we had thousands of them shinning brightly with the trees as silhouettes against the star filled sky.  It looked like the sky was above and below ground, quite amazing.

We were up at 6am in the morning to get an early start on the track after a filling breakfast of porridge and raisins washed down with hot chocolate for maximum energy boost.  And so we felt we were finally on the Milford Track, making our way down the bottom of the valley amongst towering sheer mountains, clear lakes, waterfalls and huge chunks of avalanched ice being evidence of the glaciers above us, currently shrouded in cloud.  It was a very hot day with just a light covering of cloud covering the mountain tops still giving us incredible views of the valley in front of us.  We had lunch down a side route to Hidden Lake where we had our own waterfall and lake to enjoy while we munched our sandwiches and flapjacks enthusiastically.  We pushed on quickly to the next hut because just after it is the big mountain pass we were due to go over the next day and Steve wanted to attempt it today if the cloud shifted, as no one could predict what the weather would do tomorrow and it would be disastrous to have missed the best views by one day.  Luckily for me, once we got to the hut after our 7 hour walk the cloud was still hovering on the pass so I was allowed to have a nap until dinner.  Or so I thought.  Half an hour into my blissful sleep the weather gods played a trick on me and cleared the clouds leaving us a beautiful blue sky and most importantly a clear pass.  I have never been so disappointed to be woken up and told it’s beautiful weather.  I could hardly complain though I wanted to see the views just as much as anyone, the frustrating thing was that every step we now took on the 4 hour return trip up and down the mountain we knew we would have to do again tomorrow.  My way of dealing with this was to make the ordeal as short as possible and decided to practically run up the mountain (I haven’t yet told you about my recent efforts at the gym but they certainly helped with this!).   It did work though, we cut the two hour climb down to 1 hour 20 and considering it was bright, strong sunshine we were not the prettiest sight when we reached the top!  But talking of pretty sights we had a lot to compete with, this really was the view to conquer all views.  Every direction we looked in just made our jaws drop further, no one could have imagined a landscape so varied and vast, this was nature surpassing all expectations.  Of course we were incredibly lucky to have these views as the Milford region is renowned for being one of the rainiest on earth with 7 meters of rain a year so many trekkers never get the sights we got and so we set about documenting them with our cameras from every angle imaginable. 

Just giving ourselves time to re-energize with a mini-mars bar we began the tragically long trek back down to our hut which was agonizing as we had just been looking at our next hut right down on the opposite valley over the pass.  That night we just about had the energy to make our ‘Rice Rissotto’ and scoff some more flapjacks before we were out for the count.  Steve actually had to wake me up in the night as I was snoring so loudly.  It’s surprising how in a dorm room of 40 people you care so much when someone else is snoring and not at all when it’s you, sleep is sleep after all, get it while you can!

Waking up in the morning I was secretly hoping for torrential rain so we could be the only ones to have seen those views, and warrant our extra-curricular excursion yesterday.  However a more perfect day never existed and we were spoilt with bright blue skies as the back drop to our climb this morning - this time a much slower climb with weary muscles and heavy backpacks.  The views were no less impressive the second time and this time there was no wind which meant the small lakes on top turned into reflective pools to keep us more entertained with our photography.  Reluctantly we eventually moved on for the long descent down the other side and through the valley, a trip that seemed to go on forever.  It’s at this point I’d like to introduce our companions on the track, the sand flies.  They had been a pest up until this point anyway but they thrive in hot days with little wind so we were at their mercy all day.  When we had been hiking for ages and felt we couldn’t take another step without a break within seconds of sitting down we would be covered by a swarm biting us and generally flying into our ears, nose and eyes without any let up meaning we never got more than a minutes break the entire time.  Sand flies are the path to madness!  I particularly like the Maori legend of the sand flies which says that once god had created Milford, men would become so entranced by the beautiful surroundings that they would never leave so he created the sand fly to make sure people kept moving and were able to draw themselves away from such beauty.  It’s very easy to believe when you have to deal with them and certainly worked in our case but I feel a burger wagon at the end of the track would have still been a good enough reason to get a move on by this stage!

Once we had descended down into stunning rainforest along the side of canyons and waterfalls we reached the turn off for a 40 minute detour to Sutherland Falls, the largest in New Zealand.  By this point I could hardly walk but there was a hut where we could store our backpacks until we came back from the falls so I weighed up my options and as I couldn’t sit down I could at least leave my pack and walk very slowly towards the falls as a ‘break’.  They were certainly worth a detour and after a very sweaty day we decided to strip off and go for an explore behind the waterfall to cool down.  Sadly I didn’t think too far ahead and got everything I was wearing apart from my trousers and shoes soaked through, this meant I had a 40 minute hike back to my bag dressed in just a towel which is no way to behave on a mountain!  Of course it was at this point that the only clouds of the day started to come in and I was convinced I’d be stuck there without my rain gear after carrying it for 10 miles.  However the clouds didn’t last for long and we were back to sweltering heat to dry us off for the final couple of hours down to our hut.

During that final stretch of the walk I became very philosophical and at the time I was gutted I didn’t have my laptop with me to write my blog there and then as my mind was full of all the wonderfully creative ways I was going to explain the beauty and enjoyment of the trek.  Now of course I’m working from memory which doesn’t have the same effect and I can’t possibly convey that feeling of being beyond exhaustion, too hot and soaking wet, covered in bites and yet in such a beautiful place that it makes you forget it all.  But then that’s why you all have to get out there and feel it for yourselves, I just can’t find the words.

Once we finally got to the hut we decided this was truly the day for a dip in a swimming hole so we made our way down to the beach and ran in while getting changed to avoid giving the sand flies a feast but soon began running out again when we realised just how cold the water was.  On inspection of my aching feet back at the hut I noticed that I had developed a toe sized blister on my big toe where it had been rubbing my other toe.  I don’t understand how the two of them have lived next to each other for 26 years and only now decided to have a disagreement – and a big one at that!  A very quick gourmet Rice Rissotto later and we were passed out for the night at about 8pm.

Another 6am rise was in order for our last day, thankfully it had none of the steep climbs we had been doing so far but it was still 18 kilometers to go and this time we had my blister along for the ride and a boat to catch so there was no room for taking it easy.  Not that we had to worry about taking too long to get there with the sand flies around though, they kept us moving at every opportunity.  Only once I got to proper limping stage were we rebellious enough to sit down and attempt lunch.  We only got 5 minutes to wolf down our tuna sandwiches and final flapjacks before the swarm got to us too much and we were off again.  Still a completely stunning walk on the flat we finally reached mile marker 33 signaling to us that the end was in sight at the infamous Sandfly Point.  In my opinion there couldn’t be enough sand flies left to make one point any worse than what we had seen so far.  Luckily we didn’t get to find out as we arrived just as the earlier boat was about to leave saving us an hour wait there being slowly eaten to death.  In the safety of the boat we finally started to relax for the first time that day and we cruised past Milford again but opted not to take a cruise on this occasion so we could get back to Te Anau and rest up as much as possible before our 5am start the next morning for our two day kayaking trip on Doubtful Sound, but that’s another story…

In summary I believe Milford may well be one of the worlds finest walks it has such varied terrain from the open valleys and mountain passes to the rainforests and river bed crossings.  You will certainly see the best of Fiordland here and if you should be as lucky as we were with the weather (in the end we didn’t even take our raincoats out our bags) then you are even for an even more special treat than most.

Enjoy the photos, then book your trip!

Lots of Love,

Amy and Sandfly Steve
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