The Milford Track
The Milford Track. I don’t think any words or photo’s I am going to share do justice to this place on earth.
On Wednesday we drove from Queenstown to Te Anau, the place where we picked up our tickets for the track. You know how I had been calling this ‘trekking’, well I found out it’s actually called ‘tramping’ in New Zealand. Our group of Bakers + some, made up 11 of the 40 trampers to set out on the Wednesday. They have 40 independent and up to 50 guided trampers start the track every day during the summer. It’s amazing to think with that many people going through the track every year that it still looks and is so pristine and untouched like no one goes there.
We got our tickets, it was raining in Te Anau. The ticketer advised that we may not get out of Milford Sound on Saturday afternoon due to the rockfalls that had been occuring over the Homer Tunnel Road. This would mean that we wouldn’t get out until Sunday morning, and not get back to Queenstown on time for our flight o Auckland, therefore we might miss our Auckland to LA flight. Our options were to risk it, or stay the 4 days in Te Anau*. I was a little disappointed with the options, but decided to risk it.. and it was totally worth it!
Once tickets were collected, we headed to Bev’s Gear Hire to pick up the gear Reg, Tim, Prue and I needed for the track, which was pretty much everything. Reg and I had bought some thermals and polar fleece items earlier in Queenstown, but we needed wet weather gear, cooking and eating utensils and our packs. This was the first time quite a few of us had ever worn packs, and boy was that an addition of about 12kgs I wasn’t ready for.
We caught the boat from Te Anau Downs, catching the boat across Lake Te Anau is the main only way to access the start of the Track, apart from a helicopter. I fell asleep for a lot of the 1 hour boat ride, just too tired to keep my eyes open. I was also still super sore from mountain biking the day before!
This is considered Day 1. Once off the boat, we were overwhelmed with the Sandflies. I had been told to take repellent, and I did, but opted for Jodie’s Tea tree oil and this worked a treat for now. We got a family photo at the beginning of the track.
The walking on this day was 5 kms. It wasn’t difficult as such, but my hips struggled with the weight of my pack. I sure felt like there would be some serious bruising. I sucked it up though, as there wasn’t much to be done about it!
Our first night was spent at Clinton Hut. The walk there was through beautiful beech forest and along the Clinton River. We also took the little side walk to see the wetlands close by. Ross the Ranger that was looking after the Clinton Hut area when we stayed was great. He took our some people on a guided walk, but we stayed in doors to play cards. It was raining just a little that afternoon, and it was cool, but the group of school kids that got there during the day had lit the fire and so the eating room was toastie warm! The forty of us bunked in 2 rooms that night, we shared half the room with one other tramper – Ethan. You will hear more about him later.
Day 2 was 16.5kms. It began with a gradual climb along the Clinton River. To be honest, this was a long difficult day. I think it felt that way because I didn’t eat enough for morning tea, so I was running out of fuel. But we got the first view of the Mackinnon Pass, which is what we were to climb.
There were lots of waterfalls and creeks to cross. The scenery was amazing, we spotted lots of Blue Ducks along the way which are an endangered duck that Ross had said there would be some pairs. We stopped for lunch around 12:30, at a place known as the Bus Stop, there was a little climb to get there, but worth it to sit down, take my pack off and eat something more than nuts. I had a tuna and cheese sandwich. I had warmed up a fair bit from the little climb, but cooled down very quickly, so we took off pretty quickly. Tim, Prue and Aunty Jan went ahead, then Amy and I left and the rest followed. This remaining 6.5kms or so were all upwards and it began to rain. I got cold as we got higher and had to add another layer under my raincoat. The next 2 hours were difficult and miserable as we climbed to the Mintaro hut. Amy and I trudged up the hill, step by step, aching, wet, tired, cold and hungry. One thing we were glad was that because it was cooler up there the sandflies weren’t around! It was at this point that I realised that the Milford Track was actually a lot tougher than I expected. My whole body was aching and it was super cold up this high, so being wet didn’t help. The hut slowly got warm, however, it was impossible to dry anything, so wet shoes in the morning were inevitable. Once in warm clothes and after some couscous and tuna for dinner I started to feel much better. We had a game of Phase 10, Reg, Jodie, Jan, Amy, Ethan and I. Ethan was grat fun, and it was this second night that we got to know him a little better. He is a Physio student in NYC, from New Jersey. He was over in New Zealand for the semester doing outdoor leadership skills. The Milford Track was his last venture before returning home. He was super speedy on the track and handy around the hut as he had EVERYTHING. He was prepared and well experienced in tramping. It was lots of fun having his company along with our family. It was in the Mintaro hut that we also got to know the group of school kids that were tramping. I was doing some stretching with Reg and Jodie and a few of the girls joined us. They were about 14/15 and lots of fun. So despite this day and the walk up the hill being the most difficult and probably miserable with the weather, the evening together was great!
