So let’s start with a little of the how and why for these days, when we originally booked the flights to New Zealand, there were 2 things that were really important. Seeing our friend Toni and doing the Milford Track, everything thing we read and saw on YouTube talked about this being one of the best Great Walks in the world. I have to say, that’s only because they don’t all know Toni!
Our first thought was to do it the cheaper way which is backpacking all of your clothes food etc for the full 4 days and staying at the DOC huts along the track. But much to our good luck, the whole season was booked out within 7 minutes of it going up for sale this year, and there are very tight restrictions on the numbers of people allowed on the trail. The good luck part was, the fact that I think we woefully underestimated my ability to lug that much stuff over a mountain. Anyway there was a plan B, there is one private company that is allowed to take people on the walk and so a quick visit to the Ultimate Hikes website and I was able to secure the last double room available that fit in with our dates.
We have trained since August, building up the distance, number of consecutive days and carrying back packs and as you have all been reading, we continued that since we arrived in NZ, with some of the other notable walks here, Alpine Crossing, Roy’s Peak, Abel Tasman and many others. So with full packs (you still need to carry all your clothes and personal items for the 5 days) we were excited to meet the rest of our group at the Alpine Center in Te Anau.
After a short coach ride and some early introductions to the people that we were going to spend the most time with, we arrived at the end of Lake Te Anau for the boat crossing to the start of the track. A short trek to the Clinton Lodge for our first night where we were greeted with snacks and soft drinks. Our room was basic but clean and tidy with our own bathroom and shower. The power is only on between 6am and 10pm so an early night is your only option. We met our guides and had a team photo taken before going for a 90 minute nature walk, which I think was really intended to see how people handled very uneven rocky ground with lots of tree roots. The bar opened at 5pm (well I did say we were doing it the fancy way) and at 6.30 we sat down for dinner. Which was another really pleasant surprise, our dinner every night was a full 3 course meal with choices the day before on the main course and the standard was really high, it would have given most restaurants a run for their money. After dinner we had a briefing from the guides on what to expect the next day.
Breakfast was at 7 and you also made your own sandwiches for lunch from and extensive array of options and at 8.30 off we went. The standard format was a guide at the front, one around the middle and one at the end to act as sweeper. There were a few side walks as optional extras and those that know me, know that I am not one to hang around! We were up the front with just the lead guide in front of us and no one to be seen behind us, at some point Susan, the senior guide started to speed up and we thought, oh well, we better walk faster but after about 10 minutes, she said, very tactfully, could we wait and slow the rest of the group down as she need to get to the first hut to get the water on to boil for the tea to go with our lunch! We stopped for lunch and then set off to complete that days walk, we were warned that the last 3/4 of a mile was uphill and the last 1/4 was uphill and over boulders. It had just started to rain a little but so close to the next hut that we just kept going. The Senior guide was at the top of the boulder field watching as everyone hiked up and I asked her later that evening if that was to assess who would be able to make it over the pass and who was not really capable and she confirmed it. Luckily all of our group were allowed to continue. One additional feature of all on the lodges was they had a place to hand wash anything you needed and then there were 2 drying rooms, one at a cooler temperature to dry out boots backpacks and waterproofs and a really hot one to dry your clothes. It rained really heavily all night but was just misty and cloudy in the morning ready for the big one.
Although today was less miles, this was going to be the hike up and over the McKinnon Pass and so we had a 6am breakfast and a 7.30 am start for the hike. The climb up the pass was ok and in fact I found it easier than Roy’s peak over a distance of about 4.5 miles we ascended 500 mt the top was shrouded in cloud so no views from the top other than this Kea making sure we did not miss the warning sign.
We had an additional 1.5 miles to walk along the ridge before a stop at the lodge to eat our lunch. Our trip down the mountain was really REALLY hard it was only 3.5 miles but we had to hike the emergency route as the regular one was under avalanche warning and it dropped 900 mt over that distance, most of it boulders with water running through it. I think that’s the longest I have ever taken to cover such a short distance. But we made it and were amongst the second group down. Hot shower, get clothes sorted and relax with a glass or two of wine and another great dinner.
The final day of hiking was another early start and over 13.5 miles, the weather was perfect, crisp with no wind and not too much sun. We passed some spectacular waterfalls that had been enhanced by the overnight rains. There was a little scrambling over rocks and trees but it was generally an easy walk. Not that we (read me) are competitive but we were the first of the group to make the aptly named Sandfly point. So quickly got into the hut to wait for the water taxi over to the Mitre Lodge. We checked into the lodge and we had the most amazing view out of our window! And it had a bath!!!! Long soak to ease those muscles and down to meet our friends for a celebratory drink and dinner.
The weather was dry and sunny the next day ( a rare occurrence in the Sound) and part of the package with Ultimate is a trip up the Sound almost to the Tasmin sea. The views were great given that we had such a clear day. Back to the harbor and a coach ride over to Te Anau, even that was an interesting ride as the road is pretty narrow and it twists and turns up and over the mountain – including a trip through a pretty long tunnel that only had room for single direction traffic, controlled by traffic lights.
We were sad to say goodbye to our friends but there were many promises to keep in touch. we decided to just stretch our legs a little and walked over to the Te Anau bird sanctuary by the side of the lake. We were able to see some of the rarities that the Department of Conservation are keeping under a watch.