MILFORD TRACK - South Island, New Zealand (March 2001)
In March 2001, a group of six of us comprising Paul Blanchard (Gowlings, Ottawa), Andrew Brown (QC, Auckland) and John Hackett (AJ PArk, Auckland) together with our respective wives, Alison, Janet & Kristin, walked the Milford Track in the South Island of New Zealand.
Weather-wise, we experienced stunning days, with only a little mist and cloud at the top of the Mackinnon Pass on day three.
To get there, we flew into Queenstown, which is dubbed the "adventure capital of New Zealand". Anything goes there, and you can choose from adrenaline-pumping things such as bungy jumping from a platform some 350 ft.(105m)from the ground, white water rafting, jet boating, canyoning or parapenting. Once the adrenaline starts dying off, you can sample excellent food at the many restaurants, while washing it down with copious amounts of the good wine which is produced at any of the many local vineyards.
Or, you can walk the now famous Milford Track, which is what we did. Check out www.ultimatehikes.co.nz/Milford_Track and click on Take the Walk for the virtual tour.
You are looking at a moderate hike of 32 miles (50kms) over three and a half days, with the third and fourth days offering rewarding views; ie, lots of uphill work!
We bussed from Queenstown to Te Anau, where we boarded a boat for a pleasant cruise to the starting point of the walk. We walked 300 yards (275m) to Glade House, our first overnight accommodation- not the hardest day of walking! Our group comprised about 40 people made up principally of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Americans, and Japanese. We introduced ourselves to each other and each country group sang a song - Andrew and I refrained from doing the haka (Maori war challenge), as we didn't want to scare off our newly-acquired friends.
We stayed in three lodges along the way, and these offered excellent facilities. You can do what's called a "freedom walk" and stay in huts along the way. You essentially prepare your own meals and arrange your transport in and out.
The lodge tour is certainly highly recommended.
Day two started with a swim in the near freezing river. We swam each day on the walk, and it seemed the water just colder and colder.
The walk comprised a 10 mile(16km)through stunning scenery in the Clinton Valley, and then through a lovely beech tree forest.
We hiked through the Valley of the Perpendicular to Pomplona Lodge - just the names sounded so exotic!
The nice thing about the lodges is that you can get out of your hiking boots and dirty clothes, shower, and slip into something comfortable - then you can sample some of the great local wines - the food's not too bad either.
Day three was probably the toughest physically. We hiked for around six hours, covering just nine miles, up a number of zig zagging switchbacks through the Mackinnon Pass. The views all the way up and even on the way down were spectacular.
We took an additional four mile round trip to the Sutherland Falls, which are the highest in New Zealand, where both Paul and I had an invigorating (very quick) swim behind the falls themselves.
We stayed the night in the Quintin Lodge, where the Pegasus Bay sauvignon blanc tasted even better!
The last day was a relatively flat 13 mile (20km) walk out to Sandfly Point to meet our launch which was to take us for the Milford Sound cruise.
Sandfly Point is aptly named! Sandflies are a small mosquito-like insect. Some people in our group reacted rather badly to the bites, but we were armed with a repellent called Bushman's Friend, which repelled virtually everything.
Legend has it that a Maori (New Zealand's indigenous people) goddess released sandflies to stop males lingering too long in the beauty of Fiordland - it worked!
The feet were beginning to hurt a bit, but a quick dip in the McKay Falls - it had to be quick as otherwise they would have had to carve both Paul and I out of the icy water - certainly numbed the feet to the extent that there was no longer any pain felt!
The Milford Sound is really impressive. It is a fiord, at the heart of which stands Mitre Peak.
The cruise gives you a glimpse of mountain peaks, huge waterfalls, and sheer precipices. Most of the best bottled export drinking water comes straight out of Milford Sound.
It was over more fine wines that evening that we discussed our next walk which was to be in Nepal to Everest Base Camp. This was duly undertaken in September 2003.
The concept of making this a regular event also came about later in the evening after even more fine wines!
John B. Hackett
Auckland, New Zealand