...these sunny pics are for real...no photoshop
27.12.2010 - 31.12.2010 23 °C
The weather forecast is calling for sunny weather in Milford Sound over the next couple days. Since we've seen nothing but heavy cloud cover and rain that area we decide to head back to Milford Sound to see the sights with bright sun illuminating the mountains. As we close in on Milford for the third time, the sky darkens and the heavy rain is quick to follow. Our only option is to stay in a little hut at Hollyford Camp as it is now pouring rain and setting up our tent isn't doable. The friendly man that runs the camp has a good laugh that we returned in hopes of sunny weather and informs us that there is a major storm coming. We unpack our belongings in “Pop's Hut”, our cozy rustic hut for the evening. I start a roaring fire in the pot belly stove as Julie hangs our laundry to dry all over the inside of the hut. After a lovely lamb and parsnip dinner, we relax in the common room reading and watching the river rise.
Rain continues to fall through the night as Julie and I sweat like pigs in our hut, as I stuffed the pot belly stove with as much wood as possible before falling asleep. As we eat breakfast in the morning we notice that the river that runs alongside the camp has poured over its banks. We begin to wonder if we will ever see sunshine in this area. I return to the hut to play with fire while Julie reads in the common room. Again I stuff the stove and end up falling asleep for an hour from the heat until suddenly Julie comes barging in with excitement. The sun has broken up the clouds revealing the new found world of towering mountains and never ending valleys. It is 3 PM in the afternoon and we have plenty of time for one of the many hikes in the area.
First we stop at Lake Marian, an alpine lake on a hanging valley, but the trail is closed as a result of a slip from the heavy rains. So we head over to the Key Summit (918 m) for a quick trek into the alpine wilderness, for the second time. The panoramic views are phenomenal and worth the repeated climb to the summit. Lake Marian, the Hollyford Valley, and surrounding snow peaks are all on display. Without packs we make short work of the trek and return to camp for dinner.
We decide to stay another night at Hollyford Camp since it is a really nice place with all the amenities and there is much more to discover in the Milford region. Unfortunately, we find out the 1000 year old hollow beech tree we climbed during our last visit here was blown down in a storm only 2 days later. As we processed this news it brought a sadness that couldn't be explained. We felt very fortunate to have met the tree before its death.
Bright blue skies greet us in the early morning, so we bolt up to Milford Sound to gaze upon Mitre Peak before hundreds of tourist arrive off buses. The steep mountain rises from the fiord forming a sharp point at 1893 m. It is a breathtaking site and is almost surreal looking at the photos Julie took. We feel fortunate to see the mountain with such great weather, since it has rained for the past 10 days here.
After satisfying our senses on views in Milford Sound, we head back south to hike up the Gertrude Valley to Gertrude Saddle. A “saddle” is a low ridge connecting two peaks. The valley collects and funnels water to form the beginning of the Hollyford River, which on this day is still quite high. From the car park we dodge flooded sections of the trail and reach a so-called bridge across the river. Unfortunately, the river is flowing approximately a foot over the bridge, so off go the boots and we cross on the submerged structure. Our boots don't stay dry for long as the water levels have risen high enough that the trail has been incorporated into the river. We make a gallant effort to avoid the icy blue waters by heading off trail and through the forest but it doesn't get us far and we end up trudging through the water in the end. On higher grounds rock cairns lead the way through sub-alpine grasslands dotted with stunted shrubs and beautiful flowers. Beyond the grasslands we stumble over rocky intermittent river beds studded with boulders. The views ahead and behind are one-of-a-kind, impossible to capture fully by camera. The cairns we follow take us skyward along a ridge then across the river in front of a cascading waterfall. We stop for lunch to look back on our progress through the rocky valley and marvel in its beauty. Noticing the changing temperatures at these higher altitudes, we throw on warmer clothes and switch from sunhats to toques. Continuing along the steep path we quickly scramble across a few huge patches of unmelted snow which could break off and slide down the mountain at any time. Using steel cables bolted to the rock we ascend huge rock slabs and across a small ridge to find Black Lake. This small alpine lake is in a hanging valley enclosed by bedrock. It's sole water source is from the melting snow above. Some interesting alpine ferns gain our attention as do some unique flowers growing in this predominately rock and harsh alpine environment. We also discover an alpine weevil, large and dark in colour. These adaptations help it to absorb as much heat as possible in this cold and windy environment.
Finally we reach Gertrude Saddle (1430 m) and immense views on the other side taking our eyes all the way to Milford Sound. The tree line is far below us and beyond that are the gravel beds of river systems in the base of the valley. Along the mountain sides slips can be seen, both old and new. Moss spreads across the rocks on the older slips indicating the beginning stage of regenerating forest. I continue up Barrier Knob to the north a little further before returning to where Julie is exploring. We watch clouds rolling our way and decide its time to return to the car. The total hike takes six hours and held our attention for every second. It is one of the greatest day hikes we have completed to date and can't stop talking about what an amazing place it is. We ring out our socks at the car before heading further south to Knobs Flat, a DOC campground. The flats have interesting glacial moraine deposits (looking like lady lumps and humps) scattered throughout the wide valley which is otherwise very flat.
In the morning we stop in Te Anau for supplies before heading to Lake Manapouri to tent at Lake View Chalets. It is a strange place littered with house trucks, antique cars, and rustic cabins. We hit the arcade to play some vintage pinball before calling it a night. In the morning we have to catch our boat to Doubtful Sound via Lake Manapouri for our overnight New Years cruise in one the most picturesque fiords in New Zealand.