Wednesday 23 March 2011

#blog4NZ - Milford Track

It serves me right. Years of boasting that the sun shone every time I went to Fiordland came back to bite me when I when I finally got hands-on with the Milford Track. ‘Feet on’, actually: four days walking the 54 kilometres from the tip of Lake Te Anau to the bottom of Milford Sound, along the Clinton and Arthur River valleys and over the 1154m Mackinnon Pass between them.

Why would anyone want to do such a thing? Well, it’s a world-famous walk (I was the only Kiwi in a group of 16 eager trampers); it was on the bucket list; and it’s the best way to enjoy that astonishing scenery, even if it involves getting intimate with some of the seven metres of rain that fall on the track every year. Choosing to go with Ultimate Hikes meant that at least I would be assured of a warm, dry and comfortable end to each day at their three lodges on the track, with hot showers, drying rooms, a three-course dinner, and a cosy bed. Our three guides were an equally valuable part of the package, encouraging and diverting us as we plodded along.

I marvelled at their enthusiasm as we set off into drenching rain on the second morning, after a short walk the previous afternoon from the lake jetty to the lodge: the river churned brown and violent, the mountain tops were rubbed out by low cloud, ribbons of waterfalls streaked the valley walls. But inside the bush it was sheltered and green, birds fluttered around our feet and the miles, marked by old-fashioned posts, slipped past. When the river trespassed onto the track and icy water swirled hip-high, it became more adventure than fun: but Fiordland weather is notoriously changeable, and after lunch the sun came out, the glaciers showed crisp and clear against the blue sky and Pompolona Lodge lay ahead with civilised comforts and a five-star view.

Excellent food, wine and company, and a good night’s sleep banished the discomforts of Day Two, and I was ready for the long zigzag climb up to the Pass next day. In bright sunshine, the snow-capped mountains, alpine flowers and clowning keas took centre stage, my tired legs easily ignored: and the view from the top was stunning. From the edge of the cliff called Twelve-Second Drop I could see Quinton Lodge tucked into the bush far below — but in the absence of a paraglider, sadly the only way down was to follow the steep, rough track along Roaring Burn, each mile seeming longer than the last.

Although it was a hard day, it was full of dramatic scenery, with even more rewards at the end. At the lodge, there were welcome creature comforts — but also Sutherland Falls, at 580m the highest in the country, leaping and raging after the rain, a spectacular sight well worth the extra walk to its base.

On the last day, each waterfall plunging down out of the bush seemed prettier than the last. Diverted by birdlife including a weka family with a fluffy brown chick, the end came suddenly: a hut, a red boat and beyond it Mitre Peak’s unmistakeable shape, everything blurred by a haze of sandflies. Just around the point was real civilisation, with mains electricity, baths and a pub, all of which we put to good use — but still I was sorry to have left behind the beauty and peace of the bush, and the simple pleasure of lying comfortably in bed after a day of honest exercise, listening to the cry of a kiwi echoing through the night.


the queen said...

You had me until HAZE OF SANDFLIES.

TravelSkite said...

The end of the track's not called Sandfly Point for nothing. They are maddening - but at least the bites don't itch for long.


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