Milford Track: Day 1

Trip Start Jan 15, 2011
1
14
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Trip End Mar 19, 2011


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Where I stayed
Clinton Hut

Flag of New Zealand  , Southland,
Sunday, January 30, 2011

Prologue:

While researching our trip to New Zealand, Katie I were definite about one thing: We were going to do some overnight hiking trips. We had the wherewithal and were finally embarking on our dream trip. Nothing was going to stop us from enjoying the natural beauty of New Zealand to its fullest. As it happened, New Zealand is extremely backpacker friendly and well known for its "Great Walks." Milford Track is one of these great walks and has long been described as "the finest walk on earth." So, despite it being located in the Fiordland (one of the wettest places on Earth) we chose Milford Track as our major hike of New Zealand.

The Facts:

You have to book hiking the Milford Track far in advance to be guaranteed a spot, as they only allow 40 people a day on each leg of the trail.

Milford Track can only be walked in one direction: From Glade Wharf to Sandfly Point (located on Milford Sound). There are three huts the trampers must stay in along the trail as there is no camping allowed. Each hiker gets their own bunk, so no tents are needed.

From start to finish the track is 33.5 miles (almost 54 kilometers), and each tramper must complete it over four days. No staying two nights in a hut, as each bunk is spoken for every day of the week.

Day 1: Just over 3 miles (5km) from Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut

Having packed for the most part the night before, we woke up early to finish up a few last details before heading to Te Anau. Our packs were fairly small, which was great for our bodies but bad for long overnight hauls as it limits what you can bring. For this particular trip they worked well since the huts along Milford Track provided bunks to sleep on and stoves for cooking. This substantially lightened our load. Strangely enough, though, our packs were still full! Yes, there was room for a few more items if we cared to jam them in, but what if we had needed our tent? I wasn't going to fret about that. It was a worry for the future. For now, we were packed and ready to go.

First, we checked the weather for the next few days at the information center. Today called for rain, tomorrow light showers followed by rain, the next day drizzling with a side of rain, and finally a storm. Well then, this should be a fun hiking experience!

There was enough time for us to grab a quick bite to eat before our bus arrived at 9:45 A.M. to take us to Te Anau Downs where we caught our boat. One hour across the lake later and we were finally at the start of the Milford Track. This hike is probably one of the most well known in New Zealand and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Soon we'd find out if this was true.

Rain was falling lightly upon departure, so we zipped on our coats and threw up the hoods. Others were wrapping their packs up in water-tight seals but we didn’t feel the need for that quite yet. The first day’s hike was only three miles, and with the rain being as light as it was, we thought it likely our packs could take it till we reached our first hut.

A river flowed alongside most of the trail, and at one point we crossed over a suspension bridge to reach the other side. Before the bridge, we passed another hut that we were not destined to stay in. This was a hut for “guided” walkers. Let me explain… There are two ways you can hike Milford Track: independently and guided. We were independent walkers, which meant we carried our own food, water, sleeping bags, clothing, etc., and stayed in three huts over four days on the trail. The guided walkers only carried day packs and had all their food carted ahead to the huts where meals were cooked for them. They had guides along the trail talking to them about the terrain and serving up hot cups of soup and tea. Also, they had one extra hut along their trek, so their 33.5 miles were stretched over 5 days rather than 4. So, if you have a few thousand bucks sitting around and care to walk the Milford Track I’d suggest the guided tour. It’s the only way to travel.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yes, the river…

The water was very clear and radiated a cool green color like a pale emerald stone. Despite the rain, the river was low, but forecasts called for a foot of precipitation overnight. We would see on the following day if this modest flow would increase come morning. There was even potential we could be wading through flooded trail on our second day hiking. It wasn’t uncommon on this track, and we knew it.

Moss covered the vegetation like fur, soft clouds capped the mountains peaking up from behind the forest, and birds flitted about without worry –  that’s no exaggeration! Instead of caution, curiosity patterned their steps. You could see it in the way they danced upon the branches, cocking their heads before drifting in closer and closer. In fact, we were treated to a beautiful and friendly sight along our trail: Two North Island Fantails. They were adorable, hopping their way across the leaves while fanning their tails with flare. I was transfixed. I stuck my finger out like a statue wanting a fantail to land upon it like a hopeful Snow White. At one point it flew right up to me, but alas, it didn’t make a landing. I guess its interest in me couldn’t outweigh its survival instincts. Unfortunately, our little friend moved too quickly for Katie to snap a picture of it. But we’ll always have the memories.