Ed, our hut Ranger had also warned us of a certain bird, the Kia, that is notorious for vandalising things, due to this we were to hang up our shoes. I woke up at about 1 am needing to go to the toilet, but since they were outside and it was raining, I stayed snuggled in my sleeping bag instead and made myself go back to sleep. I woke up again at 5.30 am and it was light, so I got up to go to the toilet. I came out onto the verandah there were two Kia’s picking at someones shoes. They backed off a little as I walked past, but weren’t scared off. I went back inside and woke Tim up immediately as he had been saying how much he wanted to see them! That was a little highlight of the Mintaro Hut!
Day 3 was the climb and decline of the MacKinnon Pass, 14kms. I thought this would be more difficult than it was. I was sore, and it was freezing cold at the top of the pass, but surprisingly it was manageable. It took us about 2.5hrs to climb to the top.. I wish I hadn’t have been so cold so I could have appreciated it more. These pictures hardly capture how amazing it was up there.
We stopped at the Pass hut and had a hot lunch – Ed had told us to make sure we had a decent break as going down the pass was difficult and if not rested, you can trip up easily. The hot lunch helped, but it was so cold up in the hut that we got moving again within half an hour. We had to use the “Emergency” track because there had been rock falls on the normal track. This alternate route was meant to be easier, but steeper. I found the steep part pretty good, but as we got lower my legs got tired, since I had been doing lots of one legged squats effectively.. Legs and feet ached big time once the emergency part of the track was done and we got onto flatter, but still down hill. It was all quite technical too, since you had to choose the safest path through the rocks and streams. Half the group went ahead and then about 2 hours out from our hut Shona needed a break so Reg and I went ahead ourselves leaving Pete, Shona and Jodie. I found that once I got to this point of being really tired all over, feet and legs aching, I begun to not even look at the scenery, but just want to get back to the hut. There were lots of amazing waterfalls and creek beds, the water was so clear and fresh. We got back to the hut late afternoon, and the only way to describe how sore my feet were was that it felt like I had been wearing high heels that were a little too small ALL day!
The Dumpling hut was great. It had a large cooking and eating area which were separate to the the sleeping rooms. There was a large drying room with the fire in it that was connected to the kitchen. When we got there, it was just us and Ethan. We feasted on all sorts of food, I did give in a eat some Nutella at this point.. I had been good the rest of the time so felt okay with cheating a little. We entertained ourselves before dinner with games of 500, a Baker family fave!
Day 4 – the last day, a total of 18kms. I felt that this day had heaps of really nice stuff to look at, and at the start of the walk while I still had the attention span. I will tell this day in pictures mostly 🙂
Note Here: Iphones can survive a swim in an Alpine River. Mine may have jumped in for a dip in this very river while I filled up my water bottle!
It was amazing to finish the Track. 38 of us got on the 2pm boat. The 2 that didn’t were a French couple. Anne had hurt her knee the day before on the decent, she had decided however to walk the rest of the track. We came across them early in the morning on the track and a few of us stopped to pray for healing. She was super thankful that we did and said that there was no pain.**
We got back to Milford sound about 2:20pm and had organised to go on a cruise around the sound. We all looked haggard and terrible! haha. To be honest, I struggled to stay awake. The Sound was amazing, however the best way to describe it is that we had just eaten and experienced the most amazing chocolate cake, and then cruising around the sound we were just looking at it. I realised that the cruise is all most people do to experience Milford – but I tell you what, there is so much more and I feel like we have only just scratched the surface.
Milford Track is a must see, do, experience.
* We got out of Milford no worries. And got all our flights the next day with no problems.
**We ran into Anne and her partner at the end of our cruise. She said after we prayed for her she had no pain and finished the track trouble free, in fact, only missed the 2pm boat by 15mins. I was so incredibly filled with joy when I saw she had finished and gave glory to God for his healing power that helped her finish the Track. So awesome!