Today was the day. I got to walk the so-called “finest walk in the world” after a newspaper article released 1908 in the London Spectator. The track is so popular I booked the huts even before I had booked the flight to New Zealand itself. Crazy, isn’t it?
To get a nice proper lunch before I was to head off into the Fiordlands I got into the local pie shop – of course – and hummed to the music while waiting in the queue until I realized they were playing Moana – a very good omen. The weather was perfect to start the Milford as I walked to the pickup point and already got the boat excitement.
As soon as I got on the boat the internet connection was gone as we got further and further into the Fiordlands National Park. Four days off the grid it seemed. Today’s hike was rathe easy as it consisted just of an 1 1/2 hour easy stroll through forests and along an inviting clear blue river. The Valley we walked through was made by glaciers who retreated in the end of the last ice age. The mountains were looming over us from all sides as we settled in this very well equipped hut. The people were open and friendly and there were multiple crisscrossing chats all around. The big surprise was to see Splash with his family in between these 34 – a bus driver and guide I met in Queenstown and who’s group back then I was allowed to join for the first unofficial pub crawl.
When I got up that morning I felt very tired and exhausted, like being on the starting point of a cold. The walk couldn’t shake the feeling off and so I wrapped myself in the sleeping bag just after dinner and the ranger‘s safety instruction.
The second day was quite tough. My feeling sick didn’t get better during the night and after a warm oats and nuts breakfast I head off quite fast to get the 6 hour walk for today done in my own rhythm and without any talks. I had a lunch break at a nice shelter in the valley and drank some fresh water from the stream. You couldn’t stop a lot in this valley because there is still a high avalanche risk all around. That is a weird feeling. Walking through this rainforest like trees and bushes, the sun shining very warm across the mountain ridges but seeing all the „danger avalanches, don’t stop“ signs. I heard an avalanche far away. And later in the hut we could also watch one going down from the high wall of stone on the other side.
I arrived after 4 1/2 hours in the hut, got myself some food and took a nap. Afterwards people were arriving and I got myself tea after tea. Sitting in the last sunbeams I waited for dinner time – when is it proper to have dinner outdoors? – and going to bed again. I don’t like it when my body is not working like I want him to. But with two more days ahead and then another 4 days walk I should take good care of him and not trying to prove something.
Day 3 started with a lot of bumps that I got from sandfly bites. I never had this kind of “there’s a hill on my shin” reaction to mosquito bites before. They cleverly figured out every spot without repellent so tonight one must have gone directly for my forehead. Now I feel like a unicorn. A beautiful unicorn of course. The hike was tough as well. The first 2 hours have been uphill to the MacKinnon‘s pass. The sky was still blue and without clouds and the sun was just barely peaking over the crest of the mountains around. A pair of kea welcomed me with soaring and calling over my head.
The downhill was rather unpleasant as we had to take the so called emergency exit since the original trek was closed due to avalanche danger. It was so steep. I tried not to get my knees hurt but as soon as I reached the bottom I felt rather good and so I took the 90 minutes extra walk to the Sutherland falls – which is the highest waterfall in New Zealand. The last hour to the hut passed easily as I put on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. I instantly felt refreshed after 6 1/2 hours of intense walking.
Apart from the official huts we are staying in they are lodges for guided walks where the 4 days track costs 2000 NZ$ and you have real beds, get your stuff carried, get food… but it’s still the same walk. Crazy what people are prepared to pay for comfort.
The walk on day 4 flew by along waterfalls and streams and I arrived quickly and safely in Milford Sound. Luckily I caught the 1pm boat instead of the 3pm boat because I walked again in a steady fast pace but also because some people chartered it and could also jumped on an earlier bus. That’s what I love about New Zealand. You can easily ask to switch to an earlier or later boat or bus and the people are always kind to make it possible.
Arriving at Sandfly Point I couldn’t really appreciate the luck I had to be able to walk the Milford Track and especially with this incredible weather. But as I’m standing here at the wharf of Milford Sound with hundreds of tourists around who poured out of the tour buses to get on a 30-minute boat ride across the sound I am so grateful. For what I had experienced. Even in pain of the sandflies. I’m very grateful.
Back in Te Anau I followed a restaurant recommendation and spoiled myself with venison and wine and got to bed early. The first real restaurant dinner I had since Singapore.
Now one rest day and then on to the next Great Walk.
Bite 1: The last sandfly bite I got on the bus.
Bite 2: I got a new nickname from a fellow Singaporean hiker: Sandfly. She came up with the nickname after a minute of serious meditation. “Because you’re so annoying. And slow. Not with your feet but your head.” She burst out laughing when she told me that and fired another 5–10 well done punches. It felt a bit like being in a rap battle with one side clearly winning. “You should change your pronouns from He to It, Sandfly.” was her last punch line. Well, what should I say to that?
Bite 3: During one of the evenings sitting in the hut we confessed to each other what we brought along the Track and kinda regretted the extra weight:
- Too much food in too heavy containers like glasses with tomato sauce – better too much than too few was nearly everybody’s guilty pleasure
- 3 Litres of water “just to be safe” – I had to think of Sandra who carried one extra liter over the Alps who was completely untouched during over 10.000 meters in altitude.
- A book that she couldn’t read because she forgot her glasses
- A hammock and its mounting – for the never to become true wish to hang around in the afternoon
- And I think I was the only one who had band aids, an extra first aid kit, a rescue kit and a personal locator beacon with him… just in case.