In 1908, British journalist Blanche Edith Baughan sat down at her desk and declared the Milford Track the ‘Finest Walk in the World’. That’s a rather bold statement in itself. Even more outlandish is the fact that Baughan had never set foot on the track herself. Still, like a newborn lamb grasping at its mothers teat, the Kiwis have latched on to this statement and touted it as a universal truth.
The reality is this; the Milford Track is a pretty damn fine hike. The finest? Who knows.. I don’t know what really constitutes fine in regards to judging a hike. If it’s related to the weather, the Milford wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. During the 3 days I experienced on the track, it stopped raining for approximately 17 minutes. That may be a slight exaggeration, though the clear weather windows were few and far between. Pretty standard for an area that averages 6-8,000mm of annual rainfall. Despite the gushing skies, it was an incredible hike and a thoroughly enjoyable experience overall.
I was joined on the trek by 3 buddies over from Australia; Eric, Matt & Nick, 2 of which I’d just completed the Routeburne with the day prior (stay tuned for the post- some of the best scenery I’ve witnesses). Now, I also want to preface this by disclosing that we did the ‘pampered’ version of the Milford walk, through a company called Ultimate Hikes . We stayed in lodges, had guides, ate like kings and had a drying room for our soggy clothes at the end of the day. Yes, you read that correctly. They have rooms to hang up your clothes so they’ll be crispy warm and dry in a few short hours. It was a guilty pleasure.
We caught the bus from the lakeside town of Te Anau and then took a short ferry ride through to the start of the track. Needless to say, it was already raining. The track starts off as a well maintained limestone path, leading to a little apprehension on my part that this was to be one of those near ‘wheelchair accessible’ walks, such as the Heaphy track further north. Thankfully, we were soon walking through mud and my fears were relieved.
For much of the day the path winds through a relatively narrow passage skirted by high, waterfall laden valley walls. The prehistoric plant life is diverse and immense, multiple shades of luscious green, while the sky is blocked by thick fog overhead. It gives the feeling of enclosure, as though trekking through a Jurassic Park exhibit. The closest we came to spotting rare and exotic life was in the form of the elusive blue duck. For Matt, this was probably the highlight of his trip.
Remember how I mentioned earlier we were staying in lodges? Well we strolled into our first one at about 2:30 on the first day and were greeted by fresh towels and the prospect of a warm shower. The guilt was oozing from my pores. That was soon taken care of by the perfectly pressured warm water… I honestly don’t know how I’m going to go back to multi-day tent expeditions after this experience. It may have ruined me.
After a little spiel about why we were doing the trek (we missed the introduction session on the first night, thank god) it was time to eat. Eat we did. Dinner was beef and rice with salmon balls for an entrée. That’s salmon meat rolled up into balls, not.. you get the idea. We promptly polished that off, got acquainted with a few of the other trekkers and hit the sack for an early night.
Rising at 7 after a cozy sleep (bit warm actually. Too many blankets..) we hopped across to the dining area and made our lunches. Practically every sandwich making ingredient you can imagine was on offer and I attempted to use every one of them. We polished off a buffet style breakfast (no hashbrowns..) and took off on our way.
Today was to be the hardest of the trek. We were to make our way over Mckinnon Pass, a 600m odd elevation gain that was forecast to receive a smattering of snow the previous night. Leading us over the pass was our blonde, bright and bubbly guide, Veronica. Since this was technically a ‘guided’ trek, we weren’t supposed to be tearing around doing whatever we liked, a guide was supposed to be guiding us. Well, being tall and relatively fit young guys, we naturally liked to move rather quickly. This left Veronica in the position of having to stay ahead of us the whole way, which she handled well. Even more impressively, she was talking the whole time.. although I’m inclined to believe she would’ve pulled a Tonya Harding on us if given the chance.
The views from the top are spectacular.. so we found out in hindsight. It was completely fogged over when we were up there and visibility was about 30 metres. We raced down the other side (pretty fun decent down a small river bed) and rolled into camp (‘camp’ being a lodge with scones and coffee). We were ready for some waterfall action.
Sutherland Falls is New Zealand’s largest permanent waterfall, 580 vertical metres of H2O flowing over the side of a cliff. Of course, we had to get under it..
The waterfall attempted to intimate us with it’s roaring sounds and powerful winds we could feel from a good 50m away. We would not be deterred in our quest. We charged down the rocks (slipping several times) and planted ourselves at the base of the icy torrent, for about 3 seconds. We hastily retreated to the safety of the land above and posed for a victorious snap, like the conquering heroes we were. (Note: To be fair to Nick, he actually fully submerged himself in the small pool below the falls. Myself and the squid ran in after him, got blasted by the icy spray and sprinted back out.)
Dinner that night was a Rib-eye steak with a mushroom soup as an entrée and crème brulee for desert. No, I’m not having you on.
The third day was more of the same; waterfalls galore. TLC should’ve hiked the Milford Track, she wouldn’t have had to chase shit..
The sandflies were also out in force. Seriously, if you ever visit this region, be sure to pack a flamethrower of some sort. There doesn’t appear to be any other way to keep these little suckers off you. I had bites on my face over 2 weeks later from the sandfly attacks here.
We ventured passed waterfall 987 and were blessed with a truly rare sight in these parts. The sun. We basked in the golden rays of this celestial deity for a few moments before it disappeared for the day once more. Good riddance.. who needs it anyway?
We stopped at the end of the track for a lunch break before being herded onto a small boat which was to take across to our lodging for the night. Mitre Peak lodge is absolutely brilliant. It’s this old fashioned, timber based maritime style building which presents pretty incredible views from the majority of it’s twin-share rooms. It has a washing machine, the standard drying rooms and best of all, a pool table. This occupied us for much of the evening. Veronica partnered with me for a couple of games, appearing to deliberately sabotage the teams hopes of winning.. perhaps she was still harboring a little resentment from that day 2 escapade. Who knows. If you’re reading this Veronica, let it go.. Thankfully we still pulled out the win.
Oh yeh and most importantly; our dinner was a rack of lamb with potatoes and brownies with ice cream for desert. I have literally never eaten this well for 3 days straight in my life.
The following day was a cruise around the Milford Sound, taking in the sights that Captain Cook missed as he and his crew sailed straight passed the inlet. I’ll leave you with a couple of pics of the boat ride. Hopefully they’ll provide adequate justice to a setting my mediocre English would fail to sufficiently describe.