...four days of magic.
23.12.2010 - 27.12.2010 17 °C
After a night at the overly priced Fiordland National Park Lodge, we pack our gear and food for the next 4 days on the world famous Milford Track. We walk down the road to catch the Real Journey ferry which boats us to the northern point of Lake Te Anau and drops us off here, at the start of the Milford Track. As we get off the ferry, one at time each person steps into a disinfecting boot bath in case we have any horrendous Didymo cells lurking. We trek most of the way to the Clinton Hut with fellow Canadians Jamie and Brent. Today's trek is a short and simple 5 km, wandering through dense and rich rainforest along the Clinton River The river is running high (to the top of its banks) and is still murky brown from previous days massive amounts of rain and run off. Parts of the track are completely eroded away and new trails have been cut deeper in the woods. The Clinton Hut area receives four to five metres of rain per year and the annual amounts get heavier the further we tramp over the next three days, the highest being 9 meters of rain annually at the Dumping Hut! We are in rainforest and we expect and are prepared to get rain over the next 4 days. Because the area is so wet it contains many wetlands, one of which is accessible by boardwalks and contains interpretive signage. So we take the side trip and check out the carnivorous sundew plants among other interesting species living here. The remainder of the tramp to the hut is quick and when we arrive we grab two bunks and cook up a gourmet meal which makes other trampers drool.
The next morning, Christmas Eve, a few of us pull out our Christmas wear to get in the mood. Christmas carols whose lyrics are somehow forgotten are sung with improvised words as we begin the gradual climb to Mintaro Hut and Clinton River's source, Lake Mintaro. There is more damage and debris from previous days' rain at many points along the trail. One incredible demonstration of nature's power is at Marlenes Creek where boulders smashed the bridge over. The vegetation begins to change as we tramp today's 16.5 km, reflecting our slow increase in elevation to 600 m. As we near the end of the hike we are getting tired and are soaking wet from the all day drizzle which has now turned into a constant rain. Julie suddenly smells septics and never before have we ever been excited at the smell but it means the hut is right around the bend. In the hut everyone was buzzing with excitement after today’s hike through an incredible valley with countless waterfalls trickling down the rock faces of towering mountains on either side of the track. The forecast board in the hut indicates snow down to 1000 m for tomorrow, so our dreams of a white Christmas might come true. Everyone is in bed early again tonight, resting for the big climb up and over Mackinnon Pass tomorrow, Christmas day.
The next morning Julie and I make our way slowly up the zig-zag path and past the tree line with no problems. Cool wind nips at our finger tips as we wander past an array of alpine flowers. On top of the Mackinnon Saddle we pass a monument to Quinton Mackinnon, an explorer. The top of the monument's cross was blown down by treacherous winds two days earlier, so now instead of a cross there is a “T”. There is a slight amount of cloud so views back down the valley we hiked yesterday aren't possible. Further up the trail we find snow, a white Christmas, yippee! I quickly form a ball and land a direct hit on Julie's back. It was worth having freezing hands over. On top of the pass it is incredibly cold so we don't spend much time at this high elevation of 1073 m. The steep decent from the saddle is slow as we pass a few rock slides which occurred only days before. The waterfalls we hike past are roaring and powerful, and the rock underneath has been eroded smooth. After a few hours we reach somewhat flat ground passing well eroded river banks and uprooted trees. We make a stop for lunch at the start of the side trail to Sutherland Falls. They are the second largest in the southern hemisphere, and fifth largest in world, dropping 580 m. As we near the falls the crashing water sounds like a jet engine and the mist completely drenches us. Julie tweaks her knee returning from the falls over the rocky terrain, so we take it slow the rest of the way to Dumpling Hut. Our tramper's Christmas dinner consists of quinoa with fresh veggies. It's not quite turkey and cranberry sauce but it's better than dehydrated food packs! The evening is filled with cards, wine (yes we hiked in nearly 2 L of wine at a heavy cost on my back!), and laughter until midnight when we disperse to our bunks for the night. Total hike today was 14 km.
We listen to the pitter patter of rain on the hut roof for most of the night. Julie wakes in the morning after dreaming of flooded trails and helicopter rides to the next hut but her visions don't materialize. In the morning we shift heavy items from Julie's pack into mine to make her pack light as a Prince of Whales Feather. Her knee is pretty sore and the extra weight won't do it any good. Through the dense woods we tromp, the sound of birds chirping and rivers rushing fill our ears every step of the way. The rain continues to drop down, bouncing off fern fronds and soaking into the moss laden ground. Luckily the track is primarily flat and easy going today, but it seems like it will never end. After about 6 hours and 18 km we emerge at Sandfly Point with wet sore feet and ready to face civilization again. We board the small ferry and are packed in like sardines for the 20 minute tour across the fiord to Milford Sound. Upon arrival everyone we've met over the last four days slowly disperses by bus or shuttle. It was kinda sad to say good-bye. We really miss hanging with others our age for more than one day. But we are all travellers on our own paths with our own agendas. The shuttle to Milford Lodge picks Julie and I up and upon arrival we eagerly have hot showers to warm up our chilled bones. It's December 26th but it's Christmas day at home, and feeling home sick we phone our families who are gathered together for the holiday.
The world famous Milford Track cost us around $220 each - crazy! It was an incredible hike through pristine wilderness but we've realized and heard about heaps of treks that are comparable for dirt cheap.
The comfy beds and closed curtains at the lodge keep us in dreamland until 8:30 AM, a mere 12 hours of sleep does us wonders. Packing up after breakfast, we put our hitchhiking plan of attack together and hit the road, thumbs out. Within ten minutes a shuttle bus that just dropped tourists off in Milford Sound pulls over and we jump in. He isn't suppose to pick-up hitchhikers but likes the company for the 2 hour drive back to Te Anau. Our chaufer is highly knowledgeable of the area and points out every point of interest along the highway. We jump out of the bus at Fiordland National Park Lodge, where we had left our car and thank the driver for his kindness. Julie decides we should head into town (Te Anau) to check up on emails and get our stank laundry taken care of.