We went for 5 weeks to New Zealand. It was an absolutely fabulous vacation! During our stay we wrote a long diary and here you can read it and look at the pictures we took.
Some facts about the Milford Track:
- Called “the finest walk in the world”
- One of the most popular hikes in New Zealand
- Only 40 people per day are allowed on the track (bookings need to be done well in advance)
- The walk is 54 kilometers long
- The region gets lots of rain (7.5 meters in 1998)
- You can drink the water from the streams (even if the official rule is that you should boil it for 5 minutes)
- The walk is intended for 4 days (3 nights in huts):
- First day: 3.5 km walk to Clinton hut
- Second day: 16.5 km walk to Mintaro hut
- Third day: 14 km walk to Dumpling hut (over the Mackinnon pass, 1154 m)
- Fourth day: 18 km walk to Sandfly Point
A round trip from Te Anau works like this:
- Bus from Te Anau to Te Anau Downs (20 minutes)
- Boat from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf (1 hour)
- Walk 54 kilometers
- Boat from Sandfly Point to Milford Sounds (20 minutes)
- Bus from Milford Sounds to Te Anau (2 hours)
We did the walk as described above, except that we did it in three days, putting the last two days together to one day. The reason for doing the last two parts in one day is two fold. First the walks for each day are a bit too short if you are used to hiking and second the track is covered with sandflies. Sandflies are almost more annoying than mosquitoes, they are smaller but their bites itch even more than mosquito bites. As soon as you stop anywhere along the track the sandflies come and make any rest impossible. The only good thing about sandflies is that they are not very fast at flying, if you walk they can’t keep up with you. So as long as you are walking you don’t notice them.
We got to Glade Wharf at 11:30 on the 11th, had lunch and met our first sandflies. At 12 we started walking and at 13 we were already at the Clinton hut. The whole afternoon there wasn’t anything to do. We had beautiful weather but the sandflies made it impossible to sit outside and enjoy the nature. Either you had to move or you had to be inside. We did a short walk to something called the Wetlands and we did some walks both up and down the track. But other than that there was nothing to do. There are no other trails than the main track.
The nature is really beautiful and the water in Clinton River is crystal clear. Even when the water is several meters deep you can see every stone on the bottom of the river. The vegetation is very special and compact. It would be impossible to walk outside the track, but the track itself is very well prepared, sometimes almost like a gravel road.
The Clinton hut is a nice hut with two big rooms where everybody sleeps. Since there is nothing to do we got to bed early and we also woke up early when the others went up. We started walking around 7:30 and we had decided to walk very slow and take long breaks. Our coffee break didn’t last for too long because of the sandflies, but for lunch we actually found a spot almost without sandflies. The nature is magnificent and we stopped and took pictures and enjoyed the walk, but we got to Mintaro hut already at 13:30. So another long afternoon without anything specal to do.
During the afternoon we walked onto the Mackinnon pass which is part of the track for the next day and the highest point of the track. On the way up we saw some really beautiful flowers called Mount Cook Lilys. We still had beautiful weather and the view from the pass was very impressive. We could see a big part of the track we walked and the track we would walk. We stayed for a long time on the pass enjoying the view and the sun.
When we got back it was about 17:30 and we had dinner. After dinner we were talking to some of the other trampers and then a kind of funny guy came in. We didn’t recognize as one of the trampers and he was talking to everybody and making jokes. After a while we realized that it was the ranger for this hut. We talked to him for a while and then we asked him if we would be allowed to walk the two last parts of the track in one day. You would not have been allowed to skip one hut since there is only a limited amount of trampers allowed on the track and the huts are always full. But since the last part ends at the boat which have a good capacity it would be allowed to do the last two walks in one day as long as we let the ranger in the hut we skipped know that we skipped it. The ranger said he had done it a couple of times, but he still recommended that we shouldn’t do it.
We talked about it, it would mean that we would have to walk 32 km in one day including a climb of 514 meters onto the highest point of the track and a decent from this point (1154 m) to sea level at the end of the track. Some others had overheard our discussion with the ranger and we felt like we wanted to do it…and also that we almost had to do it since we brought the idea up and the others heard it. The only problem was that we needed to start early. We had to catch a boat at 15.15 in Sandfly point. So we asked the ranger if he had an alarm clock to lend us. He said he thought there was one in the hut where he sleeps since something beeps in there at 6:45 every morning. He went out an got it.
He got back with the alarm clock but we couldn’t make it beep load enough. It just made a small quiet beep, by far not enough to wake us up early in the morning. A Danish couple that was listening to our conversation with the ranger gave us their alarm clock for the night. It was an old classic alarm clock that you had to wind up and it had a ring loud as a fire alarm. Perfect.
We set the alarm on 5:00 and went to bed on two mattresses on the floor in a small room connected to the kitchen so we wouldn’t wake everybody else up in the morning. When we woke up we had breakfast, packed the sleeping bags and left short after 5:30. The 514 m ascend in 4 kilometers took 1:15 minutes and we reached the Dumpling hut at 9:20. So we completed the walk for the third day in 3 hours and 50 minutes instead of the 6 hours that was calculated by the Milford Track organization.
We had lunch in Dumpling hut and talked to the ranger there. She seemed a bit surprised that we wanted to continue directly on to Sandfly point but she had no problems with it. Short before 10 we left for the last 18 kilometers of the track, also scheduled for 6 hours.
Every mile there is a stick showing how far you have walked. In the beginning we stopped every 3 miles (4.8 km) to have a break, with the speed we were walking this was pretty much one break every hour.
Around 11:20 we passed a sign saying that it would be about a 4 hour walk to Sandfly point. So now we know that we would be able to catch the 15:15 boat even if we walked in “normal” speed. But since we were starting to feel our feet and legs we decided to keep the speed up so we would be finished as early as possible. There is also a boat at 14:30 if we would be fast enough.
We discussed when we would first see some of the people who started one day before us. Moni guessed at 12:00 and Bengt guessed at 13:00. Around 12:15 we passed a man who was working for the boat company making sure that everybody would catch the last boat and short after passing him we passed the first (or rather “the last”) couple who started the day before us. Now we were sure to make it to the last boat but we would still like to catch the earlier one.
When we got to about 47 kilometer we were walking slower. We had now walked 25 kilometers at a pretty fast rate and with just one break longer than 5 minutes. It was around 12:30 so we had 2 hours before the early boat would leave and we only had 7 km left to go. We slowed down and took a break every 45 minutes. The feet were starting to hurt for real and it was hard to start after the short breaks so we decided to just walk on.
At 14:10 we reached Sandfly point. So we had walked 32 km in 8.5 hours, including a 30 minutes lunch break. We could feel it in our legs and feet, but it also felt really good and it was a lot more fun than the short and slow hikes the two days before.
When we got back to Te Anau we went to the Te Anau Backpacker’s Lodge. Before we left for the track we had made reservations there, but for the next night since we thought we wouldn’t get back until one day later. This night they had no vacancies. We looked around at some other places and most of them were full. So we decided that we deserved a nicer and more expensive hotel after our long walk. Finally we took a double room at Amber Motel for $90. We had a shower and went out for pizza. When we got back it was short before 20:00 but we were both tired and went straight to bed. We slept for about 11 hours this night.