New Zealand 27 – An Unexpected Journey

Get ready for a photo-heavy post. I’ve been putting this post off a few days because I wasn’t quite sure how I would write it. The Milford Track is 4 days, 33.5 miles of beauty, crazy weather, and entertaining times with new and old friends. I was at once considering the educational route, to inform the public exactly what the track was like, but after the fact that just doesn’t share the story. You have to do it to justify it. The pictures we have are just not good enough to fully explain, but they will have to do…

When my coworker said he was going to put together a trip to the Milford Track in Fiordland, I was the first one to jump on board. The New Zealand Great Walk is arguably the most beautiful hike in the world — one of those “must do before you die” type events. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fans, all of those sweeping mountainous landscape shots occur in Fiordland. The hiking (or tramping as Kiwi’s would say) season didn’t officially start until this past Tuesday, so we chose to complete this in the off-season. Lucky for us that meant cheaper hut fees, far fewer people to deal with, yet a lot more caution involved. We got together after-hours to discuss food preparation, safety gear, and avalanche safety. Those years in Girl Scouts just didn’t cut me out for this kind of stuff!

Luckily, once the departure day arrived, avalanche warnings were low to moderate which ended up meaning we didn’t need to worry too much when on the track. A key point to the Milford Track is that there is no easy way to get there–it is a one way route that involves dropping your vehicle in Te Anau, a bus ride to Te Anau downs boat dock, a 2-hour boat ride to the start, 4-day walk, boat ride through Milford sound to the nearest town, then an 1.5 hour bus drive back to the town of Te Anau. Although a lot of travel, it is a bit surreal realizing you really are far, far away from any civilization. Let the photo documentation begin (most photos courtesy of coworkers, especially in the snowy pass where I was far too concerned about staying warm and hydrated then taking out my camera to capture the moment)…

Coffee with a view – boat ride from Te Anau downs to the trail head

Like any good Department of Conservation, they like to make sure they overly caution the tourists–

Reasons not to do the track off-season…just made us all feel more intense

The first day involved a very short (5km) hike to the first hut. This all just ended up with us instantly bonding with the 8 other hikers on the trail with us and playing an entertaining game of Spoons where multiple losers agreed to complete some entertaining tasks–

Hut Games #1 – 4 person push up

Hut Games #2 – 6 people fitting into the toilet

Hut Games #3 – wheelbarrow races

Day #2 was a bit more like typical Fiordland–cold and rainy. We continued to follow the river through the amazing valley and several avalanche prone areas. This all meant that not all the bridges were in place and we got to put those gators to good use.

River Crossings

Bridge Crossings

After a very cold night in hut #2 (where I actually bartered with a coworker to give me their below freezing sleeping bag which I in turn agreed to carry over the pass the next day) we woke up not-so-ready to tackle the challenging day ahead. The night was full of torrential rain, sleet, and snow which meant we heard avalanches come down around us frequently and knew we’d be dealing with quite a bit of snow on day #3.

Starting to tramp up the switchbacks to the pass

Seeing the cross on top of the cairn memorial may have been my favorite site all day – to know we had finally made it to the pass and any danger of being pummeled with snow was gone. The memorial cairn is for McKinnon. He was a major part of helping create the track and unfortunately went missing one day on his Lake Te Anau boat ride to the trail head.

After trudging through the rain & snow, posing for the money shot in front of the Quintin MacKinnon Memorial Cairn

View from McKinnon Pass

All of us were pretty happy to see McKinnon shelter

Once we finally did encounter a dangerous area of the track, the DOC made sure to warn us. No chance of us taking this track, we headed down the “less scenic” emergency route which made me wonder how incredible the cut-off track must have been.

The disadvantages of doing the track during snow season

Day #4, it was all downhill from here, literally. Which meant a whole lot of waterfalls. As much as I hate to say it, I was actually sick of waterfalls by the end of this trip. They were everywhere!

Sutherland Falls – 5th tallest waterfall in the world

I couldn’t contain the excitement knowing this was my last can of preserved meat for a long time…

Canned food = a balanced tramper’s lunch

After a long 33.5 miles (New Zealanders used to work in feet & inches long, long ago), we finally made it to Sandfly Point–the end of the trail. Beforehand I made sure all major skin areas were covered and those exposed were globbed with DEET. Sandfly bites are no joke, I am still itching the 6 that got to me.

Survived the 33.5 miles never having to learn how to use the bright orange emergency locator beacon

Waiting for our ride to town at Sandfly Point

Final boat ride through Milford Sound

At the Sandfly Point shelter there were a few historical boards with old quotes. I’ll leave you with my favorite to conclude this weeks post–

“Fifteen years after leaving the Milford Track I repeatedly dream I’m still there…with these great mountains, waterfalls and forests and the river…The actual reality is something that is almost indescribable and I often say to people, ‘Have you walked the Milford Track?’ and when they say NO, I say well you must do it before you die…” – Dan Greany

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