Before we knew it, we were at Clinton Hut. This was to be our home for the rest of the evening into the morning. There were multiple buildings: Two bunk huts, a dining hut, and the bathrooms. They were all well made and clean. At this point, I wasn’t surprised to find the accommodations excellent. No, they didn’t have electric blankets waiting for us or hot showers flowing, but seeing as we were tramping through the mountains they were top notch. I’ve learned at this point that New Zealanders have a great respect for the natural beauty of their country, and they enjoy sharing it. Every time we boarded a bus or boat we received loads of information about the land and recommendations on the best way to experience it. It was rather delightful and endearing.

Once Katie and I chose our bunks and learned the layout we quickly decided to don our rain gear again (minus our packs of course) and head back to take a short offshoot of the main trail. We went on the wetlands walk and traveled through an unearthly bog of varying colors. Reds and yellows and oranges were sponging up the falling rain with Beech Trees encircling them. Waterfalls swerved their way down the mountain sides and the green canopy of trees continued to drip and sway. We stood still, each breath clouding our view before dissipating in the breeze. It was a magical place.

So magical, in fact, that Katie was drawn to the allure of the bog. Those “Dead Marshes” called to her. She was clutching her chest drawing nearer and nearer until I had to pull her back at the last second. She’d almost fallen in! She’d been acting as though she were in a trance. When I asked her what was going on she simply stated: “It’s my burden to bear.” Curious…

On the way back to Clinton Hut we stopped at the swimming hole, denoted by a handwritten sign. On a hot summer day it would’ve been too good to pass up, but today? We decided we were wet enough, thanks. Katie did, however, spy an unusual looking bird sitting in a tree across the river. It was big and still, and we got some nice clear pictures of it. We later tried to research what it was but came up empty. Not until I spoke to the hut warden did I get my answer: A shag or cormorant bird. He said it was a common bird, lots of them in these parts. We were slightly disappointed that it wasn’t unique, but either way it was still a beautiful bird! We were happy to have seen it in the wild.

The rocks around the river were so lovely it was tempting to nab a whole slew of them before leaving the area, but seeing as we still had three days of hiking ahead of us it didn’t seem like the wisest thing to do. Katie found a small black rock with an orange band around it that she hung on to and then she pointed out a small green rock to me. I laughed and said, “That’s a leaf.” She responded, “No it isn’t.” I still thought she was teasing me until I knelt down to pick it up. It was a rock, it just looked like a leaf. I quickly tossed it in my pocked and decided it was my new “Milford Track Lucky Leaf Rock” and I carried it with me the rest of the way.

Seeing as our first day of hiking was such a short one, we had a lot of time on our hands back at the hut. People busied themselves in the dining area where there were large tables to eat at and a wood burning stove to warm up by. For dinner we cooked up some couscous and added green curried tuna for flavor and protein. An odd supper, to be sure, but it was actually pretty good and it definitely filled us up. With the stove burning and all the hikers stuffed in one building, it actually got hot in that room. So hot, in fact, that Katie went outside to eat under the awning as the rain came down. I, of course, thought the temperature was perfect.

People dined and played a multitude of games while I sat and wrote in my all-weather journal and Katie read on her iPod. Before long, we were both bored and wishing we’d at least packed a deck of cards. Luckily, some good conversation popped up with a couple new friends: Frances from Germany and Susie from Arizona, both traveling alone. I played Hangman with them on some discarded cardboard before a German couple took pity on us and loaned us some cards.

The rain was coming down full force by the time everyone turned in. The sound of it pounding on the roof top coaxed us all to sleep. Well…almost all of us.
__________

UPDATE! Alice and Katie are now embarking on a Round the World trip!
Visit aliceintraveland.com to follow along on their continuing
adventures!

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Comments

Ed Esposito on

Alice & Katie,
Our entire family is thoroughly enjoying the experience of your trip! We feel like we are there with you.
Thank you for keeping us updated. We're looking forward to the next entry.
Love,
Ed, Carol, Zack and Mikela

mike on

please... stop... with the beautiful hiking pics... chicago is full... of snow... and slush... that looks like giant melting turds... and probably is... take me to the track now! xoxo mike

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